A Dream of Gods

(With apologies to Lovecraft)

 

A cloudy dull day alone in my study,

Flames from the fire were singing me to sleep,

As oblivion’s hand started to hold me,

I suddenly saw the place where gods go to die.

 

Some forgotten sad recess of the human mind,

A cavern built from memories, pillars of hope,

The stone floor surfaced from primitive fear,

All around: lifeless husks of the stars in the sky.

 

First, spread around collapsed white columns,

Those Titans of Olympus, the glories of Rome,

Each had fallen from their cloudy thrones,

Killed by daggers of change and a sword of Republic.

 

Poseidon, trident rusted and bent,

Only the seaweed around him with any life,

Even the King of them all, great Zeus himself,

Had been struck by his father Chronos’ scythe.

 

By his side lay Athena also now gone,

As lovely in death as she was in life,

Time waits for nothing, especially for gods,

It had conquered them all in one mighty swing.

 

A smell of sand and perfumed scents,

Sweet coolness of a great roaring river,

Shadows cast from faraway dusty statues,

And the gods of Egypt rose up from the Nile.

 

Pale and white from years in the water,

The eyes of the gods were all open pearls,

Osiris, Seth, Isis and all,

Floating away out of man’s mind.

 

Where was their immortality now?

The powers which terrified men into slaves,

All gone, including the Sun-God Ra,

His body the lifeless shell of a scarab-beetle.

 

I continued through this graveyard of faith,

Light breezes carried the laments of the dead,

So many names, so many ideas,

Blown away like so many autumn leaves.

 

“Freya,” whispered the breeze, “Freya, Freya.”

“Ishtar” and “Zoroaster”, who are they now?

Only ruins and wrecks and footnotes in books,

That’s all that is left of them now.

 

Many-armed Shiva looked down at me,

Speared on the peak of a Himalayan rock,

Flames of ignorance burned in his hair,

Brahman beside sleeping forever.

 

And here were the gods of the frozen north,

Norse giants killed by their final Ragnarok,

Thor who could make all of Heaven shudder,

Here just food for the vultures of progress.

 

From a dead black tree hanged the god Odin,

His one-eye pecked out by the hungry ravens,

All I could see was decay and decay,

The gods of old had all gone away.

 

Past Quetzalcoatl on his altar of blood,

Past Buddha stretched out under his now fallen tree,

Past the untended remains of a million temples,

A cross was on fire on the peak of a hill.

 

For here, full of men’s skulls who thought this was truth,

Was the one who had killed so many of his elder brothers,

Who thought himself so great that he became so bright,

Overshadowing the other stars in the sky.

 

And yet even this one who claimed no peer,

Once so high and glorious, the only god,

Had fallen down like all the rest,

His cross becoming a pile of dust.

 

So I sat and watched the history of man,

These burning flames, this blowing ash,

Thinking of all the life which made this,

Thinking of all the death which made this.

 

Yet suddenly a noise, a scream from afar,

Earth shook and bodies arose,

Eyes layered in silt opened with force,

And the dead gods of old woke up once more.

 

They came to me, screaming with pain,

Pointing their skeletal fingers at my body,

They gathered around my horrified form,

In one voice they spoke, with angry red eyes.

 

“You and your kind did this to us,

Created us from your own shallow fears,

Born from your minds, raised by your faith,

You made us your kings but also your slaves.

 

“Worshipping, revering, showering with praise,

Pleading with us for fruitless gains,

At times it was love, at times it was hate,

We were your joy and we were your pain.

 

“But your kind is fickle, your lives are too short,

You tire of us and treat us like toys,

Once weary of our undemanding love,

You throw us aside and search for another.

 

“Man is the god, the only one truth,

Creating us gods and killing us too,

At the mercy of whims and farcical needs,

We suffer and die and speak nevermore.

 

“And you, wretched man, continue to blame,

Placing your disastrous errors on us,

Killing and slaughtering in our forgotten names,

Spouting your own worthiness and bile.

