wordsout by godfrey rust
Welcome To The Real World  < 14 of 59 >


Long Way Home

Song at the start of a century
(Have a nice day, Walt Whitman)

Now that the calendar has granted us this
     opportunity for celebration
which is several years late according to the
     best estimates
and carries all the significance of a car’s odometer
     clicking over to a particular string of zeroes,
let us embrace the accident of convenient
     numbers and sing at the start of a century!

My song has a target audience.
It is for not the family which smilingly eats the
     latest breakfast cereal together
and for whom the choice of a new brand of
     dishwasher powder is a significant
     and life-enhancing decision,
for I say unto you, they have their reward.

Just when you thought no soap powder could
     wash any whiter,
when your woollens have so much bounce you
     have to strap them down in the chest
     of drawers,
around the lid of your shaving foam its says
     Good Morning to you in four different
     languages—

And it is not for the young man driving a fast car
     with an open roof
whose companion’s long hair will later be rinsed
     clean of atmospheric pollution by a widely  
     advertised type of conditioning shampoo,
for I say unto you, they have their reward.

Just when your dog's favourite food is the first
     choice of eleven out of ten breeders,
when you thought no biscuit could give you
     another crumb of comfort,
then we bring you one more flavour to savour,
turning towards the camera, our smiles, like our
     snacks, now even cheesier—

It is for the small and ordinary and bewildered.
It is the voice of one crying in a maisonette:

Where are you, Katie of the Oxo ads,
shaking your head indulgently at Philip,
whose pains could all be cured by Anadin?
Our souls cry out for you!

The blueprint of the last century was drawn
     in the one before.
Darwin selected it from disconnected bones.
Babbage computed its parameters.
Daguerre snapped its image on his
     photographic plate.
Bell rang it up demanding Come here I need you.
Freud placed it on his couch and checked its
     bank balance.
As an infant, Wilbur and Orville flew it in the rain
     at Kitty Hawk.

So many of the children died young.
Only the lucky survive—

little Josef, little Adolf, little Vladimir Ilyich.
Benito is a darling, but so bossy!
He'll be a leader one day, you'll see!

It was shaped by those who dreamed of a
     new order
and by those who saw that such a thing must
     be opposed,
who guessed that a change of heart was easier
     in a medical than a spiritual operation,
that we could split matter in two leaving the
     mess all over the Pacific,
and that finally we would sit at our 
     private screens,
staring at our most intimate reflections,
secure at last in the anonymity of total revelation.

We worship daily at the shrine of our one-eyed
     household god.
We pray by phone or postcard, though seldom
     get an answer.
The chosen ones win holidays or seats at
     football matches.
It is encouraging how readily our children have
     taken to this religion.

Of course we ration what the children watch.
No sex or violence or mindless rubbish
only positive things like nature programmes,
where animals mate and kill and eat each
     other up.

Have your credit card ready and call toll free!
Now back to New York and here's Matt!
Missing you already!

And all new knowledge breaks existing laws,
and later everyone will say they knew it all
     the time.

Confucius he say
the superior man understands what is right,
the inferior man understands what will sell.

The Iron Curtain has been torn down and 
     replaced with one bought from Ikea,
where at least former communists will find the
     length of queues reassuring,
and everyone is famous now for less than
     fifteen minutes.

Phil Spector he say
Da doo ron ron ron,
da doo ron ron.

The European Community has been lost
     in translation,
standing in line at Brussels airport as taxis stream
     past the hoardings of its endless construction.
A Dane remonstrates with a Spanish colleague
     about the actions of the Nomination
     Committee
while the cold wind jumps the long queue and
     combs out his thinning hair.

Joni Mitchell she say
it's just a borderline,
another borderline.

America eats a glazed donut in Penn Station,
waits for a taxi outside Madison Square Gardens,
is taken by a turban’d driver across
     Brooklyn Bridge,
beneath which Walt Whitman’s ghost rides
     the ferry, his crocodile eyes twinkling.

In the land of the free, community is defined
     by byelaws;
we take an interest in you only if you do not
     have the necessary paperwork,
or if you will help us stop people doing
     something,
otherwise in every possible respect you are on
     your own.

And every screw-up is a commercial opportunity,
and every bankruptcy an incentive.
The great high priest of the market will give
     you absolution,
and every bagel vendor will have his IPO.

All you need is money.
All you need is money.
All you need is money.
All you need is money.

The average income of the world’s poorest fifty
     countries is a dollar a day;
entire nations inhabit the tiny margins of
     currency fluctuations,
breathing in shallow fractions of a euro, dollar
     or yen.

Forgive us our debts,
as we forgive those
who forgive our debts.

