17 Sections 13-14

(13) Mike

Mike steps up to the mike,

pumped up, excited,

at the meeting of the local chapter of the BNP,

hands trembling, brandishing a high-velocity rifle.

“Your right and mine!” he barks,

waving the weapon like a flag

before their starry eyes

to rapturous applause.

“No banker gonna take this from me,” he pauses.

“No Jew lawyer or judge.

No pink-clad feminists, no poofs, no black

boy just off the boat with a cob on about human rights.

Not even me own mum.

No eggheads or EU bureaucrats. No spineless

spastics, no socialized medicine touting NHS doctors and nurses,

no old folk, no neurotic bleeding heart conscientious-objector types

sporting their shameful white poppies on Remembrance Day.

None of the above!” He slams the rifle down on the podium.

“This,” he lingeringly fingers the trigger,

“is where—finally—the buck comes to a stop.”

 

Several undercover police officers erupt in standing ovation,

as Mike struts back to his seat, proud of the work he has done.

 

The party chairman

shakes Mike’s hand and invites him

to join the rugby club. Welcome

to the scrum. “A bit rough around

the edges, but he has a certain charm.

Good for pulling the young folk in,”

the club chairman remarks casually later

to his posh golfing buddies over a beer.

*

The blunt lead air-gun pellet bounces off of the birch tree,

and rebounds whizzing thrillingly around the boy’s

blond locks, frustrating the irresistible urge to hunt and kill.

Better guns are advertised in magazines, he thinks.

Dirty Harry on TV.

And now he has that job at the meat-packing factory,

the sky’s the limit, despite all that nonsense at school.

He smells bad all the time, but the blood

and his pristine white abattoir uniform

proudly bear the colors of the English national flag.

Buy British Meat is the slogan

that adorns the company’s messages on billboards

and in the intervals in the evening soaps.

The girlfriend-to-be gags on pork pies,

every time she thinks of him, pony-tail

tucked up neatly under her standard-issue

white health&safety-approved company hat.

She works in accounts. Mike

drools over pictures of ninjas and swordsticks

in off-beat fanzines as he warms up

dinner in the microwave

and watches the guts being washed off of the clothes

in the new Electrolux washing-machine. The appliance

of science. Sci-fi explains it all.

*

Mike queues up to sign for the package

and the license at the Post Office

among the decrepit picking up their pensions

and the losers pocketing the giros

they scuttle off to squander in betting shops and pubs.

*

The woods are a welcoming place.

Mike takes a deep breath of cool, wet,

refreshing bark-scented air,

dead leaves crunched underfoot,

folk foraging for firewood,

fungi, ticks, fauna, psychos, family outings—

a sweet bouquet of decay.

 

(14) Michael Angel

The mower shooting

has kicked up a helluva fuss.

The cop copter is back up in the air

overhead. Mike cuts off

through the poplar trees,

darts across the playing field

and scrambles up the well-camouflaged

leafy embankment into the art workshop

of the C of E governed Richard of Gloucester

Middle School closed for recess

that he used to attend.

The walls are adorned with artwork

to celebrate the Harvest Festival

that some kids must have been allowed in

to prepare during the vac. Corn dollies

hang from the ceiling. Some sick fuck

has drawn a wicker man. Fruit is piled

up in imagination for Autumn

and bottled in jars. The fields

blaze with purging flame. Two cop helicopters

now are circling in, a SWAT team moving stealthily

up the embankment. Gruff voices through

trumpets of megaphones,

calling him Michael—no-one ever called him that—

urging him to turn himself in. Mike knows

the game is up, upends the shotgun

and nuzzles it carefully under his chin, says

a little last prayer to Mother Mary,

and paints the stucco of the art workshop ceiling

with a fresco of lead shot, blood, brains

and ears of corn.

“Target down”, a voice crackles over a walkie-

talkie and the cops and the crime-scene clean-up folk move in.

*

Song # 9 The School Bullies’ Barbers Quartet

We drag you to the underground,

as soon as down appears on chin.

We toy a razor round

your throat but never stick it in.

 

We order how you cut your hair

to fit in with the crew.

We mock you when your crotch is bare

and when pubes grow there too.

 

We haunt you in the shower

and on the hockey field.

The teachers give us power

to use the sticks we wield.

 

We are the social barbers,

expunging all dissent,

our emblem blood-smeared razors,

white foam emolument.

 

We pull your baby teeth in ways

no fairy can reward.

We darken sunny summer days

when we are sad or bored.

