The Argument: Having found ourselves unable to fulfill the promises pretentiously pronounced in The Argument of Book the Fourth of The Mundiad, we return once more unto the aforesaid breach of promise in order to essay its repair, an essay which, if not undertaken for Harry, England or St George, nonetheless necessarily nudges against the pretty problems of person, place and patron, problems which, in the present book, prove to centre on the peculiar personage of the Dream Parrot and his often-cryptic, sometimes convoluted communications with our young but stoical if not sceptical or cynical heroine.
That everything that is appears as sign
Implies existence has its own design,
Reduplicating all as if the real
Were in itself a double — and a steal —
In such a way you’ll bounce from wall to wall
Without a bottom to your endless fall —
For there’re no facts to point to as if they
Could ratify the senseless things you say,
Or stop themselves from turning into what
Is sometimes something, and is sometimes not.10
Indeed, as nosy Ovid demonstrates,
Narcissus finds himself in duplicates,
And never realises the waters show
To him himself, an image, and a foe,
So in this volatile triplicity
Can’t seize the you he doesn’t know is me —
For this poor fellow will not get that his
Reflective captivation makes him miss
That, in his very difference from his lover,
He turns himself as if he were another,20
And, though he cries “I’ll never give you power!”
He’s rather helpless as a wilted flower,
So that when Echo cries from rill and rock
“I’ll give you power!” — it all turns out a crock.
So then Why look at all? I think, perplexed,
Completely horrified by what comes next,
For vision traps, and pleasure’s linger comes
To plug your snorting holes with grubby thumbs,
In such a way that, as you gasp, you bind
And choke yourself, until at last you find30
You cannot see, nor breathe, nor stand, nor sit —
And so you panic, spasm, throw a fit,
Till, in your desperate flailings, all must sum
In an equation of the cold and dumb.
How best to go on? There’s no secret here —
Just make a pact with anguish and with fear,
Then, in the mirrored smoke of golden bowl,
Root out the tender rhizome of your soul,
And crush the fruits that flower on its vine
To pools of ink of deep incarnadine;40
And with that ink then scrawl, in hope and rage,
Upon the tundra of the icy page
A rich psychology, for which word’s purse
Will pay so much perversity per verse
Until the pain you’ve suffered in your time
Entrances bankers with its steady chime,
And, from these agonies of pit and crash,
Can be converted into cold hard cash.1
For it’s in numbers that your life’s accounts
Recoup receipts from dispossessed recounts,50
Inscribing new distinctions that unleash
Unheard-of pathways in the thick of speech,
By twisting words that in their knots untwine
Odd paradoxes, and the heady whine
Of conscience tippling on euphoria —
The captivations of young Mundia.
The last we heard, she’s dreaming by a lake,
But in such detail, you’d think she’s awake,
Except, of course — despite being hours old —
She’s dressed in armour, standing, getting cold,60
In a bleak landscape with a mobile phone
And feeling like she’d like to bitch and moan —
When — suddenly — just as for Sappho love
Unbrains its victims, well, push comes to shove,
And from the crackling of the mouthpiece comes
A voice so brassy that it seems all drums:
— Ark! Ark! Hurrow!
— What?! Who the **** are you?! Mundia yelled into the phone. The birds twisted overhead in intricate polydimensional helices; around her, in the stark and rictus bushes, she could hear the insistently sinister scratching of tiny creatures that she could not see, but whose movements shook the twisted branches in an unspeakably creepy and threatening manner; the sun and moon stared grotesquely from the vacant sky like the particoloured thaumatropic eyes of a gargantuan cosmic madman. The phone crackled again, a pause. Then:
— Hurrow? It answered. Hurrow?
— Who’s there? What are you?
— Ark, hurrow, it’s you! The phone responded, at last!
— Who are you? Mundia yelled again, then, without pausing for a reply: where am I? What am I doing here? And how did you get this number?
— Ark, well, it’s just the way things happen here. No need to worry, everything’s quite as it should be.
