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  • Culann Robinson

Poetry Past

(Written by a former Reading student)

The first poem, Hominem Te Esse Memento, is about war. The second one went through a few subjects. At first, it was about Cow Parsley. I saw it used in a semi-formal cottage garden and it had that look: a bit of a rebel that had somehow snuck into this really curated space. It's considered a weed normally, and where I live it's everywhere in big clumps that you'd never look twice at. Alone and in full flower, surrounded by the other plants that had been carefully chosen, against an old stone wall, it really did look great. But that's all I had to say about Cow Parsley, and then I thought it made quite a good analogy for a person so I went with that. 

When a Roman General was riding through the ancient city with loads of treasure and everyone was cheering them, a slave whispered ‘Hominem Te Esse Memento. Memento mori.’ in their ears. It's not a great title but I couldn't think of anything else. It means ‘remember you're just a man. You will die.’ They very much were all men, but the point was that with so much love and glory coming your way and holding power over the lives of others it was easy to get big-headed. As if to prove a point some were made gods later, and we do still remember them so maybe in the short run they won - but, in reality, their bones are wormfood and they probably wouldn't like how they're seen today. There's a lesson for certain world leaders in that. 

Hominem Te Esse Memento

Floating on a heated breeze

an invitation beckoned me

to watch my country's friend at war

and see the glory conquest bought.

From the capital of gold

legions started down the road

to strip adversaries of pride

and call the desert pacified.

Hour on hour the troops went by,

chanting songs from former times

that elders had taught to them;

had sung armed for Jerusalem.

The colonels told the band to play

and smiled as they were led away,

overflowed with final glee,

and dreams of quartered enemies.

And at their head there went the Chief

with sunken eyes and sunken cheeks

and ashen hair and poisoned breath

and fingers that directed death.

He passed in armour through the gates,

in hand a flare and heavy mace

to cast at notice radial doom

on those who dared outstep the gloom.

Then to the crows he gave a speech

Assembled there to keep the peace,

"Your children's safety is the prize

of opposition neutralised.

It's to this land our jewels were lost-

ones bought at great ancestral cost

and so in lieu of their return

the world is crushed, and set to burn."

So swung the mace of razing fury-  

appointed death, and judge, and jury

-towns from where the sinless rushed

-the imprint of his foot, in dust.

From all around there came the sound 

of burning, and of shaking ground

and rubble piling metres deep

upon the people as they sleep.

It swung again- with raking reach

their earth was torn from underneath,

and jewels once shimmering in light

were buried in eternal night.

The Colonels from their tailored jackets

serve more soldiers grown in packets

to the Chief, who lets them fly-

to do, and not to reason why

or pity those who whimp’ and cry

the way a soldier ought to do-

protect their children, partners too,

by sweeping up the injured weak

and killing people as they sleep.

They flatten those who sought to flee 

and impound out those who seek the sea,

they snuff out lamps and twist the wires

the keep in darkness the defiled.

The Chief declares "We will not cease

til victory secures the peace!"

Surrounding him, the levelled homes,

the hideouts, wards, and sacred domes,

all look the same as piles of stone.

And next there came the baggage chain

of families moving through the plain:

pirates of the looted wealth

abandoned, in exchange for health.

With blood is fed the hound Revenge

that begs each day its meal to end;

to douse the fuel that takes the stones

and melts them all before the throne.

Out from the palace power marches,

quagmire bound with fattened charges

set to kill the thought of light

that's born of bitterness and strife. 

Here comes the moon, back home they go

protected by an iron dome

and eat and drink and toast the son

who by the coast ten skulls has won.

Each with glare and menace stared?

Each poisoned by the toxic air

that strangled, gave no means to breathe

the choices that define the free

so moved to action, desperately.

Between the weeping hills of Mars

the Chief returns demanding palms,

caked in blood and dust and mud,

the city's jury, death, and judge

Riding a most unusual mount

the medics had not heard about,

acquired on a private quest

a thoroughbred of human flesh.

Monstrous, aglow with greed

he publicly dismounts his steed

before the officers of state

hold out insipid hands to shake-

in doing so, accept the deal,

the chieftains barbarous appeal:

which bribed the press to press his case

and guided laws to profit friends.

Netenyahu, conqueror,

cast stiff-necked in Corinthian bronze,

and written on the pedestal

Thou shall not steal. Thou shall not kill.

But lights still shimmer in the parks

revellers laugh in the dark,

far away the rising dawn

sees a new resistance born

of desolation from the storm

Though now only a few remain.

Defiantly there burns a flame

that no army can put out

nor a massacre surmount.

Fast the ancient knowledge spreads

lodging in the cruellest heads,

though hope may be a long lost needle

no leader outlives the people.

Harder, stronger, bolder still

grows the strength of human will

to build again what has been lost,

and pass down culture at all cost.

To those unborn a tale'll be told

of how the town of light and gold 

once set its armies to the road,

to purge seditious thinking and

to pile up sea shells on the sand.

Cow Parsley

Cow Parsley, not that it looks like either,

has a certain sway to it, I think. A

luxuried, freewheeling head contrived

to stand- the stem will hold it firm. It's like

a punk, radically striking when

alone, but never is, it must exist

in groups and form a sea to feel at home,

you strike me similarly, Anja Jones.

There goes a tale that high up in the hills

a hermit lives, and weaves a tapestry

for one they cannot know will come, yet still

they weave, far from inspiration or the

tools to build the mind, and knows when the

awaited one appears the stream will cease

to flow, the artwork must be torn, a new one grown,

You strike me similarly, to the bones.

A blackbird offers joy you will not take,

the listlessness I see causes concern

because it looks a trap that you have made-

a cosy one, full of the things that bring

you tolerance, yet block the light.

Uniqueness, smothered under planning on

which other tasks intrude, so never shown.

Were we not wasteful, Annie? How far we've flown.


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