Here are the remaining parts of The “Phoenix” Cycle. I decided better to jump in the deep end, rather than string it out. Especially since these five were written in response to the first.
When I wrote The Wound That Never Heals (see 18 November, Beginning) I wrote it as a standalone. I was very pleased with it, and it was immediately one of my favourite efforts. But then, that is usually true of whatever my latest effort is.
However, when I started to show it to friends, it got quite a reaction, and several suggestions that I had only scratched its surface.
I thought about this. I really liked this figure — a cross between a pagan goddess and the (wo)man with no name from the classic Western — I had created. I saw how scenes in the original could be expanded. And I decided to try, and see where it led.
I made one major change to the remaining five parts. I reduced the amount of the stanzas from the nine of the original to five. Though often their lengths are similar as I’m no great respecter of metre, and did not adopt a set metre for this.
I will admit of this that it is not wholly successful. Maybe about 90-95% in my opinion. Much of it I got pretty much where I wanted it to be, but there are awkward lines and rhymes where I just couldn’t find the something better I sought.
I hope you enjoy!
(ii) From the Womb Unto the Grave
Standing ranged all in a line, their backs against the wall,
they looked each to the other to see who’d be the first to fall.
With the weight of their discomfort, they shift from foot to foot,
as they struggle to come to terms with the self-belief she took.
Her words had pierced them deeply, opened them to fear and doubt,
as questions long suppressed grew from a whisper to a shout.
Their lives brought into stark relief had them looking to what they gave
as they stumbled blindly on their journey, from the womb unto the grave.
Feeling so backed-up put their hackles up, left all gasping for air,
struggling to escape the condemnation of an uncompromising stare.
But soon the second thoughts were tumbling as they sought to lift the blame
from the shoulders of those who felt justified in their playing of the game.
“Just who are you to judge us? Or this path we’ve chosen to walk?
Who’s to say that one day you’ll not realise you’re the one at fault?
Our house will stand the test of time, we saw its foundations laid;
it’ll easily last our passage, our journey from the womb unto the grave.”
Her reply came soft and low, though still the Politician stood and left,
“Will your children’s children have anywhere to lay their heads?
Already in this house you’ll leave, there’s cracks within its walls;
whilst it may last your lifetime, you already know it’s bound to fall.
You know drought’s drawing close — with its destruction, decay and disease;
if you mutely stand and watch, that’s how you seed the land you’ll leave.
If your life’s all logos and the latest brands, you should really learn how to pray;
there’s more to learn from these days in between, from the womb unto the grave.”
The Priest jumps up, washes his hands, denounces her as a fraud,
then hurries outside, quickly crossing himself, before the curfew’s called.
There’s relief etched in their faces, his absolution echoing in their minds,
for they believe the Pope’s agent on Earth must surely know its design.
Realising they’ve the blessing of the Priest to damn her as absurd,
though she continues speaking plainly, she’s no longer really heard.
They drift away in ones and twos, her words falling without leaving a trace,
determined to pursue their own greeds from the womb unto to the grave.
There’s laughter, self-satisfied smirks, filling the queue for the bar —
the ad-exec grins widely, nudging the once breakfast-time star,
“Who would’ve thought all we stand for was so very nearly dismissed?
She’s no understanding of survival when it comes to a world like this.”
“What’s it matter,” came her reply, “when these are the lives we want?
These days belong to us, so what matter what we leave when we’re gone?
This time is ours, who cares just what price tomorrow has to pay,
so long as we can dance through our lives, from the womb unto the grave?”
(iii) A Church Not Made of Stone
Sitting in the shadows, lit only by the flames,
silently he’s listening as they seek someone to blame.
Their words are falling blindly in amongst the sparks
as he wonders if they truly reflect what’s held in hearts.
Sitting there with those who sometimes dare to dream
that, for all they’ve done, theirs are the only hands still clean.
He wonders if, like him, they no longer feel alone;
if they too have found their church not made of stone.
Their words seemed a corruption of everything he’d heard.
Their twisting of her truth far less than it deserved.
She was looking to tomorrow, they were trapped in yesterday.
Their worries all revolved around the price they’d have to pay.
He heard with disillusion, as the flames continued higher,
“I’ve got thirty pieces of silver here with which to buy her.”
