We come now to the worst poem ever written by man, woman or child! If William McGonagall's The Tay Bridge Disaster dubiously held that claim before I wrote Malak, then I salute you Mr McGonagall with my effort a thousand times more unpoetic, if only because you pay homage to those lives lost in a disaster whilst I salute the 'glory' of war. This verse is written entirely from the outside in, a position antithetical to how the poet should compose; moreover, the versifier is exactly the sort of person who should see through bluff, lies and deceit not join in with the merry-go-round of weapons of mass destruction, dodgy dossiers and regime change.
So to the poem which contains the word 'truth' so many times I've lost count, although this Tree of Truth trails 'gnarled and hunch-backed roots', there the first indication that what I proceed to write is in shadow form - Wilfrid Owen's Dulce et Decorum Est tries to right me but no, I am off calling Shelley 'a lazy poet', disagreeing with better, more experienced writers than me, Benjamin Zephaniah, reversing Saddam's name (what on earth?), casually dismissing another Romantic John Keats before equating Mephistopheles and Christ whilst simultaneously disrespecting the Prophet Mohammed and Buddha.
This is what happens when we tread the path of Error, a trail I have been making my way further down since the 'dejected' poetry of Isle of Wight and maybe well before that (is there even hint of it in Jailbreak?), now putting words in the mouth of the student who gives this poem its title (I am taking an English Language teaching course at the time) all the way to that wonderful line when she looks over her glasses 'And bid me teach her something that I know'. And that was Malak, a lovely, friendly Iraqi lady whom I had the pleasure of teaching and knowing when we met at that point in our lives.
But I'm not finished embarrassing myself yet, diving into Arnold's Dover Beach, pontificating on our national treasure David Attenborough, praising without reserve the United States of America when in previous breath (Forever England) I had damned the country to the dogs. There is no consistency here, no acuity of vision, no stance, no opinion even which concludes in my cribbing Arnold's great poem to wax lyrical on the beauty of war. Agh! This is so bad, and for that I will find myself meeting Wilfrid Owen a few poems later on in The Central Bard; for now though I give you, shamefully, Malak...
Duty bound, oathed to tell it verily, fast tripping on the gnarled and hunch-backed roots of Truth, I oped.
The Tree of Truth, forsooth, forsooth,
Old in the tooth,
As right as Ruth,
Might Coetzee’s youth have proved uncouth…no.
That thought his blood come gargling from my froth-corrupted lungs, checked, and on me placed war’s pity so to speak.
A meaner metre must my mark mis-take.
I teach her.
Yes I do.
We don’t talk about the war.
She smiles, I smile, we like each other.
We are friends.
Would e’er she use some bygone age elucidate the fall her leader, I’d sit back in my chair aghast.
That history repeats itself, I know.
That man makes it so, I know.
That this race must be shackled to it, I disbelieve.
Example so – if Ozymandias was Ramses, which I doubt it very much, how may he be Madd As too?
To explain – a lazy poet, no Zeph, he was, takes a Pharaoh king, forgets he ordered Egypt, builded water ducts,
Peaced the Hittites, and enjoyed diplomacy thereafter, forgets that, but will concentrate on vanity, yet one part,
To erect a statue claiming king of kings ye mighty to despair.
And so the mislead starts, remembered by Bysshe students, till today I read the ode on front page daily.
Did Ramses rule in terror?
Did Ramses starve his kin?
Did Ramses gas the Kurds?
I think not.
Maybe I mistake.
What’er, he was no Madd As.
Dictators rise and fall.
Empires build and crumble.
People come and go.
Truth lives on.
What is truth? To me, ’tis the conscience (Beauty is false, John, don’t all men know that?), the working of the conscience.
Right from wrong. Innate. Nature.
Those who quibble nurture read the lazy poet’s wife.
Truth is a thought, a feeling, how explain, lifts us, makes sense from none, replaces hopelessness with spes, births new life, engenders joy,
Witness all upon the fall the Madd As statue.
That Chaos follows, lies no fault Truth.
Power vacuums are human caused. Order will be wrought.
But if Truth be the conscience, and the conscience be nature, does evolution have it so, or Him?
The King of Kings, stapled to a cross, ye mighty do despair.
He cheated death.
Of all the men of all time, Mohammed, Buddha too, he cheated death.
I think not, though, maybe, in some Mephistophic way, exchanged immortality for soul.
I don’t know. I move from Malak.
We change our groups. We do.
No longer do I teach her present perfect for and since.
But we meet, on the stairs, we smile and say hello.
Poor woman, I want to cry, your people have been battered by a tyrant twenty years.
Yet here, warm and cosy under democratic rule, a million fast protest against your freedom.
How may peace reign when empathy lies the grave?
Poor woman, I want to say, you must be sick.
But I don’t speak.
And I don’t talk, because she would be cross.
Dear boy, she would say, we are a hardy folk, sensitive, intelligent, warm, and loving.
We need not pity. We need help.
Unfortunate it is such hardship has been ours to bear, but we shall survive.
We are human.
Now go teach that other group, and thank you for your care.
She minds me of Ruth.
Right as Ruth.
A good woman.
Duty bound, resting at the foot of truth.
That she turned to Israel’s God, thus rewarded, grates a little.
That all others in the book lie judged and punished for turning ’gainst Him, hurts me.
I know not how to take this God.
He curses His folk, one hand, then blesses them for life the other.
To me, He is not stable.
I do not trust him.
He is a cult figure.
Another time, maybe. Fice to say, He takes His sandal and gives it to a third mankind.
But my argument is not with Him.
Not this piece.
’Tis with Chaos.
The people loot.
They loot, and then they fight.
Disorder is the natural state this world.
Nor certitude, nor peace, Matthew, what beauty your lines.
That I watch the mammals man coursing nature, a hovering temporizer too long involved in wildlife to deem it started by a foreign hand,
Strikes me hard as the thought that this hyperpower, a benevolent entity, is hated round the globe for its reach of sway.
Why do we loathe goodness?
As we all do, I watch.
Perhaps, as eremite, I falter in my thought, but to me, our race still flounders in fear.
That I might condemn this would be hypocrisy the foulest kind, who, crippled by the very thought of novelty, remain stuck in my own downward spiral of despair.
But, that I might understand, so help us all, that, that could be fair.
Might Coetzee’s youth have proved uncouth.
Not a chance, for representing dream ideals, the poor lad’s struck reality.
I think, if I may posit, this is mankind’s fault.
We are born with hope and joy our heart’s protectors, yet, as life moves, pain despair usurp their place in bloody coup d’etat.
Up to us, if fold or fight, but should we fold we angry are at hope and joy’s defeat.
Hurt us, hurt them, and so we loathe the goodness.
Would I could teach this to my students over grammar, yet, then, Malak would smile benignly, gaze at my inexperience over her glasses,
And bid me teach her something that I know.
Ah, Malak, your folk are free, alas, alas, that war is requisite for peace.
But should it stabilise and bring this globe together, this grand stage, this mournful happy place,
Might the sacrifice of all wars, trumpet-led, ope the doors to understanding and to harmony.
For there really is no greater thought than that of love and peace, and if e’er this race required sign it be so,
Sure none but that the cheat of death must mark a pilgrim’s progress to His shrine.
Malak, Malak, let us share gods, let us share language, let us share joy.
We are alive, alive,
Truth bless you.