We left behind the Nessus and the blood
but new oppressive feelings followed on
while hiding in a sickly blackened wood.
Above the trees, the Harpies sing their song
the Forest of The Suicides below –
those female tropes are still not dead and gone.
When more men kill themselves while sinking low
often where’s there’s lurking shame, there’s blame.
Down there is where tomato plants will grow.
“The best tomatoes grow here,” Pat explains
“in sewers being fertilised by shit.
They’ve been through several people. All the same
they’re different, better, but… No, DO NOT pick
them. This is why your stomach’s always wild.
You work with waste and keep on getting sick.”
I pop a fruit off anyway. The riled,
resigned tomato plant responds: “Dear boy…
You have the maladroitness of a child…
The omnipresence of my gout annoyed
me less than your behaviour at this hour.”
I mumble “sorry” quickly to avoid
the mood becoming any further soured
I try to speak without appearing rude
discovering tomato plants can glower.
He sighs, “My many years of solitude
are better than your facile questions, sir.
My placement here, to which your words allude
is from a suicide attempt referred
to often (though it happened in my youth).
I shot myself while feeling quite disturbed
while in Marseilles (though I’m a Pole in truth)..”
“YOU FUCKING POLISH BASTARD” floats across
from River Enoch Powell. “How uncouth…”
Tomato Plant goes silent in the moss.
Despite my prompts he sullenly stays mute
“Are you OK mate?” thinking that I’ve lost
him, then he shudders gently “Savage brutes…”
I small-talk gently, asking “What’s your name?”
“While Konrad Korzeniowski won’t impute
a meaning, that I’m Joseph Conrad, famed
for writing might.” “Oh yes, I’ve heard of you,
but not your suicide though – that’s a shame.”
“I didn’t die from suicide. My view
is that the gout contributed to death
at 66, depression it is true…
But such self pity! Why should we waste breath
on foolish youthful misadventure now?
Intemperance in passion should be left
behind us.” “Isn’t talking better? How
are feelings processed if you never speak
about them?” “But I simply won’t allow
unfettered caterwauling, not unique
in darkest Africa perhaps, though…” “WHAT
did you just say?!” I realise the reek
of British Empire hangs around his hot
and stinking space. And while I sympathise
about his being ill, it’s what is not
acceptable to me. Dismantle lies
to get to somewhere better, yes, perhaps,
or do I bother venting my surprise?
He splutters, clearly taken quite aback:
“But I detested that King Leopold!”
I’m sensing his defensiveness has tapped
a nerve beyond an explanation, old
and baked in Empire’s sunburn hardened boats.
“You haven’t BEEN to Africa!” he scolds.
I realise his generation floats
along a tide that never should have been.
I must refuse his navigation notes.
He died before Frantz Fanon had been seen
to write about an overtaken world
colonially creased, depressed and screamed.
Now reason, whispers, shouts and silence hurled
between us doesn’t seem to make a case
or let our hidden prejudice uncurl.
I have to go. There isn’t time to waste
when suicides have so much more to teach
than how to reinforce our thoughts on race.
I look along the row of plants at each,
their fruit uniquely glowing in the fug –
communities of people out of reach.
I ask: “What was it forced you to unplug?”
“It isn’t really like that”, ventures one.
“You can’t just cure us with a few more hugs.”
“Before I’d even tried to to aim the gun,
I’d lost all sense of what was down or up,
but I was clear what needed to be done.”
“It wasn’t that I didn’t give a fuck”
another speaks “about my family
and friends. You don’t see straight.” I cup
my hands to catch tomato juice and see
how late I am for them. “And how’s things now?”
Then nothing. Silent. Waiting carefully.
The silence breaks “Well when I’d left the house
I’d left some notes of course. For Mum
and Dad, my sister, friends, and feeling proud
that I had got control back from the hum
of pain, I walked to Hornsey Lane (the bridge)
and looking at the cold and grey A1,
(it’s easy climbing up the fence’s ridge)
the way I’d planned so carefully ahead,
It isn’t so romantic being dead.
That second past the point of no return
a final shift takes place inside your head.
There’s something then that isn’t often heard,
that in that moment, you don’t have control,
ironically the lesson that I learned
that everything that tore away my soul
I had the power to act and change it all
but couldn’t now. The choice I had, I stole
from my own self. And now that I recall
these things for every day I’m here a plant,
I’ve lost a better life there after all.”
There’s more I want to understand here, but I can’t;
a Cane Corso dog full coloured coal
has sniffed his way across the mossy slants.
As he begins to tear and chew and roll
tomato flesh and stems and fibres break
between his teeth. Their screams unfold
their form of living death while still awake.
“OH GOD. PLEASE. STOP.” amongst the gurgled chokes
arise and land too sharp and hard to take.
We have to plug our disappearing hope.
But as we leave somewhat to my surprise
I feel Pat’s curiosity is stoked.
“So how can those plants photosynthesise..?”
he asks, “There’s total lack of sunlight here.”
The question isn’t answered, but he guides
my thoughts in what I always knew and feared.
Copyright Michael L Radcliffe 2016.Social tagging: cantos > dante > inferno > plumbing > poetry