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17 Section 12 Mower

[Section 12 of 17 contains a single ‘song’ that was the original seed-crystal for the whole poem. Back in June of last year, I was interested in writing a Mower Poem in tribute to Andrew Marvell’s extraordinarily evocative and enigmatic work in this post-Renaissance mock pastoral niche genre. The poem I came up with rapidly began to expand into the much longer project I have chosen to entitle 17. This section has already been published on this blog as a free-standing poem, along with some reflections on the rich history of the mower poem sub-genre. https://oudeis2005.wordpress.com/2017/06/29/mowers/ ]

 Song # 8 Mower Song

A man mowing a lawn thinks no ill

will befall his world, as he whistles

and the blades whir into a blur

of shredded grass and the smell

of cut grass mingles with the slight scent

of roses lining the fence, the cool breeze

of the summer air. The buzz

of a small plane passing overhead

leaves a fading signature on the sky;

the clip-clopping clapping sounds

of tennis on TV coming from indoors.

*

The shot rings out with a single

sharp metallic whistle. Birds

scatter out of the pear tree.

Blood decorates the nasturtiums.

The lawnmower whirs on growlingly,

tipped over,

stuck in place, digging into the turf

with hungry angry teeth,

as if the thing had a life of its own.

17 Section 11 Dorothy Agonistes

[The first part of this section is a disturbing lament put in the voice of an elderly female character’s deceased mother and written in an experimental style that muddles pronouns and eschews all punctuation except for irregular rhyming line breaks and repeated use of the word ‘like’ as a mock caesura. For more erudite information on the evolution of the punctuating use ‘like’, see this recent article from The Atlantic. https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2016/11/the-evolution-of-like/507614/

(1)

Song #7 The Scullery Maid’s Soprano Aria

On your knees like a scrubber you know

and Master like comes a-slapping and a-squeezing

your still like cute butt as you like slow

down and half like it a-tingling

*

down there and wonder in your mind

like how things could still turn out

till Young Master come remind

you like with a riding-crop thereabout

*

how all folk like know their place

and yours is like on the floor under

his boot and corsets by God’s grace

praying meekly you won’t like flounder.

 

(2)

And that’s how I was born, Dot thinks,

as she sits knitting in the dark of a power cut,

in grandma Dorothy’s agonized tummy and mind.

 

(3)

The marriage ceremony was a sham

and stale as the stagnant waters of the village pond

the church bells ring around.

The groom tossed his signature off as if it were a dog

turd he had just stepped in and stomped off on a binge.

Dorothy done up to the nines in palest green,

grimacing through flapper-girl fashion uniform,

grim-faced in-laws gritting their teeth

in long-posed seaside snaps

coming out of the camera obscura

on a sepia-tinted honeymoon.

 

17 Section 10 Dot

“Such a nice boy,” Dot is saying

to the gaggle of neighbors milling

round the crime-scene. “Wouldn’t

say boo to a goose.” Mike hops back

over the back fence with an AK 45.

Neighbors scatter as he puts one bullet

into mum’s spine and others

into that bloody yapping dog.

Dot writhes on the drive thinking how

she would comb his blond hair every morning

over breakfast, coo him to sleep,

put him down in front of the TV,

calm him down with sugar treats,

money from her pension to top up

his unemployment benefits, so he

can go out boozing with mates

and buy those magazines. A job

maybe at the end of the line

as gamekeeper or at the slaughterhouse,

or fixing cars. Those nice boys

from the Conservative Club coming round

from time to time

with leaflets to be posted through doors.

 

17 Section 9 Siren

[This ninth section of 17 is written entirely in prose and shifts the point of view to that of law-enforcement, principally that of an imaginary female police officer. Although anachronisms and geographical ambiguities tend to abound in my poems, they are usually set in a late 1970s/early 1980s suburban British setting. Apologies, therefore, to any currently more enlightened law enforcement officers who may be offended by the way I portray them in this section of the poem.]

Siren

The police helicopter is grounded today and the mainframe in the precinct is on the blink again; the telephone exchange jammed by incoming calls, operators fending off hysteria with quiet trained patient voices of calm.

Women in green dungarees camp out outside the air-force base, a thick wall of police eyeing their chained bodies with dogs. Fighter-planes boom overhead, spoiling for a dogfight, deafen out the chants and jeers, scatter beads, pamphlets and flowers, almost setting off the hounds in their wake.