 

“Damn you mankind for making us all,

Just beasts to carry your foolish mistakes,

Sullying us to keep your petty lives clean,

Confining us to this cavern of death.”

 

They cried in their thousands, a terrible sound,

Man’s dreams deteriorated into this dark scene,

I ran away from this broken hope,

Running towards the comforting darkness.

 

Here was the greatest god of them all,

Not belonging to man to create or destroy,

Everywhere, just nothing to see,

Infinity’s void will always be here.

 

But the world despises being ignored,

And reality (so-called) pushed itself in,

The emptiness fled with man’s sad gods too,

Man’s vivid dream appeared once again.

 

Back in my study of unsettling warmth,

I thought of the gods in their eternal prison,

Confined to death due to the folly of man,

How they must long for that darkness.

 

White working-class men aren’t allowed to write poetry… but here’s some anyway.

emopoet
Pretty accurate

A few months ago I had the pleasure of throwing myself back into that most enjoyable of activities: moving house. Moving house is always a wonderful exercise – my favourite aspect is always dealing with those efficient and responsive people who work at some of the globe’s finest internet service providers. It has been a few years since I last moved house so I was astonished at how much their service level has improved in the interim. This time it only took me four months to successfully relocate my internet connection.

While going through boxes of junk, I stumbled upon some note books from my younger years. Immediately upon opening the books a dark cloud of self-indulgent adolescent emotion flew out of the pages and infected my surrounding neighbourhood. A group of passing teenagers were unfortunately quite badly contaminated and have now got heavily into grunge music and experimenting with razor blades.

Now, everybody knows that white working-class men aren’t allowed to write poetry. The art is solely reserved for those with better families, better educations and better connections. There may have been a time in the more aspirational 1950s, ’60s and ’70s when bright young talents were plucked out of their council estates and given a chance at a better life by admitting them into a Grammar School, but thankfully we live in more enlightened times today. The Arts are firmly back in the hands of the bourgeoise, with the exception of a few publishing deals and scholarships thrown to ethnic minorities and women to make everybody feel better. We are so lucky to be living on the right side of history, aren’t we?

img_0019
I took this photo. The following Wednesday I popped my head round to see what these drama classes entailed and it was just an empty room with two women having a conversation about whether they needed to print more flyers.

Browsing through some of my younger self’s poems, I discovered that the exact same realisation had occured to me over fifteen years ago. Here’s one poem that I remember writing after watching a bunch of overly-privileged luvvies slapping each other on the back on BBC2’s Late Review and telling each other how wonderful they all were.

Fuck Byron

I will not see my father die,

On a deathbed he won’t lie,

And I’ll not hear his final sigh,

I’ll work instead.

I will not meet the perfect girl,

We’ll never dance, we’ll never twirl,

No poems on her hair that curls,

That’ll be unsaid.

More with a slapper I’ll get pally,

And fumble in a backstreet alley,

She’ll notch me on her bedpost tally,

Perhaps I’ll pay.

And as children we never played,

But wondered who would first get laid,

We never skipped along the glade,

That would seem gay.

Scenes like this aren’t for the masses,

They’re only enjoyed by upper classes,

Or in the heads of literary asses,

A false concept.

So I’ll not hold my dying dad,

He wouldn’t want that from his lad,

I’ll go to work and feel sad,

And soon forget.

Looking back on that poem I can’t believe how woefully immature I was back then. Just look at that pathetic usage of metre, rhythm, verse and rhyming. Here in #2017 I now know that proper poetry should be blank verse, contain no rhyme, and is only fit for publishing if it mentions homosexuality, the suffragettes or racism: preferably all three.

Still, talent I may not have possessed, but foresight seems to have been mine. Here’s one poem that analysing my life so far has turned out to be stunningly accurate and probably will continue to remain so.

The Evolution of Man

At one he didn’t know what to think.

At ten he wanted to conquer the world.

At twenty he wanted to conquer the girl he adored.

At thirty he wanted to conquer the job he abhorred.

At forty he wanted to conquer his children’s ambition.

