Li Po

Li Po.
who drowned in the Yangtze River whilst drunkenly attempting to hug the moon’s reflection.

They say your whole life flashes before you
when you are dying
but they’re wrong,
it’s the future
that appears, everything you will miss,
like the flickering
zoopraxiscope
of REM sleep.

When the panic subsides,
the limbs statuesque
besides intermittent jolts of muscle-memory,
galvani’s frogs,
the death-twitch of the hanged man,
the criminal’s corpse hitched to a battery
for a public display, gather round,
of extraordinary never before-seen
life-inducing feats of vitalism!

having plunged headfirst into the stars.

When the lungs are filled,
a strange calm of the inevitable will settle,
like that silent second between
the bomb blast and the first cries,
and at the centre it feels like euphoria, anoxia,
the rapture of cells and neurotransmitters shorting out,
a sense of trembling bliss as you drown
as what is you is taken apart
like Bataille’s photographs, eyes rolling ever sky-ward.

Li Po in a dream descends in the gloam
and the future comes to him,
he descends accelerating at first
beneath him translucent plankton re-create the night sky
until he’s falling towards new constellations,
unrecognised and swarming,
until he’s falling towards midnight cities,
still buckled into his airline seat.
The future comes to him,
all the things the lens of the moon will capture,
all the things the moon will see.
His plunge will slow until it’s a steady fall,
heart rate rallentando,
eyes glazing over to pearls,
he descends like snow, like cinder-moths,
whole species fall with him in the half-light.

Past him accelerates in streaming currents
a UC-64 Norseman monoplane,
the propeller slowly twirling in tandem
to the sound of brass band within
skeletons playing a New Orleans funeral march,
slow-motion cnidaria second lining in their wake.

And every atom, every nuclei
of his being is filled
with a feeling of melancholy and awe
for all the songs he will never hear,
for all the wine he will never drink.

In the darkness, they appear in grottos of light,
marathon jitterbuggers collapsing in endurance contests,
the sickly fever-dream of a red night cafe,
the Childrens’ Crusade filing through cobbled alleys and courtyards
Billy the Kid, stepping into a darkened room, “Quien es?”
Toni Kurz hanging on a knot on a frozen rope
on the Mordwand, “Ich kann nicht mehr,”
the hermit Tsiolkovsky sketching gyroscopes, comets, space stations,
Baudelaire plotting the candlelit overthrow of God.

In swaying kelp forests he sees storm-lanterns,
will o’ wisp, judas lights on stricken headlands,
men marking herds of migrating bison
and canals on the moon,
voices in the Odessa catacombs, in Cornish arsenic mines,
ghost Zeppelins crossing the Baltic Sea.

Spring-Heeled Jack poised like a dragon
on the green copper slates of the cathedral,
John Dee conjuring nephilim in a library
a pentacle of salt, seventy candles on the vertices,
Oranienburger Straße by flickering gaslight
a frost of glass and matted hair,
figures holding bronze oil lamps
on the weeping road to Capua
trying not to gaze left or right,
the Blackout Ripper waits
until they paint the windows with pitch,
a bloodstained carnival geek
takes a bow to rounds of applause
and the curtains fall.

Klan grandmasters hunt on shrouded horses,
tumbrils clatter along the cobbles
filled with Girondins, the plague-ridden,
the planet-struck
dragged by convicts,
followed by plague-doctors
bird-masked
igniting thumbnails
of gunpowder as protection,
there are zombies and film crews in the canefields,
there are flares over no man’s land,
churchtowers launching volleys of fireworks at each other,
the ghost dance has begun.

He slowly moves his hands to his face
to cover his eyes but the sounds reach him still,
the lock of a vault door and the screams
rising in bubbles from the blind room
of H.H. Holmes’ hotel,
the sounds of troops let loose
in Nanking, Seville, Nairobi,
a kabarett piano and the Comedien Harmonistes
singing The Wedding of the Painted Doll,
Hölderlin, Nietszche, Nijinsky
drumming the keys of a piano all night,
Georg Heym is pleading with the woodcutters
before slipping beneath the ice of the Havel,
Son of Sam is communicating,
whispering through the walls
to his neighbour’s dog,
the danse macabre has broken out
and the crew of the Kurkov are singing
The Song of the Volga Boatmen
on the ocean floor.

Come morning they will fish out the bloat of the corpse
and prepare the obituaries
for now the dark mirror settles again, the centre of the circles gone,
the rippling moon on the surface steadies and stills,
it’s doppelgänger
hanging in the sky
continues eternally
unconcerned
in its arc, its alibi.

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