— Who are you? Mundia repeated blindly, more and more infuriated with every response proffered by the voice, which, now that she’d heard more of it, resembled nothing so much as that of some kind of talking avian. So she added, tentatively: What kind of bird are you?
— Ark, I’m the Dream Parrot aren’t I, ark?
— The Dream Parrot.
— What’s that?
The receiver emitted a tentative, repentant, slightly wounded squawk. There was a long silence. At last:
— You haven’t heard of me?
— No, why should I?
— I was under the impression that I was rather well-known about these parts.
— You may well be, but I’m not from around here.
— Yes, yes, I know who you are and where you’re from. I still think you should have heard of me.
— Why’s that?
— I’m an entirely imaginary creature.
— I see.
— So you should.
— Why should I?
— Well, you’re an imaginary creature, too.
— No I’m not.
— Yes you are.
— No I’m not.
— Yes you are.
— No I’m not.
— Yes you are.
— What do you mean?
— I mean that you’re as imaginary as I.
— I’m not imaginary, I’m quite real.
— Ark, listen, ark, little girl, we’re both imaginary.
— What do you mean by that?
— Neither of us are altogether real.
— Are you insane? I’m perfectly real. I’m as real as it gets.
— That’s as may be, said the Parrot, but you’re still just as imaginary as I. And I’m not just playing games with you, neither, it’s not like we’re both imaginary and actual, without being real or virtual, or like we’re virtually real without being actual, or like we’re imaginary and real at once, or some other paradoxical metaphysical combination thereof. I’m just saying.
— That we’re imaginary.
Mundia felt, not without some justification, that this exchange might well continue indefinitely.
— Well, where are we then?
— You’re in Limbo.
The bird’s voice rose to an ear-splitting pitch, cleaving the little word into two unequal parts, viz., “lim” and “bo,” in effect rendering unto the word itself the very placelessness and indeterminacy that it usually merely designated from a safe distance as if with a derisory linguistic index finger. Mundia sighed.
This line of questioning wasn’t proving any more fruitful than the last. She sighed again. The Dream Parrot, whatever it was, wasn’t the most helpful of interlocutors.
— Where’s that?
— And I suppose you’re nowhere too?
— Me? Ark, no, if I was nowhere, I’d be there in nowhere with you. Then I wouldn’t have to ring you up. We could talk in person, if indeed you can call a parrot a person, and if you can call a furious little new born girl a person, and if you can call imaginary creatures persons, which, given the situation, I suppose that you can.
— Where are you then?
— I’m here.
— Where’s here?
— Can’t say.
— Why not?
— Can’t say.
— Could you be any more helpful?
— Ark, yes, ark, most definitely, yes! The bird replied.
— Well, little Mundia, answered the Dream Parrot, you need only ask for all to be revealed! Ark! The Parrot sounded quite pleased with itself.
Mundia decided to change tack.
— Tell me a little about yourself, she said, injecting a sharp measure of coyness into her voice, you sound very interesting.
— That’s because I’m a very interesting bird, brayed the Parrot, very interesting indeed!
— Oh, how fascinating you sound, what a lovely voice you have, tell me more!
— Well, I was born a long long time ago, in a place far far away (if we leave momentarily aside the perplexing fact that you, now being in limbo, are exactly as far away from everywhere as from everywhere else and therefore are equally just as close to everywhere as everywhere else, but that’s as may be). I had what you could call, I suppose, a very ordinary upbringing, just the sort of things young parrots do, feasting on regurgitated matter from my parents’ beaks, shiftily shoving my smaller siblings out of the nest, jumping from trees, eating dirt for the good of my inner flora, flying about, squawking, you know, all the psittasistic things one normally does as an average young polly….
— Yes, yes, Mundia interjected, how splendid! Now can you tell me how the sun and moon can occupy the same sky at the same time?
Though the Parrot could certainly talk, it is a truth universally acknowledged that a capacity for language is neither coeval nor equivalent with a capacity for irony. On the other hand, it is also the case that a capacity to suppress one’s capacity for irony often induces others to act towards you as if they were more polite and solicitous than they may otherwise in fact have been. An abyss of interpretation could well crack open beneath their feet or paws, or presumably, as in this case, claws, as a result, in lieu of the real abyss which they undoubtedly wish would swallow you given the base and ferocious solipsism constitutional for most living things.
