Advertising space

Advertising space

I: Collectable biscuit tins

They make it our business.
They’ve made it our business.
They’re making it our business
All the time.
They’ll make it our business
Till the past dies
In a crime.

A family row boiled down
Isn’t much to shout about.
But lists of names
Of snuffed-out flames
In every village and every town,
Declaim – in chiselled chains
Trapping rivulets of rain,
Or engravings on brass plaques
That catch each flash of light –
The height of the stakes for us all
And the right of the tallest to fall.

Will “Blood Swept Lands And Seas Of Red”
Help us guess the price of a pint of milk
Or the weight of a bloody loaf of bread?

Will a shot at the cenotaph
Help one man convince the pessimist few
He’s much more than just a spike on a graph?

Will turning death into flowers
And legalized mass murder into art
Help us historicize a tragedy
Or tragedize a history?
Or at least learn our lines,
Anticipate our cues
And play our part?

Polish your rifle, the wood is green.
The tanks are waiting; where have you been?

Stille nacht, heilige nacht.
I’m afraid of the present,
I’m afraid of the past.

Alles schläft; einsam wacht.
I’m afraid of the present,
I’m afraid of the past.

A glossy fan of peasant blood
From a hard heart of fossil-fuel buckshot.
What’s the upshot?

888,246 corpses
Would be tough to source.

Wax your moustaches, the frost is keen.
Death in June for Lady Mondegreen.

Stille nacht, heilige nacht.
Betrayed by the future,
Betrayed by the past.

Alles schläft; einsam wacht.
Betrayed by the future,
Betrayed by the past.

Every fallen conscript
Like Jesus
Like Jesus

To be worshipped without question
Like Jesus
Like Jesus

Schlaf in himmlischer ruh!
Schlaf in himmlischer ruh!
II: In the conference rooms

The agonized clinks
Of three glasses repeating
Rough deltoid contact.

Vodka or voda;
And from the undammed Volga,
Salty grey treasure.

A king not let in
To the house of his cousin,
Left out in the snow.

Our deaths embroidered
On tabby-woven linen
By pliant machines.

A willow baton
Gesticulating toward
Attentive shovels.

A deck reshuffled:
Pert, primed, for another crack
At the same old game.

Thank God there are those
Willing to watch and unwatch
Such common portents.
III: Love in the time of Spanish Flu

They’re chuffing us off to the fair, the fair.
I doubt what delights we’ll see there, see there.

I swear I’ve the cold to end colds, end colds.
The doubt trapped in my heart fair moulds, fair moulds.

There’s space for the adverts to fly, to fly.
There’s cause for the poets to die. To dye

Your white poppy all you need
Is some copper and some eggshell
And some existential dread,
Folded through a preparation
Of some human flesh made greed,
Seasoned with some ink and intel:
Soon you’ll see the cells turn red;
The true hue of reparation.

They’re curing the dumb and the lame, the lame.
They’re doing it all in our name, our name.

I curse the day I chose this path, this path.
I’d sooner have stewed in my bath, my bath.

There’s media channels for sale, for sale.
There’s genuine tyrants to bail. To bale

All this fodder you’ll need men,
Or, at the very least, machines –
Of loving grace, if willing;
Or else facilitating things:
Digits counting up to ten,
And not a thing to come between
Them and the righteous killing
Of which our each ancestor sings.
IV: Advertising space

When the wind has blown its owing
Over wounds too deep and foul for sewing,
What flowers then through battlefields
Will still be growing strong?

Fingers frozen clasped closed praying
Numb chewed tongue doesn’t know what it’s saying
To the God you share with a foe
Who is playing along.

There’s no dignity in dying
For a half-mast flag that will keep flying
Regardless of the song;
Even if the words are wrong.

Saint Peter posted at the gates
As Wilfred Owen meets his fate;
He has that look upon his face:
Advertising space.

No one learned from those mistakes;
We ploughed our profits back with haste.
And all that’s left, lest we forget,
Is advertising budget.

Pluck your eyes from their sore sockets;
Chop your hands off and zip up your pockets
With the stumps. Stuff your ears with straw;
You won’t hear the rockets roar.

They poisoned me with mustard gas;
A sweet and honourable way to pass:
A blistered throat and bloody lungs
For cysts to mass among.

And I was grateful to the state
For moving me to truly contemplate
What it really means to serve;
What we servile deserve.

Saint Peter gives his keys a shake,
Says “I don’t like being made to wait.
Siegfried Sassoon: leaving so late?”
Advertising space.

No one learns from past mistakes;
We fill our prophets full of nails.
And all that’s for the fallen
Is advertising sales.

You’ve seen my daughters?
Man, they’re cute.
If they want to work in advertising too,
Lord, I don’t know what I’ll do.
V: Collectable biscuit tins (reprise)

They make it our business.
They’ve made it our business.
They’re making it our business
All the time.
They’ll make it our business
Till the past dies
In a crime.

 

Appears in:
Rhymes for all times [2015]

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