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from ‘The Runiad’ books 3 & 4

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A Fortnightly Serial.


ANTHONY HOWELL writes: My own romantic notion of myself has encouraged me to attempt an epic. It will have 24 books and be the same length as the Odyssey. Each book will be approximately 24 pages long, with three seven-line verses per page. I have completed a clean draft of books 1 to 4, which I publish with Heyzine here, and to this file I will add each new book as it is completed.

Book 3

Some stories are improbable, a few more improbable
Than others. We may dismiss them — conspiracy theories —
Each illustrating its own peculiar bias or obsession.
We can pooh-pooh those rumours of civilisations
Vanished in the flash of catastrophic deluge when
That comet smashed into an ice-cap precipitating such a flood,
Previous empires sank beneath its residue of mud.

But then there are tales of bewitchment, eerie metamorphosis:
Such as the tale of a milk-woman’s daughter stolen by eagles
And reared in a tree-top house. Old and childless, the eagles adored her:
Naming her Surya Bai — “the child of the sun” — and they built her
This house in their nest, its door secured by seven locks. The eagles
Thought of her as their daughter, brought her gifts from far away.
And she became more beautiful with every passing day.

Deciding they should find the perfect ring for her, these ancient
Birds soared up and glided away in the direction of the Red Sea,
Leaving a little dog and a little cat to keep her company.
Surya Bai was nourished by the sun, but the eagles were away so long
Her pets grew hungry so she unlocked the seven locks to the door
And climbed down to the ground she had never felt before
In search of milk for them, and had she walked in one direction

She would have met her mother, but she walked another way,
Not knowing where she was, and wandered into the dark and marshy
Raksha territory, where she came across the Rakshasi, the Rakshasa’s mother
Stirring a pot, preparing a broth which only needed fresh
Flesh like that of this girl to make it into an appealing stew for her son, but
He was away terrorising mortals to the north of Bangladesh.
“May I have some milk to feed my little dog and my little cat?”

The creature’s ma was very keen to boil the sunshine girl alive
And would have done had her son been home to consume her.
Pain makes the meat taste so much sweeter. But, since the Rakshasa
Wasn’t there, after delaying the girl as long as she could,
She filled her pail with milk and offered her a bag of rice as well
So that she could scatter the grain and make a pretty path between
Where to get milk when she needed it and her treetop home.

Rakshas are shape-shifting, fierce and fearsome creatures:
Creatures with terrible fangs that jab out from their mouths.
They boast the sharpest of fingernails. Mean, foul-breathing beasts
Equipped with enormous nostrils that can trace the scent of human flesh.
They eat the brains of people, drain their blood off into their skulls,
Using these as goblets to down in one what makes their eyes so red
And, instead of hair, gives them flames that fan out from the head.

This Rakshasa came home hungry. Since there was little to eat
He was sent by his pot-stirring mother in search of that item for her broth.
Following the grain the maiden sun had naively dropped behind her,
He came to a tree, the tallest in the forest there, and sniffed the air.
Stronger than blossom, the smell was of girl here. He looked up and saw
That the tree had a nest at its summit so he climbed up into it,
Found the house, and tried its door. The seventh lock defeated him.

Trying to pick the lock with a nail proved an utter failure.
Twisting it hard in the keyhole caused this poisonous claw of his to break off.
Howling in pain, he leapt from the nest and was never seen again.
A short while after that though, the little dog and the little cat
Grew hungry once more and Surya Bai decided to descend a second time.
She unlocked six of the locks, but when she turned the seventh
Surya Bai was pricked by the nail the Raksha had snapped off in it.

Down she fell, inert, as if deprived of life, as it was with the Princess
Rajasarini Siribajra. Visit the Royal throne-rooms in Bangkok
And the first thing that you come across is a shrine that’s hers alone.
Here in truth the broken vase competes with the vase complete.
There are shards more valuable than anything intact;
The Princess being now a shard of herself, once general in the King’s Guard,
Former ambassador to Austria, intended heir to the throne.

It was a needle did for her, I’m sure. Inoculated against
A malady less deadly than its cure. Now a deserted barge
With elegant lines, but sinking ever lower in the canal of her
Enforced inertia. Symbol of our immunised populations
Labouring under the tyranny of international pharmacy.
That is why roses are dangerous for women, by and large.
Needles, thorns, claws, nails — all coma-inducing in fairy tales.

It’s the mean average Brit that lies in a coma. No, I’m wrong.
Sits propped up, hypnotised by the thought that it has seldom
Done battle — rendered invalid by a lack of actual experience,
Getting its daily doses of indoctrination delivered down a tube
As porno war, projecting all four horsemen of the Apocalypse
Rampaging far away among its shell-shocked proxies. No need
To beware Agent Orange here or wavy lines of phosphorus. But Hives?