— Awk, forget that shit, it’s just stage scenery for poetry. The real issue is how you’re going to get out of your parents’ clutches!
That was more like it.
— Ok, Parrot, now you’re talking.
And indeed he was. He — or it — cleared his throat (or beak), and began:
“The problem’s, as I see it, with the dead —
Le mort saisit le vif!2 as French law said —
For all the dead — or living dead — conspire
To grip the fresh-born soul with fangs of wire,70
So that, when the soul’s wings begin to squirr,
The jaws snap shut, a gulp, a smirk, a purr,
And what had seemed quite promising to start
With finds its end by being torn apart.
Upon each living thing you see the trace
Of triune non-life pulsing through its face:
The artefact, the chemical, and what’s
Called apoptosis cast the living’s lots,
Until, contingent on your luck, your life
Is spun, then chopped by their remorseless knife.80
To be a psychosocial being, you are
An individual only insofar
As you’re both pre- and trans-collectivised —
Your being in being is being to be revised —
And this revision’s difference-from-self
Makes you alive and dead, a ghoul, an elf,
At once entirely you, yet really not —
Is there a way to not this knot of knot?
The dead will seize the living — that’s a fact! —
But, still, it’s possible genes can be hacked,90
So, now and then, a creature might emerge
In whom base nature’s truly on the verge
Of tripping into something strange and new,
A Thing beyond what’s dead, what’s live, and you!”
The Parrot’s point, however, proved somewhat
Less definite than this may read — for what
He said was almost lost in crackling noise,
The kind that ruptures eardrums, and annoys
The kindest, gentlest humans till they scream
With rage, the phone from nave to chops unseam,100
And, with the furies shrieking fit to burst,
Cast the dismembered parts to hell and worst.
Almost along these lines, Mundia rent
The phone from limb to limb, but, barely spent,
She dashed its innards hard upon the ground,
Dispersed the shattered fragments all around,
Then leapt again, again, until the dust
Was indiscernible from what was bust.
The phone destroyed, a chilling silence rose
And gripped the landscape by its twitching nose,110
As if to lead the earth, the sky and lake,
Into the nothingness that makes being quake.
(Because such nothingness is infinite,
You usually get there never, bit by bit,
But since time’s of the essence here, we’ll show
A flash of how it comes, so as to go.)
Eds. note: intentionally blank, keep scrolling ...
However — as it goes — this quietude
Was quickly ruptured by sounds loud and rude —
As if the horrid sky and sea had split,
And nothingness had finally lost its wit120
And thought becoming being was better than
Remaining what it wasn’t — from this span
Gargantuan roiling balls of chaos burst
To dance like dervishes who’d done their durst
In patterns so unhinged and complex that
They’d make you take a serpent for a hat
And, as it sank its fangs into your brain,
Choose for the worst as if that choice were sane.
Then, from the depths of this catastrophe,
Which shook and twisted and deranged the sea130
And sky and every little thing between,
Another slew of flames now cast their sheen,
Till out of their tormented centre broke
A noisome jet of incandescent smoke.
Freaked, stunned and choking, Mundia essays
To keep her balance in this noxious haze,
Although the ground is rippling like the fur
Of some enraged and quite demented cur,
And, as she scrabbles, desperate, with her task
In an unearthly light that’s turned damask,140
All stops, so quickly, that this sudden calm
Itself torments, and seems to swarm with harm —
Whereupon the enveloping fog dissolves,
And, in its clearing, a silhouette resolves.
At once, the shadowed figure shifts and splits
So fast the fleeing clouds are torn to bits,
And then — this disappearance done — the form
Appears again amidst the vanished storm.
“O, you’re the cutest thing I’ve ever seen!”
Exclaims our heroine at the small green150
And yellow apparition, with a quiff
So neat and well-pomaded, that the whiff
Of costly hair-product was seen to throw
Across the scene a bright odiferous glow.
