Malak rounded off my 2004 poetry collection with of course Malak's Response following soon afterwards, and that really is the early phase of my career over and done with, 1998-2004. We move now into the middle phase of my poetry, a large part of it dictated by my reading Harold Bloom's The Anxiety of Influence, but before we get to those central poems we have a lead in starting with this one, My Last Duchess.
I loved Browning's original and gave it a twist here, not an interior monologue but a conversation with my companion at some posh show! My reply to her 'What do you play?' is I think the most accurate approximation I have come up with to describe the poet's character, that he or she is in everyone at once but then they also in him/her. I have learnt through mistake and error to try to develop that ability to see matter and opinion from all sides at once, let down by the worst simile here in all my outpouring (you'll see it clearly when you read this piece!).
Yet that abysmal simile is balanced by one of the most powerful impressions coming soon after (you'll see that too with what my companion drawls). To this day, I still wonder why it strikes me so and have concluded that in its unpredictability the image simply knocks me off guard and back to View From The Window in 1995. Anyway, I'm going to celebrate not contemn although that in itself takes the next few years from 2004-2007. Here's My Last Duchess...
The movement ended.
The hall emptied.
‘What do you play?’ she asked.
‘Many things,’ I sighed, ‘and through my life, many parts.
I’m the joker, the man with a laugh who creases the sides of his friends,
I’m the pirate, a swarthy buccaneer who boards and then burns other men's boats,
I’m the scribe who puts pen to paper for profit and gain (an empty refrain!),
I’m a hero who saves others,
A villain who hurts them,
God who adores the world,
Satan who abhors it,
I’m the King who lords it right over,
I’m a beggar who lives off his scraps,
I’m a man who takes on the world,
I’m the woman who sees through such folly,
I’m the salesman who thinks of the buck,
I’m the altruist who cares for the soul,
I’m black, and white, young and old,
Responsible, carefree, full of love, full of fear,
Hopeful, hopeless, poor, rich, learned, dull,
So torn apart by contradictory forces at every turn I know not who I am.’
‘Oh,’ she said, holding her hand to her chest and scanning the auditorium, ‘I only meant which instrument.’
I looked the empty hall.
Orchestras devoid their players are like ships without their crew - ghostly and rudderless.
Perhaps that’s what they plan I thought the sudden, a step on from half a minute’s playing silence had it graced the dais.
‘And you,’ I asked smiling, squeezing her hand, ‘what do you play?’
‘Death,’ she drawled, the blood draining from her face,
Her expression assuming that look of evil saw I had in all my waking nightmares aft that time of ninety five,
‘And I shall have your soul.’
‘Poet,’ I heard someone say, ‘poet, are you alright?’
I came to, her sitting by me, fanning my face.
She was smiling uneasily.
The players retook their places.
But the fear had me.
Should I continue in method heretofore demise my soul would be it certain.
‘Yes,’ I said, managing a weak smile, ‘but from this point I will celebrate and not contemn.
Now, let us watch the show.’
The orchestra played.