*

Steph stomps out of the police canteen and into her car in a blind contained rage. That fucking hand on her knee to start off the day, those looks from the pigs slobbering over their unfinished breakfast of sausages and eggs as their eyes follow her ass marching out to deal with a crank call from an old dear they can’t be bothered to attend, the phone lines jammed, the mainframe on the blink, barely holding themselves back from laughing at her or whipping out their pricks, like they did at last year’s Christmas party. “Go girl!” Boys will be boys. “Don’t you like male strippers, then, love?” the Chief Super smirked in the interview following her formal complaint.

“Cute cop!” a building-site worker leaning over scaffolding whistles down at her through the car window she has wound down on account of the summer heat. She plops the police siren on the top of the car and turns it on so she can let off steam with some urgent police-work justified speeding along the old Roman road.

Steph calms down as the car veers into a lazy suburb surrounded by parks. Net curtains twitch in tidily arranged houses set way off of the road by cherry trees and a grassy verge. Old folk walk their dogs out for a shit. Kids play in the back garden. Telephones ring. Televisions are tuned in to daytime chat, tennis, Australian soaps. Something crackles on her walkie-talkie. Some dick wanting to order her about, she thinks. She takes her eyes off the road for a second to sneer before answering it.

Something hits her in the chest twice like a thump. She looks down at the blood pumping out of her heart. Her cramped foot rams down instinctively on the accelerator. She swoons and swerves at high speed into a telegraph pole. The sudden jolt catapults her through the windscreen in a cascade of auto-glass crystals and the parabolas of applied mathematics she learnt in school. Unusual for a girl to be turned on by that, the teacher noted. Seat-belts are optional for police officers on the job she thinks, eyes twitching on the ground, still— for fuck’s sake, even now—remembering the schoolyard taunts, the hands up her skirt, the patronizing tone of physics teachers, parabolas, ballistics, graphs, the poor grades, the rape, the self-harming, the triumph of graduation day, the shaming first day on the job, the ogling pigs slobbering over their breakfast this morning, this fucked-up cunt who’s just put a bullet through me, the nose-bleed, rose-red blood, the slowing beat of her hurt heart. Turn it off already, will you. Police on walkie-talkies tweet innuendoes into her broken receiver out of reach several feet away. “Show him your tits, love! That’ll put an end to it,” they snigger. She reaches out for nothing and gives in. Worried old dears uselessly mill around.

A Number of Issues regarding Number

First Impressions

Number is, on the face of it, the easiest of grammatical notions to master. Nouns or noun phrases can be singular or plural. Most nouns form the plural by adding –s. Verbs agree with the noun in number but only in the third person singular of the present simple, which ends in –s; the other parts of the verb have no ending.

However, even within this seeming simplicity, lurk seeds of confusion. It is odd (very odd in fact) that the plural of the noun and the singular of the first person present tense of the verb have the same suffix.

[1] Many girls like to play football.

[2] That boy likes to play football.

In fact, it is so odd that no-one knows the exact etymologic of the 3rd person singular form.

Countability and Uncountability

Even odder is the fact that not all English nouns have plural forms and sometimes the same word has different meanings, depending on whether it has a plural form or not.

This issue comes about because sometimes we want to talk about a multitude of things as if they were a lump rather than a group of discrete individuals or objects. We tend to feel the same about abstract terms, so these behave in the same way.

Consider the following phrases:

[3] Vegetarians don’t eat meat.

[4] Beethoven continued to write music when he was deaf.

‘Meat’ and ‘music’ here are uncountable. They will rarely, if ever, appear in the plural.

Sometimes a single word has a countable and an uncountable form with different meanings. For example, ‘time’ and ‘room’.

[4] I have no time to do homework (uncountable)

[5] I have taken the test many times. (countable)

[6] The house has eight rooms (countable)

[7] There is no room for parking (uncountable i.e. space)

In fact there are five categories of countability in present-day English:

I Always uncountable (e.g. music, bread)

II Usually uncountable (e.g. water)

III Countable or uncountable but with different meanings (e.g. time, lamb)

IV Usually countable (e.g. leg)

V Always countable (e.g. words used to transform uncountables into countables, such as ‘piece’, ‘slice’, ‘item’)

Common Mistakes involving Number

  1. Adjectives in the plural.

Adjectives almost NEVER occur in the plural in English. Or, to be more precise, adjectives NEVER agree with the noun they qualify in number. This rule also extends to the vast majority of other qualifiers (of which adjectives are a subset). So, there is no plural form of the articles (‘the’, and ‘a’), no plural forms of numbers, no plural ending on nouns used as qualifiers (even when these are logically plural), and no plural endings on words or phrases that express plurality (such as ‘some’, ‘few’, ‘several’, ‘a number of’ etc.). Neither does the word ‘other,’ if used as a qualifier, take a plural ending; although, if used as a noun substitute, it does. The singular form of other (qualifier) or others (noun) is another. The demonstrative pronouns, which have clear plural forms (‘this’,’these’,’that’,’those’), are the only significant exceptions to this rule.