The apparition squawks, its quiff alight,
As if quite paralysed by sudden fright —
But this impression was, it seems, just that,
As very rapidly, it turned to bat
Its tiny avian eyes at her, and then,
With a so-calm-yet-so-determined mien,160
Coughed twice (which showed a pronounced overbite)
And with mellifluous voice ‘gan to recite:
“She is goddess, hovering sublime in the empty air,
Flanks veiled with clouds, in a white mantle,
Hair radiant, soaring on whirring wings.
She subdues unrestrained hopes, hangs high over
Hostilities, smashes the lofty plans of men,
Assaults and disorders intemperate schemes,
Imposes just reparation upon shameful acts.
O ancient Mundia, born of silent night,170
Crowned by sky and sea! Stars light her forehead:
She bears bridle and sacrificial dish in her hands,
And, always awe-inspiring, laughs and resists mad inspirations,
Subdues wicked vows, and from the heights rolls back
Shining, and one by one governs the movement of our fates,
And carries off this one and that in whirling winds.”3
The recitation done, a silence rained
As if Lucretian atoms felt too pained
To keep on bolting down indefinitely
Without a break in their monotony —180
As when there’s not an agency to mark
What’s going on, even the light is dark,
And even matter feels resentment at
Going on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on like that.
For going on to stop there needs be,
As Epicurus taught, contingency,
Or, at the very least, some unmeant swerve
To reinvigorate the act, with verve.
If it’s not too ridiculous to say,
Exhaustion here itself had shown the way,190
The very pointlessness thus coming to
The point at which there was no point it knew,
And that may well define self-consciousness —
When repetition starts in self-distress.
What happens after that must be unclear —
It’s not like knowing helps you better steer,
But that each foray into knowing shifts
The act — which stays the same just as it rifts.4
In any case, it incensed Mundia,
Who wanted more than just idealised blur,200
So she, in fury, seized the hovering bird
By its bright quiff, and screamed: “You are absurd!5
I’ve had enough! I need real answers, not
This sound and fury, all this stuff and rot —
If you are going to helpfully advise,
You need do more than simply balladize:
Provide a detailed plan to implement,
Or I will rub your beak in excrement.”
The Parrot — stirred and shaken — shook its head,
But couldn’t free itself, and so, instead,210
Decided that the greater portion of
Its valour was to act as though a dove,
That is, a bird whose sole appeal’s to be
A symbol of peace and felicity.
So, to this end, it gently bobbed and stretched
Its bright green wings, and simpered (not kvetched),
“Wait, wait, young lady, don’t complain and wail —
For you, I have a pedagogic tale.”
“Before he married Oscar Wilde’s mama,
The surgeon William Wilde (yes, Wilde’s papa),220
Had three acknowledged illegitimate
Offspring — of which two met a nasty fate.6
Young Emily and Mary were of course
More unacceptable than a divorce,
And although William’s elder brother had
Adopted them — all knew he weren’t their dad —
And so they suffered the opprobrium
That bastards always have from Fee and Fum.
So, you can easily imagine how,
When one’s invited to a ball, well — pow! —230
The girls’ excitement blew their febrile brains,
And their imaginations ran insanes.
One pirouetted in her crinoline
Before the open fire, without a screen,
When one bright spark flicked out, set her alight,
Her sister ran to help her, in such fright
That she too found herself caught in the blaze,
And so the girls were lost in fiery maze.
Fortuna often takes such fatal turns:
Both died from complications from their burns.”240
— A terrible incident, added the parrot, but it rather raises a question.
— Which is? asked Mundia, curious despite herself.
— Well, it’s simple, but a bit complicated.
— What do you mean?
— It needs a bit of explaining.
— Explain away.
— Well, you know how Fat Oscar ended up in jail?
— Not really, no.
— To a great extent his undoing was his own doing.
— How so?
— Well, the father of the man Wilde had been sleeping with — ***, aka ‘Bosie’ — placed a card in Wilde’s pigeon-hole at the club one day, which read: ‘To Mr Oscar Wilde. Posing as a somdomite.’
