The Zianigo Frescoes
Say that it’s just like life, say that each road
(however long) is finally a dead
end. Here, round every corner, a dead end.
The whole place now, a mouldering dead end.
A beautiful, a glorious dead end,
where once, a thousand years or so ago,
by some collective effort of the will,
each dead end was a start, a whole new world:
familiar changed to unfamiliar;
solid to liquid; waking life to dream;
and sordid, opportunist acts of trade
Art everywhere, stolen or made.
Petty officials, pompous bureaucrats,
rapacious merchants, every minor saint
whose sleight of hand deceived the credulous –
transmuted into art.
So many years
the city state maintained this high-wire act
of the imagination. But one day
gravity intervenes, let in by loss
of confidence, or by its opposite,
by chance or by decrepitude – who knows?
The infinite horizons then retreat.
The street that ends in water is no more
a stepping off, but now a shutting down,
a locking up, a turning in, until
Follow me now – a right
turn from the door… two minutes’ walk will take
us to the water, with no choice but to
turn left some three (four?) dozen paces more
to this peculiar form of the dead end.
The New World
We are not welcome in this bright new world.
Here is a motley wall of coloured backs,
cold-shouldering, huddled, jostling for the view
they’ve paid good money for – not queuing up
as I had thought, to leave behind this dead-
end old world. Then again, perhaps they are.
Perhaps the sole escape is fantasy:
a different, more lurid fantasy;
a stronger, cheaper, baser drug; a Punch
and Judy show, with cartoon violence
substituting for what some might call
the real, with its inherent violence.
But there is always consequence. It seems
they do not know that they are now the show,
and though they turn their backs and put on masks,
evade us in the sodden labyrinth,
they are the show, fated to parody
their opera, their art or – worse – themselves,
for crowds come in their millions to gawp
at the dead end, smell the decay first-hand,
and watch the lot sink into the lagoon.
See – Pulcinella’s now a citizen,
escaped out of that show and into this,
and ready to comport himself just like
a model citizen. What could go wrong?
Pulcinella in Love
Assuming that the mask’s grotesquerie
is worn to hide the beauty underneath,
we’re equal in our joke of ugliness.
But when the mask is moulded to the shape
of true deformity, when the hooked nose
fits snugly in the nasal cavity,
and when no padding is required to make
the hunched back and the wide-distended gut,
democracy sneaks in at the back door,
or anarchy, perhaps. And our outcast –
the butt of every smug comedian’s joke –
is free to grope aristocratic tit.
So confident in her own beauty and
her power, that she cannot comprehend
another might be less well-bred, well-formed,
and still be able to breathe the same air.
But he knows what life feels like, and that it
feels like this yielding, yet resistant, flesh.
He’s waited all his life to fondle it.
He’ll sing its praises in his swazzle voice.
He’s going to squeeze, till it gives up its juice.
A rope is all it takes to stay aloft.
No need for angels holding up the cloud
to take the weight of bearded daddy-God,
or levitating Spanish kings and queens,
painted by daddy Giambattista on
the ceiling of some chocolate box chapel.
Now, looking up, the glory seen on high
is a bulbous behind in white homespun.
Now Pulcinella rules, not only in
the worldly city, but in heaven above.
One day, there is no more revenge to take:
not on aristocrats, fathers or gods,
not on all the society, who made
them clowns. Now Pulcinella comatose
with drink assumes the pose of Hyacinth
killed by Apollo’s discus. Now we all
are Pulcinellas, all with the same mask,
same dunce’s cap and same deformity,
all quacking violent inanities.
There is no one to overthrow, no one
to blame for our shortcomings, but ourselves
as we swill and cavort in our new world
and drain all meaning and all beauty from
existence. Unsustainable dead end!
We need a scapegoat, but there’s only us
poor Pulcinellas. One has got to go.
The finger points… with back already slumped,
already bearing this absurd new world’s
guilt, he can only shuffle out of frame
scratching his arse, outcast of the outcasts,
the tragic hero of the comedy.
Mike Farren’s poems have appeared in journals and anthologies, including The Interpreter's House, The High Window, and Valley Press's Anthology of Yorkshire Poetry. His debut pamphlet, ‘Pierrot and his mother’ was published by Templar Poetry. He publishes under the Ings Poetry imprint and hosts the Rhubarb open mic in Shipley, UK.
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