Examples:

[8] Difficult issues. [No-one, native speaker or not, would put an –s on the adjective in speaking. So why do people do it in writing?]

The same applies when the adjective is the coda of the phrase.

[9] Some issues are difficult to resolve.

[10] Animal Farm is the title of a famous book about a farm that has many animals. But here the word animal is functioning as a qualifier (i.e. like an adjective). So there is no plural ending. The same goes for more common phrases such as ‘project management’ = ‘the management of projects’.

  1. Failure to identify the main subject of a sentence or the main noun in a noun phrase.

This error may occur for a number of reasons:

  1. a) simple oversight
  2. b) because the subject of the sentence is a long way away from the verb.
  3. c) failure to identify the main noun of a nominal phrase that is the subject of a sentence.

The following example covers all three of these:

[11] Members of staff responsible for office security are required to wear identity badges at all times.

Here the subject of the verb ‘are’ is the nominal phrase ‘members of staff’ and, within this nominal phrase, the main noun is ‘members’, which is plural. So the verb ‘are’ has a plural form also.

  1. d) failure to notice that the main noun is an irregular plural (e.g. people, children, sheep, fish, bacteria, criteria, analyses)
  2. Issues regarding the distinction between countable and uncountable.
  3. a) In some cases, words that appear plural are in fact singular and vice versa. For example, ‘news’ is singular. ‘Police’, however, is plural (except in this sentence, in which it is singular, because I am referring to the word ‘police’ not the people plural who work as ‘police officers’. Names of cities or countries when they refer to sports teams (in the UK) are also plural.

[12] Liverpool is a beautiful city.

[13] Liverpool have been playing well this season.

  1. b) Single objects made of pairs or parts.

‘Scissors’ and ‘stairs’ are plural and uncountable but we can make them countable by saying ‘a pair of scissors’, ‘a flight of stairs’.

  1. c) The abstract nature of countability

Perhaps the most common source of error in this regard derives from the fact that countability (and hence grammatical number) is abstract in English (like gender in Latin languages) and does not necessarily bear any relation to actual plurality or singularity. In addition to this we may, as human beings, have a tendency to see large groups of objects or generalizations that take a plural form as a singular mass. Grammatically, however, these must be plural.

A common error for example concerns the word ‘people’, meaning ‘people in general’, ‘all the people in the world’. There is a natural tendency to see this as something singular, but ‘people’ is grammatically plural and, therefore, the verb that follows it must be too.

This confusion can also work the other way round. Singular words (such as ‘crowd’ and ‘flock’) refer to a plurality of people or things, but are nevertheless grammatically singular.

  1. Anomalies

There are, of course, numerous anomalies. Here are two of my favorite ones.

  1. a) Everyone and no-one

These two words (weirdly) are both singular and plural. Although, when used as the subject of a verb, the verb must take a singular form, when referred back to later in the sentence (by a possessive or a tag question) they suddenly become plural. So,

[14] Everyone loves their children.

[15] No-one likes a bully, do they?

  1. b) ‘the number of’ and ‘a number of’

These are in fact two very different expressions and refer to two very different concepts.

“The number of” refers to the exact number of something and is thus conceived to be singular.

[16] The number of students consulting online resources has increased dramatically in recent years. [The number is the subject not the students]

“A number of,” by contrast, is a compound qualifier (i.e. a kind of adjective) meaning more or less the same as ‘some’. The subject therefore will be the noun that follows it and will be plural.

[17] A number of students have complained [Here the subject is the students].

Final Remarks

This is just a brief overview of some of the issues regarding grammatical number that I have observed as an English language teacher and editor. As errors of this nature seem to be on the rise recently, I feel that number is an often overlooked or underestimated corner of grammar that may require more attention on the part of learners and teachers.

I hope in the near future to post an article that addresses the question of why this kind of error seems to be on the increase in contemporary global English. I am also interested in the way different languages and cultures deal with the concept of grammatical number and in the manner in which this interacts with acquisition of the concept in a more mathematical and philosophical sense.