— What’s a ‘somdomite’?
— It’s a good question. Whatever it means, Wilde took it as the worst of insults, and sued the father.
— Good for him.
The parrot looked a little perturbed.
— Well, yes. The only thing was, is that the father was the Marquis of Queensbury, you know, the chap who had codified the rules for modern boxing, so he was quite important. Moreover, everyone knew he was right. So Wilde went through a couple of humiliating trials, then to jail with hard labour.
— So it was a kind of suicide on Wilde’s part?
— If you like.
— So what’s the question?
— The question is about betrayal. Or to come at it from the other side, what was going on with their fidelity? Bosie was clearly betraying his father. Wilde was betraying his wife, at the very least. Everyone was transgressing the social mores and legal strictures of the time like they was crazy folks. And it’s not just that they were committing criminal acts. If you have sinned in your mind, and your mind is, let’s face it, the real locale of your life, then have you not already committed a kind of adultery, even if nothing has transpired in what is generally taken to be reality? Aristotle speaks of the akrates — the incontinent man — as someone who knows that what he’s doing is bad, but is incapable of stopping himself by means of reason. And Peter Lombard says that if you lose control when making love to your wife, it’s as serious as committing adultery — you just don’t know who you’re handling anymore. Indeed, how can it be if you don’t even know what’s going on in your own mind, or, at the very least, don’t know that you know what’s going on in your own mind?
Mundia thought about it for a few moments.
— I’m not sure. But you can’t just dismiss the claims of reality that easily. Reality’s reality.
The parrot looked dyspeptically down his beak at her.
— “Reality’s reality” — now there’s a revelation! I’ve already told you we’re both imaginary. That’s not so real, is it? Now that should make you reflect! And why stop there? What’s a wife, what’s a husband, what’s a child, what’s an affair, what’s desire? What to do with the illegitimate offspring of your unacceptable desires? What’s a mind, if volition and action have come apart? And what happens if your beloved child or lover turns out to be a horrible sneaky pervert and shameful criminal who’s blighted your life? Are you, as that child or lover, really up to the task of your betrayal? Even if it’s never enacted, let alone discovered? Questions, questions! Real questions!
— What about my parents, then?
— I guess I’m just saying parents are never really parents. It all depends on you. But you have to know what you’re in for.
— But they’re my parents.
— Sort of. Technically, they’re not even married, are they? They hardly expected you, did they? Neither did they really want you. And nor do they really want you now you’ve arrived, do they?7
— Well, no. Nor do I want them.
— Right. That’s why I’m here.
— To help me.
— You’re doing a great job so far.
— Let’s take it one vision at a time, shall we? And I don’t appreciate your sarcasm.
— Just get on with it, creepy dream bird.
— Suit yourself. The Parrot paused. You are a nasty little piece of work, aren’t you?
— Whatever. You going to help, or what?
— I’m just saying that you have to decide what sort of a child you’re going to be. I wanted to give you some real options: innocent illegitimate dying in a conflagration of her own excitement, upon the hint of a trace of the lure of legitimacy; as opposed to a knowing legitimate dying in a conflagration of his own excitement, upon the hint of a trace of the threat of illegitimacy …
— You’re a strange bird.
— Yes, that’s true. I’m an avis rara.
The Parrot cleared its beak again.
“The time has come,” the Parrot squawked, “to act
Despite the ice-age of established fact,
And be — not spectacle — but for yourself,
So as to seize from sickness a new health,
And crack the frozen seas of metaphor
With language-sword wrenched from the stone of law —
Thus, while you tremble at the water’s edge,
The shattered floes will shift, the wind will pledge
To sail you north or south, to east or west,
To unknown elsewhere, for the worse or best,250
Away from where the accidents of birth
Delivered you upon a glacial hearth.”
The Parrot paused, sententiously, as if
Polonius had paused to pat his quiff,
When — just as he proposed to start again —
His interlocutor cried out in pain:
“What’s this?” shrieked Mundia, enraged, “What crap!
I’ve never heard such puffed-up pompous pap!