No-one is minding the store.
Not those who sit in panelled board-rooms, or
     give instructions to their overworked 
     assistants.
The brightest minds are forming global strategies
     for marketing winsome cuddly toys.
The economies of whole continents survive on 
     the things that destroy them,
tobacco, alcohol, cocaine and tourists hoovering
     up culture;
this is progress and the world into which we
     joyfully bring our slippery and wrinkled
     newborn babies,
and do so at a rate which is mathematically
     unsupportable.

Remember, one thousand million Chinese can be
     terribly wrong.

In 99 years a hundred metres will be run in
     eight seconds by a woman.
In 99 years a computer the size of a matchbox
     will manage Europe.
In 99 years we will take our holidays on the
     Norwegian Riviera while our holograms    
     keep our appointments at virtual business
     meetings.
In 99 years we will choose the colours of our
     childrens’ eyes and be afraid to look 
     into them.

The unthinkable becomes thinkable.
The thinkable becomes see-able.
The see-able becomes do-able.
The do-able becomes done.
The done becomes the done thing.

The West’s strategy is to pull the covers over its
     head and call for momma,
and momma comes bringing baseball caps and a
     hundred kinds of beer.
Entertainment is anaesthetic so we feel no pain
but run on like an athlete with cortisone injected
     into each of his rupturing joints.

Church Father Julian he say
The world is at its last gasp,
though to be fair he said this 16 centuries ago.

Those who control people become almost
     undetectable.
Networks mate and reproduce and the air chokes
     with data.

Paul Simon he say
These are the days of miracles and wonder
and don't cry, baby, don't cry.

The baby lives because of a medical 
     breakthrough
for the lack of the price of which in another
     country a hundred children daily drink a
     deadly water cocktail,
and the transplant patient’s doctor calls with
     good news:
someone has died, young and healthy in a
     road accident!

History in the real world is the history of women
     bearing sorrow.
It is passed down in the pain of childbirth from
     mothers' mothers' mothers.
The child's body nurtured for two decades then
     let go,
to be exploded in a moment or sent home 
     broken beyond repair.

That was the first century that has been reviewed
     in real time,
and this will be the first to be replayed in 
     real time.
We rebuild the images of our virtual past until we
     cannot tell it from the actual,
and everything will be connected to everything else from an infinite number of points of view.

The Julian of Norwich chat room say
All shall be cool,
And all manner of thing shall be cool.

We have unlocked the secrets of the births
     of suns,
and plumbed the immensity of space,
but is it greater than the distances travelled
     across the cold expanse between the
     still-forming stars of the mind’s nebulae?
In these days of limitless technology the artist
     still sketches the bird,
and the camera films the artist sketching,
and we look through the camera at the artist
     sketching the bird
and we sense the disproportion but do 
     not laugh.

Rihaku
rendered by Pound
he say
what is the use of talking,
there is no end of talking,
there is no end of things in the heart.

And a place is just a co-ordinate on a map until it
     is understood with sorrow:
Aberfan Belsen Chernobyl Dunblane Enniskillen
     Galipoli Hiroshima Jonestown Kosovo
     Lockerbie MyLai Nagasaki Omagh
     Passchendaele Stalingrad Vukovar Waco—
the alphabet is almost complete.

Christ the universal son looks on from the 
     scaffold of his terrible creation,
while the women bear the pain of the god who
     dies of these injustices,
and ambition rattles like dice at the foot of
     the cross.

And time is the greatest trick of all.
We think that to name it is to know it and that to
     measure it is to master it, and we 
     are deceived.
It is the unwelcome companion that wakes us
     each morning to try out its latest product,
and remains at our heels until we lie down each
     night exhausted by its constant opportunities.
We mark its passing with rockets that flare and
     glitter amazingly and then are utterly gone.

Michael Leunig he say
Nothing can be loved at speed.

The train from Washington DC runs through
     places with long names and short histories,
past the trees in Maryland in late October
    with leaves of every possible shade of yellow,
     gold, red, orange and vermilion,
which were there the day the motorcade passed
     by the grassy knoll,
and on the day when the smoke cleared at
     Gettysburg,
and on the day Santa Maria slipped out of the
     harbor at Cadiz
on a damn fool’s errand searching for a damn
     fool’s dream of gold.

Bono he say
Love is a comprehensive technology.

A gust of wind brings a storm of leaves onto
     the garden
and the trees in the park are stripped beneath
     an ice-blue sky.
We know the seasons of our life behave no
     differently, though we clutch at immortality:
our spring comes in our children, theirs in theirs.

Deliver us from evil.

And the distance between two people is the 
     space where love flourishes or dies 
     according to what fills it,
and the price of love is unbearable,
and the world we have seen is an illusion but it is
     all that we have

for thine is the kingdom,
the power and the glory,
for ever and ever.
Amen.


The section "The unthinkable becomes thinkable..." is quoted from an unknown source.

Godfrey Rust 1999, godfrey@wordsout.co.uk. See here for permissions.