For remarks on the concept of number in legal English, see my previous post on Antonin Scalia. https://oudeis2005.wordpress.com/2014/04/30/grammar-lessons-from-antonin-scalia/

17 Section 8 Dogs

[Here is the Eighth Section of 17, my ongoing epyllion on the subject of a spree shooting. After a short prologue that picks up on previously alluded to political themes, Section 8 presents a sort of negative image of the park shootings recounted in the third part of Section 7, this time seen from the point of view of dogs. I apologize to dog-lovers for having portrayed their pets here as instinct-driven monsters that soak up and act out the worst character traits of their owners and masters. I myself am definitely a cat person. Still, this cathartic scherzo-like section of an otherwise gruelingly dark and sad poem was kind of fun to write. It is dedicated to my deceased cats, Oedipuss and Cassandra. The poem as a whole is crammed with the voices of ghosts, even feline ones.]

 

The squire commands fences, men

with muskets, bloodhounds keeping

the game; a coat of arms, kangaroo

courts, eviction orders & the shadow

of a hangman’s noose. The poacher

has a cork-blacked face, stealth,

retrofitted farmyard implements, a snare,

a trap, the cloak of night, eggs

pilfered from a nest. Battle

is done through rustlings of undergrowth,

bated breath, tripwires, bursts of shot,

under an absent moon.

*

The unleashed dogs in the park

go beserk, as if some inner whistle

had set them off. Fear and anger,

flight and fight excited in equal measure

& intermixed, as bullets crackle and snap through

the still summer nasturtium-scented air

and crack their targets with a silent pop.

Painted Dolly still dressed as a flapper girl

tumbles into the dirt, rushing after

her pampered poodle snapped up

in the jaws of a Rottweiler off the chain

and tossed up into the air like a bag of trash.

Terriers, spaniels, pointers, setters, retrievers, boxers, pitbulls,

racing greyhounds, bulldogs, Afghans, German

Shepherd dogs, dachshunds, Dalmatians, and plush Pekingese,

skinny Chihuahuas cowering in the flowerbeds,

all unrein their inbred instincts

into cacophony and chaos, baying,

like Oedipus,

against the god-playing

shadows of men,

against the petting that proves

it is better never to have been;

like Cassandra,

they wail and warn

of doom in vain.

Modal Verbs in the News

Grammar seldom makes the news. In fact nothing seems to make the news much these days except for Brexit and Trump.

I made a conscious decision early last year NOT to write about the US president on this blog, even though politics is one of its main thematic axes. Since Trump seems to thrive, like some extremophile strain of virulent bacterium, even on negative publicity, I feel it is the best policy not to give him any publicity at all.

I make an exception, however, where language is concerned; and, since I have written extensively on modal verbs in past posts, I feel obliged to comment when one of them makes the headlines, as has occurred recently, even though it came out of the mouth of Mr. T.

At the Helsinki summit press conference, when asked a question regarding Russian tampering in the 2016 US elections, Mr. T uttered the following words: “I don’t see any reason why it would be [Russia]”

After much outcry over this statement, not least among members of his own party, the very next day the US president retracted his words, claiming that he had ‘misspoken’ ‘would’ instead of ‘wouldn’t’ and thereby, in an unimpressive display of clumsy prestidigitation, completely inverted the apparent original meaning of the phrase.

Leaving aside questions regarding the genuineness of this self-correction or the nature of Mr. T’s true feelings towards Vladimir Putin and the Russian Federation, I think it is worthwhile taking the president at his word on this occasion and examining the ‘mistake’ in purely linguistic terms.

To be fair, Trump himself, in the course of his retraction, explained the error in precisely this way. “It’s a sort of double negative,” he added (off-script) after reading out the corrected version of the original statement.

This provides a glimpse of insight into what really goes on in Mr. T’s mind, whether his intentions were duplicitous or not.

Trump is old enough to have been schooled quite sternly in a kind of prescriptive grammar, which, like much of what Mr. T believes in, is rightly considered politically incorrect and scientifically wrong these days. One such ‘rule’ that would have been beaten into him (perhaps literally) as a young student at a posh military school in the 1950s concerns avoidance of a so-called ‘double negative’.

The reason for this, of course, is that phrases of the kind “I ain’t done nothing” tend to be stereotypical markers of low social status and, in the US, non-white ethnicity.