(Not even pappy drivels such claptrap!)8
I shall refuse to listen if you can’t
At once improve your idiot irksome cant ¬—260
What sort of talking bird are you, who bleats
And dribbles like a lamb milk-drunk on teats?”
“Ahem,” replied the Parrot, “Why, I’m sure
I’m merely mouthing mindless metaphor.
Apologies, small girl, I’ll hasten to
Tell you precisely what you have to do.
Well, first, you’ll have to feign your own demise —
Turn on your face, turn blue, and turn your eyes
Into your head, so that all can be seen
Are ugly whites; from there, you will be clean270
Away, as everyone will panic, and
Will blame each other for your fate’s cruel hand;
The next you know, they’ll lay you on a slab,
Your little supine form turned breathless flab,
Where you must wait until the time is right
To disappear into transfigured night.
From there, I cannot help — you’re on your own —
Although I sense odd friends, a cat, a bone,
And — ah! — you must above all be alert!
You have a enemy, who’ll steal your shirt280
Before you know it — it’s a horrid Thing,
A metamorph…now this….and now, nothing!
It never rests, it’s constantly awake,
And most deceitful when it’s clearly fake —
Beware! Against its shiftiness you’ll find
You’ll need to be Odysseus in your mind!
“And, finally, my friend,” the Parrot adds,
“Eschew those peoples stricken by cheap fads,
Enmeshed in terror by the tricks and feints
Of wit, rage, cunning, envy, bile — against290
Such dismal sciences of the wannabe
You’ll find the Stoics’ semiology
Locates the joint of logic in our acts
Of speech — and not in ‘judgement’ or ‘the facts’ —
Such that the qualities of objects verb
(Not grass is green, but greening be the herb),
To show how life wields needles of events
To knit the world a cardigan of rents,
So that, through fraying holes, the wise can peep
Into the hairs of Being’s armpit creep.300
The lekta of those old philosophers
Denote, not bodies, but discrete affairs,
Incorporeal simulacra of mind
Which leap the gap between what’s sign and signed,
So that a sage who’s understood the warp
Withstands the weft — but does not cry nor gawp.
“You must now step into this noisome lake —
To leave this dreaming world, you must awake,
And, when you do so, you must not forget
The things I’ve told you — or your fate is set,310
But, most of all, repudiate, cast out
Vicissitudes of world-consuming doubt.”
Our heroine, who had been yawning at
The Parrot’s disquisition’s boring pat
And prolonged nature, felt a shiver run
Throughout her body, like a neural pun
Which, though it feels like x, means something else,
So that the sense, once straight, now swerves like ells,
And, in this swerve, what had seemed logical
Turns Aristotle’s ontological,320
Viz., what is says itself in many ways,
Just as an ass emitting many brays,
Or as equivocation spread on toast
Confuses who is guest, and who is host.
My point, in other words, is when good sense
Becomes this compromised, then no defence
Will save a person from the roll of dice
Existence is, so as the numbers’ price,
You’d better know that, though you feel like this,
Your feeling has got no real way to guess330
What’s going to happen, so the best you can
Do is to follow on what being began.
That novelty may spell oblivion
Should not prevent the thing from being fun,
So, in this vein, then, Mundia decides
To risk the cost of all life’s slippery rides,
And, taking on the Parrot’s strange advice,
Runs to the waters, leaps, and, in a trice,
Her heavy armour drags her cursing down
Into the slimy, weed-choked, green and brown340
Depths where she finds herself surrounded by
Unnumbered sparks of luminosity,
Which turn, on close inspection, into fish
You’d never want to find upon your dish.
Wrapped in this claustrophobic school, she screams
And thrashes fit to burst apart her seams,
But, bound so tightly by that piscine gown,
Our little Mundia begins to drown.
As if responding to her cries and spasms, the luminous sea creatures at once dispersed, and arrayed themselves into natty little troupes, as if preparing to launch themselves into an all-singing, all-dancing Busby Berkeley number. Strangely enough, this was exactly what they were preparing themselves to do. A small luminous striped fish, zany in lurid pink and orange, swam forward to announce:
WE’RE OFF TO BARNACLE BAY; OR, AN ABOMINABLE ANECDOTE OF RHIZOCEPHALAN SKULLDUGGERY
— It’s a nice title, said Mundia, but what’s “Rhizocephalan” mean?
