Tuesday 9 June 2020

Spring Journal canto XII

Every Friday on A Leap in the Dark Michael Hughes reads the latest canto of Spring Journal, an emerging work-in progress by Jonathan Gibbs, offering a commentary on the way things are now. I have come to admire Jonathan's way of managing the 'buggering muchness' (to use Amy McCauley's phrase) of all that's happening in the world, and here he speaks for us all on the recent atrocity in the United States, the murder of George Floyd by a police officer. 

This is the twelfth canto, so we have reached the half-way point in the poem (if Jonathan follows Macneice's original, which runs to 24 cantos). Where he will go next, where he will take us, is anyone's guess. 

The future is a closed book.


These days are gorgeous, preposterous, bright,
The sunniest spring since 1929,
But with no rain to speak of for weeks
The garden would be in sharp decline
Without close attention and water and care.
And without care and attention democracy withers,
The death of George Floyd is proof, for those that need proof,
That racism is still and always with us.
Whipped up by an unhinged demagogue,
White cops think they have the right to murder
Unarmed black men,
And this is the death of law and order.
America is on fire again, 
Its White House hides in the shadow,
While outside a church stands a devil, with a Bible,
But the Bible is hollow.
And crowds of peaceful protestors are met
With tear gas and rubber bullets,
And the Lincoln Memorial is lined with armed troops,
Badgeless and faceless in face masks and helmets.
While here, too, the government won’t tell us
How many black and brown people have died from the virus,
It would be in bad taste, they say; not so,
There is no worse taste than conscious bias.
Racism infects all the parts of the body,
It reaches the eye, the tip of the finger
That types the words into the screen
That confirm the belief that black lives matter.
And we lean further and further into our screens, 
But each screen is a mirror
It shouts back what we know to be right,
It compounds every error.
And when we wept last week for the thousands of dead
We were scared only for the future,
But the world is never slow to show us our worst
Face, our stupidest expression, our stupor.
And the crowds are at the beaches,
And the golfers on the fairway,
And thanks to the nation’s resolve, horse racing
Is back from Monday.
And the House of Commons, too, is open
Once again for voting,
If MPs agree to line up for hours in the sun
And don’t mind promoting
A system that scorns their own best interests
And of the people they’re there to speak up for.
Democracy can fail in a million ways,
You don’t need a jumped-up dictator.
You don’t need people coughing, screaming, crying,
You don’t need forcible denial of liberty.
It can be enough to avert your eyes 
From your country’s colonial history,
Or to take your place in a ritual dance
Out of some previous century.
And reading Proust on his plans for his book,
I bury myself in a sensory
Oubliette; some people long for a shroud,
Or a weighted blanket,
I lose myself in this involuted disquisition on aesthetic creation
And think it a banquet.
Now it is morning again, the 4th of June,
And there has been a shift in the weather,
Outside it has forgotten how to rain,
And the streets hunker under the pressure.
Proust lies; right now there is no past, no in
For involuntary memory,
We are stuck becalmed in a hellish present. This is Thursday
The 4th of June, 2020.
And I move from Proust to Baldwin, because what can you do?
You need someone to learn you,
You need to think that the books on your shelves
Will help when it’s them that you turn to.
“Any real change implies the breakup of the world 
As one has always known it, the loss
Of all that gave one an identity, the end of safety.”
That’s Baldwin, here’s MacNeice:
“All I would like to be is a human, having a share
In a civilised, articulate and well-adjusted
Community where the mind is given its due
But the body is not distrusted.”
But, Louis, the body is brittle, and the mind is a trick,
Their weakness, and their deficiencies, are glaring.
Turn off your screen, get up from your chair,
Open the door, or a book, and let the night air in.

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