Wednesday, 12 January 2022

Ilja Pfeijffer: 'De oude woorden'

The old words of a time that still is yet to come


Beneath monks’ cowls old news is now a whispered mumble.

The gulping cardinals let peacock fillets tumble

down their wide-open gullets. Darkly sparkling wine

shimmers in golden goblets which could melt down fine.

Faith’s topazes and rubies are held on to tightly

by feeble hands. On unlit roads couriers nightly

race back and forth on foam-flecked horses at great speed.

And unknown women’s faces gleam and then recede

out in the fens. From outposts nothing yet forthcoming

of new reports since paid-off soldiers after coming

home have related strange abnormal incidents

at night. And miracles that have no precedents

are quoted by provincial prelates such as tales

of one new-born whose neck was fully clad with scales,

a flash of lightning which struck straight into a grave,

communion wine turned sour, a broken bishop’s stave,

a calf that had two heads and statues that would bleed.

For facts there is no need if fear you wish to feed

of something nigh. Disasters all end up foretold

with books of prophets so construed as to uphold

what’s really random, but designed to fit your fear.

At sacrificial feasts the angel won’t appear.

A corpse will still remain what’s found upon day three.

The stag which in a dream our emperor could see

had ordinary antlers, on which was no sign.

No knight e’er sought and found the grail to have as shrine.

The only thing that was and is and is to be

is sheer indifference. One who misguidedly

connects things, in star’s stillness sees a guiding light

and would find hidden meaning in a meteorite.

Since earth is in sun’s orbit on the far-flung plains

of a vast soulless universe, here practice reigns,

the folios all crumble, gold’s mere chinking gilt,

about oil war’s declared, a worldwide web is built

that reads the thoughts of all who have consumer roles

deemed suitable and who migrate towards the poles

from the equator but now flee to climes less loyal

and cool. The ploughman in the foreground tills the soil

and no one sees the fall of Icarus. Cocksure,

with wax-glued techno-wings, thermals of hubris bore

him sunwards until all the wax did melt, thus freeing

him first from prison, afterwards from his own being.

The plougher ploughed on through the loose and lumpish earth,

since for the ploughman myths had little or no worth.

They were cack-handed hobbies. Time was just a plot

that him and his traditions wilfully had shot

to ribbons. That he’d read of on the Internet,

just check it out. And now he felt he ought to fret

that they would try to take his bollocks at one pull.

He’d counted them – he wouldn’t let them pull the wool

and every day made sure he turned the clock hands back

one day. The final stage-coach leaving on the track

out from the palace through the Teutoburger Wald

to steer well clear of pitchforks brought the crown of gold

to the secluded secret place where the last king

would hide away and the whole farcical last fling

majestically would sit out to the end. With crown

and show of power he’d be sure to calm folk down

and, brilliantly lit up by nearby farms ablaze,

return to his own palace using country ways.

Apparently the stage-coach failed in its intention – 

for of his majesty there is no further mention.

From all one violently feels one has to feel

and all one groundlessly believes there seemed to steal

a humble kind of hoping that costs mystery

and well-intended faith in love that sets one free.

Blood must become more fluid. What is needed still

is little less than a small miracle to fill

a loss with meaning, single-handed to protect

all order from sheer chaos, likewise to deflect

barbaric hordes from marching on the Papal Palace,

where evil cardinals in conclave, full of malice

and indecisiveness, their bloodied knuckles break

on dogmas about Judgment Day and how to take

the maybe, maybe not expected sign. The night

is long and secretive. Something awaited might

be sought in shadows, behind pillars. Babes are crying.

Each day gaunt cattle’s bruised more and looks close to dying,

processions of poor penitents lash backs with thorns

from north to south. The stench of truth both calls and warns

in spite of any changing types of known conviction.

And while the choir through chants seeks to avoid affliction

with trembling lips, the prelate mumbles almost dumb

the old words of a time that still is yet to come.



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