— It’s a technical term, said the Parrot’s voice from above her head, somewhat muffled by the waters.
— That’s not what I asked. I asked: what does it mean?
— Haven’t you heard enough from me?
— Well, I want to know.
— All you want to know will be explained by what you want to know. Farewell for now, my young friend, ave atque vale, salut, au revoir, shalom, arriverderci, auf wiedersehen, sayonara, et tout cela, it’s time to fulfil your destiny! Perhaps we shall meet again, sooner or later, perhaps one sunny aeon or indeed one nightmare epoch … The Parrot’s voice trailed off into the incomprehensible roaring of the sea.
Mundia could barely make out the Parrot above the waves, but there he was, gesticulating with his extremities in what seemed a friendly fashion. ‘Farewell, farewell,’ he squawked again, waving one melancholy claw as he disappeared in a cloud of ink.
The fishy ringmaster glared at her, while the others shuffled about behind, clearly irritated and confused by the delay.
— You ready now? it asked. We’ve been practising for ages.
— Yes, yes, said Mundia, I’m very sorry to have kept you waiting.
At once, an invisible big-band struck up a rousing tune, drums and trombones dominating; the fish began to gyrate in intricate patterns like murmurations of starlings rising in joy over wolds unwittingly weave — although, of course, this troupe or, she supposed, the school, seemed altogether quite too witting about it. Then, all at once, in a vocal blaze of well-choreographed glory, the dancing fish burst into song.
A female Sacculina starts her life
As a tiny slug in the sea;350
She drifts along, her heart a song,
So careless, so footloose, so free!
But when our heroine comes on a crab,
She seeks for a chink in its shell —
Into that joint, she thrusts the point
Of a dagger to take him to hell.
Then through that dagger’s point she squirts herself,
Throwing her old self away;
Turned jelly inside the pregnable hide,
She’s ready to start a new day.360
At once her tendrils feast and grow, she sends
Her roots to everywhere,
She gads about the eyes and snout,
Redecorates her lair.
From that time on, the crab is not a crab,
But a barnacle breeding-machine;
This boss will drive her host alive,
Like a zombie-lord of the piscine.
So when you think you’ve got it tough, or when
The world has turned away;370
Thank all the gods you lucky sods,
You’re not in barnacle bbbbbaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa
The last ‘Y’ seemed to go on for ever. The creatures glittered and swirled like hundreds-and-thousands at a children’s party. Mundia felt herself spinning wildly, losing consciousness, swept up in the wreck of herself, consigned to the nonexistent depths by a throw of the dice of being, to become nothing more than the evanescent black spume of letters momentarily traced across the otherwise-untroubled surface of the blank waters by her own vanishing.
And thus little Mundia fell asleep in her own dream.
- If you consider these affects to be
Unpleasant trappings of adversity,
You might recall what’s bad is often good,
For out of pain emerges ought and should:
Sure, GUILT remembers and revivifies
That which — though vanished — shrieks as if it dies,
Such that its undead avatars disperse
Throughout your cold-yet-quivering veins their curse,
And blight each root, each tendril, trunk and leaf,
Until you beg and whimper for relief
That seldom comes — an unexpected gain —
For guilt defends against far greater pain.
Behind the guilt seethes grave ANXIETY,
Which has no object, cause, nor remedy,
But blossoms like raw buds of evil in
Those festering pits of uncommitted sin,
Releasing perfumes to the poisoned air
To which embittered psychic wasps repair,
And sting, incensed, in orgiastic swarm,
A buzzing vespiary of fright and harm.
