Four Poems written for The Journal of Consciousness Studies (2000).
- Prelude: Consciousness.
I woke from dreaming I was a frog
To consciousness. A message came to me
(from somewhere in my brain):
Go get your breakfast. I obeyed. Over my newspaper, I read
Of a man called Fred, who killed his children
In search of short relief (perhaps)
From conscious pain.
Oddly confident of my own consciousness,
I took my dog, who does not seem to possess the faculty of reason
(though to call him unconscious would seem an abuse of language and himself,
so busily does he seek out diverse information, and his own satisfactions)
For a walk.
While chasing squirrels
(who seem short on that extraordinary quality known as empathy,
something my dog certainly has, though perhaps he does not know it)
My dog acquired a tick, whose complex sense of warmth and smell enabled it
To burrow in his flesh and drink his (tasty?) blood.
The consciousness of ticks may be less than that of squirrels
(who gather nuts with an oft-admired foreknowledge)
Lacking, as it does, an awareness of seasons.
I watch the water of the lake, while
The tick feasts on his diet of blood
(and Fred has killed his children)
How great and many faceted the consciousness of ticks is,
Compared to that of trees
Which, lacking an animal’s complex organs of perception,
Rely on concerted cell reactions
To make their mighty hymns to the Creation –
That shared and primal mystery
Whose solitary and eternal being
Is the unprovable, undisprovable axiom
Around which all our are worlds are built,
In front of which all posturings, save an offering of self,
Are laughable and self-deceiving folly.
2. Dead-Ends in Evolution
When peacocks spread their showy tails
The jungle holds its breath:
Such brazen self-advertisement’s
A knife-edge walk with death.
Now that Man’s intelligence
Admits no greater master,
‘His’ progress gains momentum and
May lead us to disaster.
Such strange self-hatred, seeking power!
We should bear in mind:
The human brain was born of chance,
The alley it leads us is blind.
Unconscious and the city:
Two things that never sleep.
Depths of night:
Streets are cleaned,
Cars are on the highway,
Things are being planned.
Is my unconscious conscious in my head?
Distinct – another being,
One I’m not aware of (besides my dreams and its commands)?
The thing called ‘I’
turns off at night
like an electric light;
Yet while I sleep, something
Assesses what’s best for us both.
Do I belong to it, or it to me?
That’s a problem I may need to sleep on.
4. Threnos for Mystery
(with borrowings from Shakespeare’s ‘The Phoenix and the Turtle’)
Fleeing his dependency,
Man, by ingenuity,
Built a pyre for mystery.
Beauty, truth and rarity,
Grace in all simplicity
Here reduced, in cinders lie.
In his worship of machines,
Which give to every cur the means
To manifest his wildest dreams
Man imagines he is free,
Each in his obliquity
Using ‘I’ to pleasure ‘Me’:
Virtue lost to history;
Devilment to impery;
All become banality.
Truth may seem, but cannot be;
Beauty brag, but ‘tis not she;
Truth and beauty buried be.
Yet still is mystery all we know.
Banish it? Then with it go
Spirit, freedom and the soul.
To these words let those repair
That are either true or fair;
And for our futures, breathe a prayer.
A Gloomy Poem
This world, that once (perhaps) span lovingly
Now grinds and grinds
On poison gas and piles of trash
And human minds.
Machines, after Rilke.
In conquered hollow spaces of the mind
You make your palaces, O slaves set free,
Creations worshipped, Golden Calves, MACHINES!
Not for an instant are you left behind
To lubricate in silent workshop-prisons:
Set up like Gods, you order, make, destroy
With equal grim resolve. Our yesterdays
Are stripped of grace; new buildings pierce the sky
With rigid lines, where craftsmen once built stone
In soft-suggested shapes of beauty. You kill
Both nature’s play and human talk, which kept
Its peace with silence; and, where once
Our music conjured hope in empty space
Yours drowns our souls in repetitious newness.
John Bull and the Parliament of Fleas
Now John Bull was a lusty dog,
He strode the world with ease;
And on his mighty person
He supported many fleas.
Full many a-year they flourished
On blood he never missed;
His mighty jaws seized food enough
For millions to subsist.
But as John Bull grew weary,
From age and strain of might,
He could not help but whine and whelp
From all their nagging bites.
So finally he told ’em
“If blood is all you want,
You’d better make provision
And form a government
Which guarantees you endless blood
No matter how it’s got;
And satisfies your every need
Regardless of the cost.
Meanwhile, I’ll turn my paws up
And die in abject shame,
While clever fleas pour scorn on me
And say I’m all to blame:
That all my former greatness
Was just a giant theft;
My governments were rip-offs,
Which left their lands bereft.”
And so the Parliament of Fleas
Took over John Bull’s court;
They put his old and scraggy frame
On global life-support.
For this, they use a nasty wheeze
Devised by Uncle Sam
A century or more ago,
(A pretty simple scam):
First find a victim country, then
Befriend its evil worst
Then give them lethal weapons
To kill and to coerce:
Too strong for opposition
(Beyond a token squeak)
The country’s theirs to ravage,
And to fleece of all they seek.
Now John Bull’s fleas get what they need,
And day by day they’re fatter:
‘Free trade’ brings in so much blood,
It’s slopping off the platter.
And poor John Bull, he lingers on,
His great frame slowly dying;
A while ago, I heard these words;
I’ll swear that he was crying:
“Regard the world, you parasites
And tell me what you see!
Do lands released from my ‘harsh yoke’
Reap bliss in liberty?
“Or have you rather stitched them up
In much a worser deal:
Discharged of duty to their woes,
You plunder, cheat and steal.
“Your guilt misleads you when you say
I acted as oppressor:
It’s true I took, but what I gave
Was mostly far, far better:
“Just and honest government,
Health and education;
Replacing cruel fiefdoms
With democratic nations.
“But who will listen to me now?
Your skulls are thick with money;
Your young are tripping off on drugs
In lands of private honey.
“Smart fleas make their livings
By mocking all that’s good;
Their brains are made of circuitry,
Their hearts are made of wood.
“Flocks of greedy morons
Chase across the sky,
Churning out the poisons
That make their children die.
“Now truly we’re a scabby curse
On all the world’s poor:
But there’s no point in blaming me;
I’m lying at death’s door;
“Blame the fleas, who man my knobs
And drive their automobiles,
Relaxing at my seasides
And eating filthy meals.
“So – let me die! That all my fleas
May forge off through the grass.
Where spiders wait, and greedy dreamers
Meet their dooms – alas!”