Manoeuvres in the Dark

General Downer ordered Captain Pain to wake me up early,

each nail driven flush, head screwed on backwards.

Lieutenant Doubt brought in wedges, Sergeant Fear drilled the holes

in a blancmange of self-esteem curdled by HMV (Her Mother’s Voice).

If Admiral Alcohol could float all our boats,

if Rear-Vice-Sub-Private would only obey,

if Colonel Attitude would finally kick in

to set fire to boot camps, clear the fog

of bullying tactics, stomp on officers’ messes.

 

Meander, sweet nothings, refuse to cower, shouted at,

moved like chess pieces on an invisible board.

Raise your meek bosoms in the rousing language

of nineteenth century phrasing, triumphant with Verdi,

gallant with Radetzky, drunk with Turkish lore.

Military Manoeuvres by Jan Hoynck van Papendrecht, from Artnet.

Insomnia

Every night at four

I startle awake,

like a doe sensing danger in the forest of my dreams.

Trees come up to charge me,

transform before my eyes

to endless reams of paper

unleashing lists in the dark:

invoices, accounting, due dates.

All their screeching pleas

reproachful looks

mouths gaping with urgency

like babes unfed.

How can I divide myself in enough parts to please them all?

 

I’ve read all the books

on expanding my brain and ensuring eternal happiness.

I breathe deeply and visualise,

think of colours, tastes and smells,

let my limbs grow lank and sleepy,

start leaving tasks in each room of  my memory mansion

but never get beyond the ground floor.

Then I panic

breathing shallow

heart flutters that extra wriggle

which tightens my abdomen.

I rush again and again through identical rooms

circling like an inept crow.

 

Too much to know

take in, remember,

too much to search, gather, understand.

Too much choice

yet nothing is new under the sun.

Nothing captures me, nothing remains.

Tomorrow the novelty will be submerged in fresh newness.

My voice surely too will drown in all that noise.

 

The fractal geometry of our lives

the ruthlessness of passing,

I feel maimed

dislocated from images and sounds.

 

Fragility poises for bare second on my finger

Then butterflies off

To a world of vulnerable memories.

 

My pain is not depth but the shallowness and width.