The truth is that, from a descriptivist point of view, standard middle-class white English, on both sides of the Atlantic, is a language in which multiple negative markers are interpreted ‘logically’ rather than emphatically. Thus, “I haven’t done nothing’ is interpreted to mean “I have done something.” The two negatives cancel each other out just as they do in mathematics. I should add that, in this example, the double negative adds a sort of whining apologetic tone to a neutral double-positive statement and sounds sort of ‘off’.

But this logical interpretation of double negatives is by no means a linguistic universal nor even true for the wide range of brands of English now spoken around the world. Many languages, including my own second language, Portuguese, use multiple negative markers primarily to emphasize the negativity. Logic doesn’t come into it. No means no. And three no’s mean “No! No! No!”

Even within the English family of dialects, this emphatic use of multiple negatives is accepted in certain contexts and is common in cultures whose language use is colored by an ancestral substrate.

Going back to Trump’s sentence, however, we should note that it is not in fact a double negative in the sense outlined above. The two negative markers clearly occur in separate clauses, one embedded in the other in the manner of indirect speech.

In such cases, the logical interpretation of negatives applies in all cultures and all languages. There is a world of difference between “I never done nothing,” which is clearly emphatic and “I never said I never done nothing”, in which the two negative clauses cancel one another out.

So, there is nothing grammatically wrong with what Mr T. originally said and no reason for a mea culpa or correction on these grounds.

This is what linguists and language teachers call hyper-correction. The speaker or writer makes a mistake because they are inappropriately or over-exactly applying a ‘rule’ learnt by rote.

However, as is so often the case when we start to analyze discourse linguistically, there is something else going on here. And this concerns not the old-fangled notion of double negatives but a very modern shift in the use of the modal verb ‘would’.

There are no prescriptive sociolinguistically-determined rules regarding the use of ‘would’.

Supposedly descriptive grammar text books aimed at non-native speakers have traditionally typified ‘would’ as a ‘translation’ of the Latinate conditional. It usually presented in the context of sentences containing ‘if-clauses,’ in cases where the outcome is unlikely or counterfactual, although the modal verb is obviously not confined to this structure and context.

In fact, as Michael Lewis has pointed out, this traditional exemplification and implicit characterization of the use of ‘would’ is misleading to say the least. Numerous language students of mine have noted that ‘would’ does not occur most frequently in English in relation to an conditional, nor is ‘would’ the most frequent modal verb used in conditional sentences.

Matters are further confounded by the fact that there is a strong tendency, even in erudite discourse, and especially in the United States, to use ‘would’ in both halves of a sentence involving an ‘if-clause’.

Interestingly, this grammatical deviation from the ‘norm’ tends to go unnoticed and is certainly not subject to the kind of prescriptivist opprobrium associated with double negatives. The veteran CNN journalist, Wolf Blitzer, does it all the time.

There are in fact some good reasons for this structural development. The double use of ‘would’ sets up a nice parallelism that adds clarity, especially in situations where clarity is especially important, such as those involving reporting or reading the news.

There is, however, another more negative tendency to use ‘would’ very generally and vaguely, merely to distance or exempt the writer or speaker from responsibility for the statement uttered. It is habitually used by journalists and politicians and is even spreading at an alarming rate to academic discourse as well. In Latin languages, the equivalent use of a conditional has become standard in all fields of discourse to the extent that it is practically obligatory in any public statement of an opinion and even in statements of facts.

I get why people do this. It sounds modest and polite and acknowledges differences of opinion and the need for scientific doubt. However, it also threatens to cast a veil of suspicion over any statement uttered (however self-evident or well-documented) and, at the same time, provides a convenient safety-valve of potential retraction for those who wish to benefit from the dissemination of patent untruths.

It lays the linguistic groundwork for a world in which all knowledge is suspect, all facts questionable, and in which all promises, commitments and principles can easily be turned on a dime.

That may be the kind of world in which the likes of Mr. T prefer to operate, but it is definitely not the kind of gloomy unpredictable dark age most people in this world would ever wish to live in.

 

Stars

[Here is another flag poem. The themes and style of this nascent flag series are beginning to merge with those of my haiku-like urban skyscape poems.]

Stars fall out

of navy-blue sky

snowflake-like

onto furrows of ploughed

blood-streaked land

Saltire

[Following my poem for St. George’s Day, I seem to have started off on a series on the subject of national flags. This one popped suddenly and surreptitiously up into my mind tonight in a single gulp.]

The cross is a human body

with hands and feet cut off

and pinned on the canvas of a flag,

diagonally;

bleached bones and emaciation

on a background of blues

against blue skies;

incorporated,

like a jolly roger,

in navy blue,

by union jack.