Taking Shade with Buddha
Of all the dense vegetation in this wild country
I have come to take shade with Buddha
(though he is equally at ease in sun or shadow)
under the bent branches of the Bodhi tree.
Frankly, it is not the best spot to make camp,
break the night’s fast,
or break the habits of a life-time
but Buddha seems at home, like a man who has lived
irreverent aeons alone – he makes a welcome as only he can –
confident of my comings and goings, naked
as one new born, sure that living is its own answer,
he offers figs for my hunger.
Slowly then, Buddha savours the morning air
as though it were sustenance enough
while the first light bakes the land
and each man and beast in the field is busy with the crop.
Already, I am in at the deep-end with my questions:
what if the knowledge of trees is no knowledge at all –
and if the trees should support the sky no more,
and the deliberate hush in the night really is the end, then what?
But Buddha is having none of it. And indeed, why should he trouble,
being at one, as he is, with forest, sky and the hallowed ground.
And by and by a talkative brook bothers the shadows
and Buddha is smiling – pleased at the sound of water on stone.
For an instant, he is like a child who has found his mother’s hand
in some crowded place and then a moment later
he is old all over again like a being who has lived many lives.
Buddha breathes deeply. He breathes in the universe.
Britain my father loved W.H. Auden and all his poetics.
I loved them both and all their after-dinner conversation
though neither had the answers I was looking for.
Britain when I was 15 I read The Communist Manifesto.
I fought alongside the miners – those history makers,
those heroes of the class struggle – I thought
we could change the world.
Britain it’s 20 years since I joined the disaffected.
I never played the stock-markets.
I never climbed the social ladder or doffed the cap.
I never believed in the sanctity of the family or marriage
or went to church on Sundays.
Britain I never learned how to kill another human being.
Britain I would’ve converted to Buddhism but couldn’t grasp
their need for prayer.
Britain I’m strung out with thoughts of smouldering bodies.
I’m wired with thoughts of unexploded cluster bombs
and flattened cities.
Britain when does a bomblet cease to be a bomblet?
What is the evil scourge of terrorism?
Who will write the history of the world?
Britain I’m afraid to sleep in case I dream my dream
of the dead.
So many millions.
So many millions of delicate humans.
So many millions, gone forever.
Britain I’m on the side of the living.
I’m larger than you think.
I contain multitudes.
All there is of love I contain it.
All there is of loss I contain it.
Britain where does the history of infamy begin –
Britain I’m the redeemer of the oppressed.
I never meant to do you harm.
I’m dying all over again.
I’m history repeating itself.
I’m the children of the Gael burning at Drogheda.
I’m the Indian nations dying of smallpox.
I’m the walking dead in the lanes of Skibbereen
I’m the ghost people of Tasmania.
I’m James Conolly, my body all holes.
I’m the city of Dresden burning by starlight.
Britain did you civilize the Mau Mau? Those damn Kikuyu
always were trouble.
Do you still follow your humanitarian impulses?
When will you eradicate the propaganda of the left?
Britain I’m not joking.
You must defend the free world from state terror.
Britain there’s no need for excuses.
There’s no insignificant enemy.
You’ll rewrite international law when the time comes.
Those rogue states must be dealt with.
They are like academics, with their cock-eyed view of reality.
Past atrocities can remain safely forgotten, like summer fêtes.
What everybody says must be true.
Ah, those halcyon days.
Ah, those salad days.
Ah, those heady days of empire.
Britain you do not lead the new imperial order.
You are only the junior partner.
But you must keep your eye on the ball.
Britain it’s a thankless task, being faithful to the bitter end –
O cover ups! assassinations! dirty wars!
It’s time to enlist.
It’s time to dole out fig leaves for the dead.
Fig leaves for the tortured.
Fig leaves for the displaced.
Fig leaves for the dispossessed.
Fig leaves for the disenfranchised.
Fig leaves for the poor.
Fig leaves for the unholy.
Fig leaves for Kosovo.
Fig leaves for Iraq.
Britain taking afternoon tea won’t change history.
It won’t sweeten the pill.
It won’t strengthen your hand.
It won’t save your skin.
Britain the future is a long time.
And the wearing of cricket whites won’t impede the truth.
And the donning of tennis whites won’t delay the verdict.
And being British won’t excuse you from court.
And brass bands playing in park pavilions on a Sunday afternoon
won’t bring back the dead.
Britain we can be sure of this.
Why I Am Not A Sculptor
Like the poet, Frank O'Hara, I am not a sculptor,
but a poet (at least) according to my friends,
I am a man who passes himself off as a poet.
Why? Because poetry is the property of no one.
Because stone and point would not obey
the commands of a man obsessed with oblivion.
Because the light universe is no place
for a man who lives in dreams.
Because I am in awe of Igor Mitoraj.
I am alone in the too darkened quarries
of my imagination, picking through the debris of time,
exhuming the dead, picking through the bones
of my poor dead relatives. What am I to do
without hammer or chisel? I am too many centuries old
to start over. And I am dumb beside you
because we can no longer talk or laugh at the silliness
of being who we are. More centuries pass.
Because I am not a sculptor, I am forced
on to the back foot once again.
Because I am not a sculptor, I am transfixed
by a life rendered in stone. And I say to the sculptor,
'I cannot suppress my desire to be a sculptor.'
And the sculptor answers back, 'I cannot suppress
my desire to be a poet.' And perhaps we are, each of us,
what the other wishes to be, if only
for a short time - in the margins of some other story.
Copyright © Mark A. Murphy 2013