If, persecuted by such things, you find
Anxiety seems cruel to be unkind,
You should be grateful for its misery,
For yet more terrible is — ECSTASY —
For joy, with all of its excess, inflames
The simplest person to demented games
Of beast or god, who never can return
To human life, except as shattered urn
From which derisory streams of ash trail off
Into a storm which makes men blink and cough:
If every torment feeds a host of guests,
There is no rock on which enjoyment rests. ↩
- This untranslatable phrase is derived here from Karl Marx’s Das Kapital; to be precise, from the 1867 Preface to the first German Edition, where it appears, naturally enough, in French. The phrase itself originally arises in the context of early medieval French law, where it denominates the instantaneous transmission of sovereignty to the heir on the death of the previous monarch, or of property to the inheritor — a transmission which is considered to have taken place whether or not anybody marks the death-transfer with a speech-act or, indeed, whether or not anybody is aware of that death at the time. Imagine, there you are, off fighting the infidel in Palestine, when you suddenly find that your cranium has been neatly and rather unexpectedly divided into two by the lightning slash of a gleaming scimitar, and, as such, you are no longer lord of your principality which, by grace of this legal maxim, entails that its enjoyment has instantly magically passed to your son — or, rather, the male you’ve fatefully designated as your son precisely because of your ignorance of the true father, possibly your sneaky younger brother or one of the other bad barons who’ve been sniffing about the fortress like mangy dogs on heat — and that he is, unbeknownst to all, now the proud possessor thereof. Prima! The maxim is, moreover, at the origins of the notorious utterance ‘Le Roi est mort, vive le Roi!’, which crystallises one biopolitical way in which the dead affect the living. Not only a fundamental principle of law and sovereign power, however, another specific translation problem today hinges on the currency of the word ‘vif,’ which, though retaining etymological links to the sequence that interests us today (including: vivre (to live), vivant (the living (being)), vie (life), vivace (vivacious), viable (viable), etc.), has lost in modern French the meaning of the ‘living,’ meaning something more like ‘vivid,’ ‘bright,’ ‘lively.’ Perhaps one could attempt to render the phrase as a headline: DEAD SEIZES LIVE! ↩
- This fatuous lyric is in fact a rather poor translation of an Angelo Poliziano poem about the goddess Nemesis, she who *****. ↩
- ‘Starts’ here is a pun, for those poor readers who might mistake or overlook the joke; yes, the passage is about self-interruption, that is, things stopping themselves, but the pun’s point is not only that such a stop is at once a new beginning, but that the very stop may very well be the same thing giving itself a fright (a ‘start’), and that stopping and starting are not simply opposed to each other. Moreover, such a ‘start’ takes things to another level: we have the repetition, its self-interruption at the point of exhaustion (the moment at which a kind of cosmic self-recognition kicks in), and the continuation thereafter of the repetition-but-now-with-consciousness — an evolutionary leap, if you like, which then itself repeats at a new level, until … ↩
- The ancient Greek figure of Kairos, ‘the right moment,’ was usually personified as a winged man, bald except for a small tuft at the front of his head; you would have to seize him by this tuft at the very moment that he appeared, as he would immediately turn around and fly off — thus leaving you scrabbling helplessly without traction at his hairless, shining pate. A peculiar anthropomorphisation, of a peculiar idea of time. ↩
- Wilde senior had ‘A family in every farmhouse,’ as G.B. Shaw acerbically noted. ↩
- For the full story of the meeting and ill-fated affair of Mundia’s parents, Juliano Parataxis, louche nightclubber, and Sophia Vesperal, crack-whore nurse, not to mention the distressing details of Mundia’s conception and birth, see The Mundiad (Melbourne: Blackinc, 2004). ↩
- Though an ill-informed reader might be startled by the additional line ‘o’ rhyme here as if it were a deleteriously unmotivated departure from the august and aurelian principles of high heroic prosody, one must remember that “a little learning is a dang’rous thing,” and that any eighteenth century Englishman would have been only too happy to scatter, strew and sew amongst his couplets several seriously sententious triplets pour encourager les autres. Still, we’re not going to count it as a line because it buggers the symmetry of even numbers, so, if you want to find it again by the standard Book/Line Number routine, tant pis! My own opinion is that it’s not that great a line, anyway, so it’s perhaps best if it disappears forever, unrecorded, although, of course, somehow still there. ↩