At fifty he wanted to conquer his medical condition.

At sixty he wanted to conquer his world.

At seventy he didn’t know what to think.

Any example of poetry written by young people wouldn’t be complete without some good old-fashioned emo-wallowing on not getting enough sex – it’s the stuff that indie band dreams are made of. I wasn’t cool enough to join a band or learn how to play guitar, so I wrote crap poetry instead. Here’s a couple of examples, again containing that pesky use of verse and rhyme. Don’t worry though readers – I’ve since matured considerably and brushed up on my Maya Angelou. Now I finally understand what great poetry should be.

Old Man Love

Here he comes, Old Man Love,

With helmet of steel and an iron glove.

He comes on a horse as black as the night,

Fiery eyes gleaming and burning bright.

With weapons of sex, passion and lust,

He reduces strong men into nothing but dust.

Hunting’s his game, the thrill of the chase,

Breaking men’s hearts by swinging his mace.

Trailing behind are the hearts he has gained,

Each one blackened, shattered and strained.

Slowly he counts them, one by one,

Spearing them all until they’re all gone.

The day’s work is done, he has enough hearts,

Steadying his horse he turns and departs.

Tomorrow he’ll be back to collect even more,

Be careful, my friend, avoid Old Amour.

USING A FRENCH WORD?!?!?!?! WHAT WAS I THINKING?!?!?!

The Dead Man at a Wedding

A friend of mine

Whom I had not seen for a long time

Invited me to his wedding yesterday

I went, but it wasn’t easy

For you see, I was dead

I had been dead for some time

It was terribly inconvenient

But I went anyway

A dead man went to a wedding

In the church I sat on the back row

Decomposing slowly down the pew

And as the couple exchanged vows

When two became one

I slowly fell apart

Letting the worms nibble away my insides

Later the bride threw the bouquet

It came flying my way

But I could not catch it

Because I was dead

So it just bounced off my side

Knocking an eyeball out as it did so

The meal afterwards was nice

Though I could not eat anything

For the food just fell through me

And littered the floor

The best man’s sister also complained

That my stench was putting her of her food

So I sat and rotted on the verandah…

… for a little while.

I did not stay for the disco

My dead legs aren’t used to dancing

My friend thanked me for coming

Though his wife didn’t look so sure

She did not like to see

A dead man at her wedding

I caught a taxi home

Lowered myself back into my grave

I left my piece of wedding cake

By the side of my headstone

And let the rats devour it

I haven’t been invited to the Christening

That last example is actually not too bad. You can see that by that time I had discarded punctuation and any attempt at rhyming. Perhaps if I had carried on with the poetry I might have finally mastered the art form and stopped using capital letters too.

Well, that’s enough poetry for one day. Since this is still for the time being a supposedly China-centric blog, I guess it would be wrong of me not to include at least one example of one of my failed efforts at writing a China themed poem. Here you go. In all honesty though: this one is genuinely terrible. Author Simon Clode will enjoy the pot noodle reference though.

The Centre of the World

Dust, dirt, sandstorms and grime,

Dry stinking streets covered in slime,

Discarded pot noodles, packets of tea,

Beijing is really getting to me.

No electricity, everything dim,

Wheezing buses packed to the brim,

A million taxis go BEEP BEEP BEEEE,

Beijing is really getting to me.

People wanting you only for cash,

Others pestering for an English class,

Selfish strangers are sending me crazy,

Beijing is really getting to me.

Life without any deep, happy meaning,

Cheaters smiling but lacking in feeling,

This desert decay makes me feel empty,

Beijing is really getting to me.

Join me next week on this blog when I’ll go back to acceptable topics for white working-class men to write about; namely football, tits, and how fucking terrible they are and how they deserve to be wiped out.

***

If you enjoyed this post you may also enjoy my book Party Members – a dark comic fantasy that exposes the corrupt underbelly of modern China.