All at once, within those words, his hopes for them had flown;
he saw not one who understood a church not made of stone.
He found himself falling back into the shadows of the room,
and his shaking head was glimpsed deep within the gloom.
Sitting back upon his haunches, he began to deeply breathe,
watching as she stood and toward the door began to weave.
Following her into the darkness, he saw her silhouetted by the sky,
and no words were sought or needed in that time of no reply;
he felt within, beginning to bloom, the seed that she had sown,
and felt awaking — deep inside — a church not made of stone.
When she’d come in from the storm was when he had first fallen,
though there were voices all around offering up their warnings.
Their barbed remarks, the cutting quips, he disregarded them —
knowing for himself the well of fear from which they stemmed.
Their masks of anarchy quivered at the freedom she displayed,
her belief in values they had dismissed made many feel afraid.
The sadness of her smile showed she had already known,
many here among us cannot pray in a church not made of stone.
He watched her take to the road, no glance over her shoulder,
and felt the shiver of his spine as the night blew suddenly colder.
Turning from the path, out into the fields he saw her striding,
as she sought out more of those living their lives in dying.
He marvelled at the choices she had found within to follow,
not questioning if she could somehow salve all of their sorrow.
In her reflection he knew himself to have truly grown,
and had no need to doubt her church not made of stone.
(iv) The Whistle of a Distant Train
The guests arrive at a steady pace, the Priest greets each and every one,
saying, “Those who come to the Father, they do so by the Son.”
Smiling meekly at perceived wisdoms, they hurry on to their pews,
pausing briefly at the altar for prayer, their lip service paying dues.
Stumbling mummers muffle their voices, morality plays out of tune,
panic mounts on the faces of those still trying to hide the Groom.
The stone angel on the spire can clearly hear the saddest of refrains,
carried in upon the wilderness breeze is the whistle of a distant train.
The Bride is waiting with the midnight choir just outside the lychgate —
while she knows the dice aren’t loaded, she’s resigned herself to her fate.
Dressed in white, with garters of blue, it’s just another part of her soul —
what’s the loss of a little bit more when she can’t remember feeling whole?
A compromise here, another belief sold, she believes they call it growth;
the woman she’s reflecting now, she once wouldn’t wanted to have known.
She’s taking one last look inside, though she knows it’s all in vain,
then stifles a sob as she suddenly hears the whistle of a distant train.
The days are running faster now. The sky is really darkening.
Teardrops fall through rolling thunder, lit within the clash of lightning.
The church bell sounds its sombre tone for both the Groom and Bride:
Just how long before they realise that inside false lives they hide?
The thunder rolls once more, its foreboding freely heard;
there are those who refuse its message, while others it does disturb.
The warning’s gone out now, though many still refuse to change,
some are crying openly on hearing the whistle of a distant train.
He stands among the gravestones, the ceremony drawing to a close,
his thoughts drift within the voices of the choir as they gently roll and flow.
He senses their temptation, sometimes even feels their need,
but knows he couldn’t call it life to live with all that self-deceit.
Passing there beneath the yew trees, as he lights another cigarette,
a stalled parade of familiar faces he now feels like he’s never met.
For all they had once meant to him, he cannot recall a single name;
all are lost within the sound of the whistle of a distant train.
Recalling all he’d found in her, he’d the strength to turn away;
knowing all that had held them together meant they’d nothing left to say.
There were those broadly smiling as he set his eyes upon the trail;
some saw he was escaping, others thought it proved he’d failed.
His thoughts were of tomorrow though, as his foot fell to the road;
looking forward to the lessons he’d face on this journey of the soul.
His collar turned up against the wind, he doesn’t mind the rain,
following in the footsteps of the whistle of a distant train.
(v) The Darkness of the Night
He walked into the wilderness, not knowing what he’d find,
though feeling little regret at the life he’d had to leave behind.
He knew the storm was coming, had felt the winds begin to rise;
of those he’d left behind he wondered which would feign surprise.
As the sands around him rose, he sought some place to lay,
and with his luck still holding out he stumbled across a cave.
Once inside he quickly built a fire to shed a little light,
though far from strong it still held back the darkness of the night.
Within the flames he recalled days when the sun shone still,
aware that even in their depth he’d felt there must be more to feel.