Hives, you can’t avoid, and Herpes and Chlamydia
And them not having the right ointment. Do you still use that
Brand to wipe yourself? If you communicate you locate yourself.
We have wiped ourselves out before, we have been wiped out before.
Spinning-wheels, spindles, rose briars… These have bad reputations.
Their victims — women trapped in paralysis, at an impasse, in a coma.
Hypnotised by their situation, or by the prick of specious medication.

from Book 4

What can you take away from the merely audio-visual?
A wolf, having either become familiar amidst men,
Or sneaking round the back after his devious manner,
Entered into the workshop of a certain excellent sculptor,
Where, beholding a human head so cunningly
And artificially wrought that it allured not only men
But also beasts to look upon it, burst out into these words:

‘O dainty head, in sooth there are many things about thee
That invite praise. Thy incomparable shape and beauty,
Wherethrough thou easily surmountest all things,
Cannot be matched by the work of any other craftsman
Than your master. Nevertheless, forasmuch as thou wantest wit,
That most excellent gift which is beauty’s chiefest point,
Although thou resemblest man, yet hast thou nothing of man in thee.’

Although thou resemblest man, yet hast thou nothing of man in thee,
Stumbling to the dais, vicious as you ever were in the past.
But now thou wantest wit, your face a visor more than a mask.
You might as well be a statue of yourself, an image on a screen
Animated by an app, and badly. Nothing can disguise
How you are malfunctioning within. No better than a waxwork
That’s programmed to deliver lies. Get thee to Madame Tussaud’s!

So how do we halt the program? Staunch the enshittification?
Bring an end to massacres? Root out the corruption? Halt
This infernal machine? Admittedly it is not so easily done.
Wolves in sheep’s clothing are often emotionally abusive
To friends, families, followers. This is called gaslighting.
It is abuse that manipulates a person into thinking that
Their grasp of a situation just happens to be wrong.

I leave off writing my epic and make my religious way…
To the old gaffers, I was going to say: vintage revolutionaries
Gathered in some Archway hall. Angry, pot-bellied buddhas
From the legendary working-class. A black lady in black
Whose hair is going grey, mourning the state of the world today.
Quarter of the clock for all exhortations to a general strike.
Uprise in a traditional manner. End with the Internationale

But don’t cancel your sub to the BBC. A mixed flock,
White and black, most of them past their fifties,
Very much mutton rather than lamb. They rant about the wolves.
But it’s just so many truisms, the obvious preached to
The converted — whereas the wolves are far more up-to-date,
Interconnect with AI, tend to win their media wars.
The gaffers with their unions have to print their own papers.

Gaslighting now… that’s the perfect fit for a worsted suit.
Whereas the gaffers always appear just as they normally are,
The wolves have more identities than the talented Mr Ripley.
Many be endued with a certain glozed and glittering virtue,
Yet if you look into them thoroughly, ye will say
That they do deceive the more under pretence of honesty.
Takes more than a gaffer to put a stop to things gone gaga and corrupt.

What we need are brigands rather than these demo-seasoned
Revolutionaries. Think of the cave of Adullam again
Or why most Hamas fighters happen to be orphans.
Of such material are brigands made. Vagabond bands
And rough justice perhaps, but justice. Blessed be the Houthis,
Those Argonauts of the Red Sea. They turned into a scrappy force
Around the Millenium. A force charged with getting rid

Of rottenness in government. Orthodoxy booting out autocracy:
A band attracting unto them every one that was in distress
And who had been divested of their property. “And every one
That was in debt, and every one that was discontented
Gathered themselves unto him.” Thus was David’s gang described,
Sequestered against Saul in that cave. And this is the fibre
Of those we need to halt this mess without an f defeating us.

“When Adam delved and Eve span, who was then the gentleman?
From the beginning all men by nature were created alike,
And our bondage or servitude came in by the unjust oppression
Of naughty men. For if God would have had any bondmen from
The beginning, He would have appointed who should be bond, and who free.
And therefore I exhort you to consider that now the time is come,
Appointed to us by God, in which ye may (if ye will)

Cast off the yoke of bondage, and recover liberty.”
Thus balled John Ball at Blackheath, poet as much as preacher.
Inspiration for the peasants’ revolt. Hung, drawn and quartered.
Richard the Second saw to that. Ball would have enjoyed
A good fable. Meanwhile the Alpha wolf elite, monsters of
Monopolies and corruption, appreciate a neat handle
Accompanied by an order with a ring to its aristocratic title.

Thus we get divided into sheep, wolves, foxes, stags,
Brahmins, bishops, influencers, Russians and untouchables.
For we project our roles onto ourselves, and thus exclude
Our scapegoats — who help us to identify just who we seem
By their exclusion. One wolf on an analyst’s couch
Gets very gently reminded of this by his goat analyst,
Aware that even helpful goats can can be considered game.

—This is the second installment of The Runiad.
See previously
Extracts from Books 1 & 2

Anthony HowellANTHONY HOWELL, a former dancer with the Royal Ballet, was founder of The Theatre of Mistakes and performed solo at the Hayward Gallery and at the Sydney Biennale. His articles on visual art, dance, performance, and poetry have appeared in many publications including Art Monthly, The London Magazine, Harpers & Queen, The Times Literary Supplement. He is a contributing editor of  The Fortnightly Review. In 2001 he received a LADA bursary to study the tango in Buenos Aires and now teaches the dance at his studio/gallery The Room in Tottenham Hale. He is the author of a seminal textbookThe Analysis of Performance Art: A Guide to Its Theory and PracticeDetails about his collaborative project, Grey Suit Editions, are here. In 2019, his exploration of psychic chaos, Consciousness (with Multilation)was published by the Fortnightly’s imprint, Odd Volumes. His latest collection is From Inside (The High Window).

Image credits: Drawings by Anthony Howell. Top image from Burak Basturk.

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