Tuesday, October 18, 2011

John Ash, "The Middle Kingdom"

In those days we spent our time
sitting quietly in softly lighted rooms
designed for that purpose, trying not
to let any involuntary line of thought
arrive at its logical (and, of course,
regrettable) conclusion: namely
that our days were numbered.

We were all well-fed and warmly clothed, and
experienced no misgivings on this account.
The oceans were calm and shallow,
the rivers stocked with salmon. Each spring
brilliantly coloured birds passed over
on their way to northern lakes and hills.
Poems were often penned concerning
their brief and glorious transit. When
they returned in autumn we succumbed
to appropriate feelings of mild regret.

Our figurative art gave no hint of the fact
that male animals experienced erections,
nor were children obliged to light the match
that would incinerate their families.
Similarly It was not considered necessary
to rip your opponent’s lips from his face
or force him to digest his ears.

How slow that time now seems,
how sweet, how gradual every graceful gesture!
But it is impossible to regret its passing
It was not a time of truth and realism.
The passage of migratory birds
did not accord to the facts, nor
the coming of spring, nor a man’s respect
for women, nor courtesy, friendship, honour…

Regret is impossible
(and, besides, nostalgia
is an imprisonable offense) now
that every issue is as clear as blood,
bright as tears, and we live
in understanding even as we die.

~ John Ash, "The Middle Kingdom"

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