While waltzing through his flaws, just like a man freshly condemned,
he wondered that he ever got it right, even if only now and then.
He clearly saw all that he was lacking, the insight and compassion,
to prevent himself from drifting into a life determined by the fashions.
He glimpsed her face within the flames as they grew strong and bright,
and knew within he’d find the strength to face the darkness of the night.
He recognised the golden clouds from whence she had once sung,
her voice alluring and elusive, an echo back to when the world was young.
Her words had shown him there was more to life than he had dreamt,
and he wondered at those who managed to dismiss it with such contempt.
He’d heard words of light and shade, they damnation and hellfire;
while they had turned from the reflection, he’d found himself inspired.
“Can those chained to material ways ever learn the art of flight?”
he had wondered to himself deep within the darkness of the night.
Their slogans ringing empty, overused to the point of meaning nothing;
where they’d spoken of love, he saw merely shallow sexual coupling.
The ridiculously righteous all stand and wave their Chomsky quotes;
while he challenges them to change, they’re simply jotting down notes.
Those pantomime anarchists just lost their bite as the optimism faded —
though the hunger they’d had to tear it all down was never truly sated.
But somewhere along the way they had lost the will to fight,
and now their sleep is dreamless in the darkness of the night.
The melancholic trawl old photos, seeking to spark fresh emotions,
but find themselves adrift in times inspiring so much less devotion.
But he had glimpsed another way of life deep within the fire’s flames,
and knew that if he didn’t try, he’d only have himself to blame.
So one last time he’d dwell within all those places he had been,
raise a glass to those who’d passed through his requiem for a dream.
Those figures he sadly saw fading slowly from his sight
were those who could not pass beyond the darkness of the night.
(vi) There Within the Mind
From out of the darkness, she did watch her children come:
while some could barely walk, there were those still strong enough to run.
The moon bestrode the night, as a deeper darkness fell;
from somewhere in the distance came the toll of a church bell.
Some held up their torches, for the little light they cast,
fearing that they’d lose themselves right there at the last.
They trod the path with caution, not knowing what they’d find,
then stumbled on the secrets held there within the mind.
The trials and tribulations of life were reflected in their eyes,
as was the wisdom they had gained as they’d travelled through their lives.
Some understood their part in the scheme, others couldn’t comprehend —
only able to see themselves hurtling pointlessly on toward their end.
Each in their own way knows just how much life sometimes hurts,
but some still smile at the miracle of it all as the seasons hit reverse.
He himself was fumbling at the edge of darkness, feeling almost blind,
though centred upon the light he glimpsed there within the mind.
Blinking blindly in the brightness, he emerged from the dark,
and felt anew the blood pumping through the ventricles of his heart.
His self-disillusion no longer led the direction of his thoughts,
as he learnt there was a strength in not denying all his faults.
As his eyes grew accustomed, he saw she sat beneath a willow tree,
and wishing to offer her his thanks, he dropped to bended knee.
“Be still, child,” she murmured, her embarrassment refined,
“this is nothing new, it was always there within the mind.”
He found himself then laughing, delight upon his face;
realising he’d kept up the human while giving up on the race.
The only best he needed to be was the best he held within;
so with no need for guilt he cast away the roles society had given him.
She smiled upon him lightly as she saw the recognition dawn;
for in the moment he had found himself feeling fully reborn.
He’d recognised there are no fates to which we are resigned,
there’s a multiple of possibilities there within the mind.
Rejecting the media’s myth-making propaganda he observed
that the world which we create is often the world which we deserve.
But despite the darkness of the day, in some the light still shines;
and there we’ll find is held the hope that runs on down through time.
For all we know, tomorrow still leaves its path uncertain:
the script can be rewritten before the falling of the final curtain.
In each of us, these lives we lead, our future is defined,
from the very best, the very worst, all that’s there within the mind.
I hope you feel the time spent you’ve reading hasn’t been wasted.
What I plan (hope) to do is to post three or four of my poems here each week (I have a lot of poems!), and at least one “Occasional Thought” piece. At the moment I am considering something about Kennedy’s assassination and the release of With The Beatles occurring on the same day, and how these two events — in different ways — would redefine the United States.
I thank the eight people who have so far looked at my first week of blogging.