I like Chinese food

It was a beautiful morning. The sun was shining high in the sky, the birds were singing, and I had finally finished JK Rowling’s absolutely terrible book The Casual Vacancy so I could finally burn it and stamp its ashes into some dog shit. My pug was curled up beside me and I had a fresh chilled can of F-Max – the lightly sparkling fish drink – in my hand. All was good in the world.

So obviously I decided to completely ruin my good mood by logging onto the internet and seeing what ridiculous shit people have been offended about this week.

You can say what you like about Americans: you can call them fat, stupid, arrogant or any number of things. Yet you must admit that they are an incredibly creative people. Never in the history of man has there been a race of people who can keep finding new and unusual things to get upset about. Whether it is not enough black people in the new all-female Ghostbusters, enough black people in the new Star Wars film but they were doing the wrong things, or even the fucking word “too”… someone, somewhere in America can find something offensive. Hell, I’m British: I call the little dot at the end of a sentence a “full stop” rather than a “period”. There’s probably some lady in California with a very useful Liberal Arts degree who probably thinks I’m dismissing women’s menstrual struggles by doing so.

This week people are upset about a man writing about Chinese food.

Calvin Trillin is a man I had never heard of until this week; mainly because I rank The New Yorker alongside Kleenex and Charmin’s Ultra Soft 3-Ply rather than War and Peace when it comes to literary worth. This Calvin Trillin fellow as well as sounding like a character from Douglas Adams’ Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy series is apparently some long-established writer and food critic who also occasionally writes doggeral verse for The New Yorker when the mood takes him.

calvintrillin
Worse than Hitler. Look at him: I bet he’s sitting on some poor oppressed Asian-American who is just out of shot. And stolen his prawn crackers.

Here’s the poem that landed him in so much trouble:

Have they run out of provinces yet?
If they haven’t, we’ve reason to fret.
Long ago, there was just Cantonese.
(Long ago, we were easy to please.)
But then food from Szechuan came our way,
Making Cantonese strictly passé.
Szechuanese was the song that we sung,
Though the ma po could burn through your tongue.
Then when Shanghainese got in the loop
We slurped dumplings whose insides were soup.
Then Hunan, the birth province of Mao,
Came along with its own style of chow.
So we thought we were finished, and then
A new province arrived: Fukien.
Then respect was a fraction of meagre
For those eaters who’d not eaten Uighur.
And then Xi’an from Shaanxi gained fame,
Plus some others—too many to name.

Now, as each brand-new province appears,
It brings tension, increasing our fears:
Could a place we extolled as a find
Be revealed as one province behind?
So we sometimes do miss, I confess,
Simple days of chow mein but no stress,
When we never were faced with the threat
Of more provinces we hadn’t met.
Is there one tucked away near Tibet?
Have they run out of provinces yet?

Did that upset you? Were you left shaking with rage at how offensive it was after you had finished reading it? If so, you weren’t alone.

Slate.com:

Calvin Trillin’s New Yorker poem wasn’t just offensive. It was bad satire.

The verse angered many readers, who took issue with its vision of interchangeable Chinese cuisines pouring in from endless Chinese provinces. Some interpreted the final lines as a nostalgic wish for the days when Americanized noodles represented white people’s closest contact with the Asian “other.” Words like stress, threat, fears, and fret—and the martial portent of food that “could burn through your tongue”—seemed to stoke xenophobic anxieties. At the New Republic, Timothy Yu located a long artistic tradition in which “the disgusting food of the Chinese serves as the ultimate symbol of their foreignness and their refusal to assimilate.”

The New York Times:

Calvin Trillin’s poem on Chinese food proves unpalatable for some.

But detractors argued online that his latest effort, which appeared in The New Yorker’s food and travel issue, reflected fear and ignorance of China, depicting it as teeming with overwhelming numbers of people and places.

Oh dear. It seems that quite a few people are unhappy with a white man talking about Chinese food. Well, at least Margaret Cho can use this whole storm in a teacup for an extra five minutes of comedy material.

Margaret Cho
She said it, not me.

