Thursday, 13 June 2013

"Phantoms" (1987) by Colin McKay

(for George Gunn)

O I remember myself in the screaming Phantom
napalming far away in a battle-green land,
rich in weaponry English and Cyrillic,
I remember flitting gunships
lithe as meccano dragonflies,
and we within them
red sweating dogtagged
crowned spirits on the throne of our own meat.
Evenings then were canned with beer
and mosquito bites;
heavy metal rock fanfared the jungle
and we, patrolling,
knowing the Ho Chi Minh trail had this time
finally dissolved itself in a silent rain
of Agent Orange,
and the lurking enemy, everywhere,
knowing we were wrong
and pumping guns at us,
bullets from Gorky and Tula, shiny Kalashnikhovs,
and in the guitars' wailing, riddling the rainbow bridge
back from flower power to technology,
and our bodies lying leaking in the detla
beside the ruins we has liberated
and they liberated from us
now dead as Jimi Hendrix and a million others
and wondering then
in the chanting No Satisfaction bombsmoke
if ends are only invented for the means,
and the means for the pleasure of attaining?

O the laments we sang for Haight-Ashbury!
for the withering flowers of a little St Francis town
grown too large for its humanity,
for the dirty-faced City of the Angels
burning garish with neon,
for the kaftaned beautiful people seeking
their own loveliness in earthly amber
grass mirrored in the fires of Hanoi!
Those were the days, my friend.
Sunrise yellow with the glow of righteousness,
our faces bright as new-minted coins,
as smiling Buddhas polished by temple servants,
as Allen Ginsberg wobbling his hairy belly
through starving Calcutta streets
grubbing poems, sutras, incantations
out of other people's wretchedness,
whispering "sex revolution is good for you"
to the soon to be dead skeletons of Bengal.
Ah those were the days - when
paid armies guarded us, navies protected us,
tin birds kept their droppings from us,
and we chanted our little mantras of discontent
outside mortuary walls, in the shadow
of the office blocks that would soon
swallow us whole with suits
and mortagages, policies, luncheon bouchers, pension schemes and prams.

One night I rose to count myself and found
that I was loose change from the age of plenty,
little piles of sweaty much-handled hope,
promissary thinknotes tissue-thin
devalued below use,
and I cried then, A dream! a dream!
I am tired of too much reality!
And there on the dusty street between
saloon and livery stable, guns flashing,
I was Shane,
the lonesome Shane, the avenging
cowboy white-clad against
a gang of black-leathered tyrants.
And I woke,
and stood before my window,
and looked to the West and saw
a giant city that was lit with despair
that stank futility,
and looked to the East and saw
a barbed-wire labour camp reeking
of death, dictators.
And the both neighbouring blocks television godeyed
purveyed the same trivia.
British seamen of Invincible and Hermes
streetwise in Dallas, fighting old time stuff
with Argentinians high on Los Angeles de Charlie,
trading same weapons, trading
same flickering screen images -
realer death than the death their guns bring
administered by Kojak and co. nightly -
trading same ad-men's slogans,
trading same everything beneath
two different flags.

O television pop world
of toothpaste and handsome people!
I see I am now a Mirage in your eyes,
an Eagle, a Falcon, a Mig 23, 25, 27,
a Tupolev, a Tornado, a Sukhoi, bigger
better, deadlier armed than before,
swingwinged and shining and lethal,
when in my own sad fantasy fact I am sitting
slumped in sweaty shirt and pants after a night
spent straffing the emotions,
staring at a sunlit breakfast table
with blank and stupid face.
And I turned from the place of aerials
where the screech-hawks of power sit perched
and wandered off, away, far away,
down a long corridor crying for
God to return to the breast of his image
that is lonely, O so lonely, and wandering lost
across the plain, hammered on by the hooves
of daemon horses where
God's jackass

Howl the lonely city where men
come staggering out of bars, they
walk like cowboys, neon canyons bear them,
blind buses carry them on streams of light
to angry women
warders in furnished cells -
                       and they grin.

And though they could hold the thought that lights the beauty of the stars
and leap forward through death
and through the doors of oblivion
there between eternity and the night and the sea
where Blake and Shakespeare and all the prophets
are unread and need not be read -
                          still they grin, grin.

Howl the broken country whose warm lovely blood
chills in the night wind
in the stares of pale unfriendly faces
that obey the State and its laws
that obey Those Who Must be Obeyed
that commit not the crime of poetry -
                               that grin.

No friends, I am not mad,
for I have seen them on the clear horizon,
ghosts of television wars lifelong,
of Algeria, of Indochina, of Ulster
and Ogaden, Sinai and Afghanistan.
I have seen migrations of silver planes
with wing stars red and white
crapping napalm, crapping bombs
high explosive, nuclear, thermo-nuclear, biological.
And I with my tin six-guns
ready to be a hero
firing off caps against such missiles
that some bored but competent officer in the Urals
will launch with a button
blasting philosophy and idealism
and eternal consciousness to hell
in four easy minutes.

                               A dream! a dream!
                               I am tired of too much reality!

For there were six million peace-loving Jews
who whispered wise words to Hitler's power
and herded themselves obediently under the whip
and boot, whispering wise words
in the cattle trucks, within sight of the execution pits
that "there is no place without God",
yet they found a place without God
grey-shaven shuffling to the gas chambers.
And the few who fought
in the rubble and sewers of Warsaw, said
"Tomorrow in Jerusalem - but today
little flock, we are alone. If thine enemy
offends thee, kill him."
And now the childrn of those heavenly Jews
hung on meat hooks in Belsen
are driving tanks through other ghettoed towns
being cursed into the future memory of other
big-eyed children who forget nothing.

                             A dream! a dream!
                            I am tired of too much reality!

Gone are the cowboys, gone are the kaftans
and the saffron robes and Shane
and Ginsberg and Hendrix all overdosed
somewhere in a millionaire hotel
and left behind - you
scarecrow humanity,
whose sufferings shall be writ in letters of fire
in the book of damnation
that shall be told against us your tormentors
and against us their children to the last generation of us,
to the end of the time of us, and the ending of all the days of us,
to the us coming of the us judgment
that narcotic dream of justice
when my goddam ashes will go crazy with delight!

Lady be mine, while there is still time
and there's a country made for two.
We can find its door if we know no more
than any man and woman do.
Before falls the fire from the blue blue sky
#on some lunatic's launching day,
lady be mine, O lady be mind,
let's fuck our lives away.

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