It’s a good thing that all these upset people weren’t around in the year 1980. Imagine the outrage if they were aware that THIS existed:

Did you hear that bit at 1:16? “I like Chinese food. The waiters never are rude?” Wow. Just wow. Who the hell do Monty Python think they are culturally appropriating Chinese food for the use of a comedy song? No wonder The Life of Brian is still banned in Singapore after all the offence they must have caused people of Asian ethnicity. John Cleese really needs to check his privilege. However, as offensive as this song is, we can excuse Monty Python slightly for existing back in the unenlightened 70s and 80s. The same can’t be said for this RACIST FILTH though that was made in 2013:

I love fried rice? I love noodles? I love chow mein, chow m, m, m, m, mein?

OMG. I cannot even. 

In fairness, it isn’t China for once that it is kicking up a fuss about all this nonsense. It’s whiners in America. China seems to be far too busy this week in its kidnapping of Taiwanese citizens from Kenya, sticking bags on their heads and making them look like it is their turn to be “bitch” in the Guantanamo Bay Lights Out Club. However, to try and heal the wounds that all this racial prejudice has caused, allow me to help redress the balance. I’m not in any way insinuating that most Chinese people have only a shallow understanding of modern American cuisine, but I present to you:

Have They Run Out Of Hamburgers Yet?

Have they run out of hamburgers yet?
Or is it as endless as their debt?
McDonalds came with Big Macs and fries,
Soon even Zhengzhou had a franchise.
Next came along old Colonel Sanders,
Pushed new stores through Party back-handers.
Everyone flocked to eat their Zingers,
The spice had all licking their fingers.
Burger King was entry number three,
Pushing aside even KFC.
Then Hunan, the birth province of Mao,
Even they loved to eat Han Bao Bao.
So much fast food out to ruin ya,
And here’s one more: fucking Carl’s Junior.
China was full of burger trendies,
Hoping for Taco Bell and Wendy’s.
Home-grown Dico’s was classed as shitty,
Never growing beyond Tier-3 city.

As the burger chains gain in vigour,
Chinese waistlines seem to get bigger.
The French fries, mayo and burger grease,
Combine to make China more obese.
We need to enforce stronger treaties,
To stop this laowai diabetes.
Close down their sites on the internet,
That’s how we deal with a foreign threat.
Do they have McDonalds in Tibet?
Have they run out of hamburgers yet?

***

If you enjoyed this post you may also enjoy my book Party Members – a dark comic fantasy that exposes the corrupt underbelly of modern China.

If…

I wrote a version of this way back in 2007, but this version is better. It’s probably the most indulgent thing I’ve ever written, but at least it has iambic pentameter. For those of you not familiar with Rudyard Kipling’s poem, you can read the wonderful original here.

 

“If you can keep on lying when all about you

Are seeing through your lies and blaming it on you,

If you can blame others though all men doubt you,

But do it loudly enough to carry it through;

If you can’t wait and get tired by queuing,

Queues are for the weak, don’t bother with queues,

Hate the dissenters, no matter what they’re doing,

Don’t listen to others, ignore their views:

 

“If you can cheat – and cheat others faster;

If you can bully – and bully those who aren’t the same;

If you can look at victims of environmental disaster

And laugh at the wretches with disdain;

If you can’t bear to hear the truth when it’s spoken

By Taiwanese separatists or Tibetan slaves,

Or you live in a country where everything is broken,

And you don’t stop your son when he misbehaves:

 

“If you can look at all that is good and true

And deny it all for the sake of face,

And ignore SARS, AIDS, and bird-flu

For the honour of the Motherland and her “pure-blood” race;

If you can litter the earth with piss and shit

And imprison grannies who study Falun Gong,

And hold up high your right to spit

Though others look at you and shout “You’re wrong!”

 

“If you can blend in crowds and join the mob,

Or drive your Audi down a cycle path,

If you only sip tea and eat banquets in your job,

If you see others hurt, and choose to laugh;

If your good deeds can be summed in a minute

And lies and corruption are all you’ve done,

Yours is the world and all the gold in it,

And – which is more – you’ll be a Han, my son!”