17 Finale: Sections 16 and 17–Purgatorio and Epilogue

[Here, finally are the last two sections of the exhaustingly grim long poem I have chosen to entitle 17. This poem was especially hard to write. I am at once proud to have finished it and glad to be rid of it. I derive some cold comfort at least from the fact that it took me only one year to complete, compared to 25 for my last long poem, 64. Both poems ultimately nauseate me; they have a sort of emetic quality: more smelling salts meant to rouse us from our stupor or exorcise demons than perfumes intended to inspire. Although I do not use the word ‘I’ on any occasion in this poem, even in the mouths of the many fictional others who inhabit it, this piece is, nevertheless, the most intensely personal poem I have produced to date.

The poem is also both religious and political. Section 16 begins with two ironic quotations, one from the Catholic Church, one from the Church of Scientology, both of which are basically saying the same thing. The final section begins with an overarching quotation from an article in The Journal of Peasant Studies, which also serves as the epigraph or epitaph to the poem as a whole.]

(16) Purgatorio


“What years of Purgatory will there be for those… who have no difficulty at all in deferring their prayers to another time on the excuse of having to do some pressing work! If we really desired… happiness.., we should avoid the little faults as well as the big ones…”– (Saint) Jean-Baptiste-Marie Vianney cited in The Catholic Reader http://thecatholicreader.blogspot.com/2013/06/purgatory-quotes.html

“Thetans are all-knowing beings, and became bored because there were no surprises. …The single most important desire in all beings is to have a… ‘game’ and… ‘not know’ certain things. Since Thetans knew everything, this required them to abandon or suppress perceptions and knowledge. Over time, the loss of perception accumulated and certain Thetans began to cause harm to others…. Thetans came to learn contrition, punishing themselves for their own “harmful” acts.” — Former Scientologist Jon Atack in A Piece of Blue Sky.


Redcap wakes up in the forest,

covered in morning dew. She

carefully removes the leaves from sleeping

Hansel and Gretel. Mum has gone to heaven.

Redcap leads the kids out of the woods

into the new planned town.

Workers doff their workers’ caps to the trio

as they work on the new road. Children play

in the school playground free of auto-glass wounds

or gunshot residue, kicking up a healthy helluva noise.

No din of firearms, motor vehicles or dogs

dogs the calm, sweet-smelling air.

She and Hen peek out bickering through net curtains to observe

the new arrivals arriving, as Deb is lost

upstairs in the music of her Walkman,

characters from Aussie soap-operas preparing

scrumptious cuts of meat on barbecues out back

around the greenhouse.

Oedipus and Cassandra sit atop a rose-lined stone wall

and watch the mower do his patient work with scissors

on the grass of verges and front gardens and cuddle up

to one another and purr. The bullies have set up a hair salon

on the corner that especially caters for afros, implants,

and chic hipster coiffure. Guido and Tito

have an early-morning light-hearted radio chat show

that plays all the old songs.

Everyone is always on their best behavior. Especially the police,

who toe their beat chatting with neighbors and cleaning up shit. Steph

is now the Chief Constable and needs no gun. Kids sit and read books

around the useless petrol lake in the park,

as old folk snooze in deckchairs.

The council plans to have it drained once and for all.

The war memorial has long ago

tumbled to the ground and its rubble

has been used for social housing.

Dot and Dorothy exchange old stories in a well-kept old people’s home.

A killing look is enough to put Mike in his place should he ever darken her door.


In the Counting House, Princes Cosimo, Lorenzo and Giovanni, Niccoló and Alessandro debate before a host of popes, doges, presidents and CEOs, pushing money around. Those hail Maries that got him out of Hell by a whisker, that stack of outstanding indulgence payments. Deals are struck; inducements offered up. “We did the deal with the Almighty for the right to this spiritual real estate, built this place up on sweat and blood and treasure, treachery and peril to our own souls”, Leo and Leonardo remind them passionately. “We’ve kept a pretty tight shop up to now. We owe it to the guy upstairs and the folk we keep here to keep that record up.”


Song # 10 Purgatory Paupers Motet

We languish in this workhouse,

so long as we are poor.

We work hard to atone for sins

and earn our avatars.


Our avatars fly up to earth

to plead our noble cause.

Their banknotes guarantee our worth

according to their laws.


We feed on profit that

no magnate can assure

and fall on shares

the mowers in the market bear.


(17) Epilogue

“Is there a forest in the world that does not have a history of violence in its understory?”

–Nancy Lee Peluso (2017) “Whigs and Hunters: the origins of the Black Act by E.P. Thompson” in The Journal of Peasant Studies. 44:1 309-321. Routledge.


Former lovers go about their little purgatorial houses

like ghosts gathering indulgences, trying to put things straight,

crying out for pity in the night. No way of putting them down.

And Dad pops up drunk to berate them now and then. The houses

Jack and Jerry built jostle on shifting sands. And the mafia thugs,

priests, scientologists, party pollsters, Jehovah’s witnesses

and travelling salespeople, beggars, tax-farmers and bailiffs

come round to pick up the protection money, the interest,

and the hush fund from time to time. Everyone complains but nothing is done.

There is no justification by faith, election or confession: just

the end of the line.


17 Section 15 Psychopomp

[Here is the antepenultimate section of Poem 17, entitled Psychopomp. ‘Psychopomp’ is a word of Ancient Greek origin used in mythology to refer to a figure who guides a still-living human being on a tour of the afterlife or ferries the dead to the underworld. In Modern English, the form of the word is obviously replete with other resonances.]

The grim reapers are recruited

from the ranks of the deceased

body-guards of dictators.

Gaddafi’s big-busted security detail rubs

shoulders with Milosevic’s steely jawed thugs,


alongside the long entourage of hearses,

as Madame Mao’s host of student revolutionaries

throng the streets, waving

little red flags of books

to wish them on their way.

Mike and Caligula take up the rear

and bask in the adoring mob;

relishing their triumph

over life and death alike

with rapid bursts of automatic rifle

fire into air

and proud raised fists,

as black-masked ISIS and IRA martyrs

loose a salvo of gunshots over

their smiling blood-smeared faces

and ducking laurel-garlanded heads.

Luzia in Flame

Her millennia-long skeleton,


in the warm

heart of the earth

and then under

the spotlight

of a museum showcase,

ascends finally in funereal fire.

The girl who dodged buffalo

and mammoth, viper

and giant sloth,

xenophobia and raping gangs

goes up finally

in a puff of smoke,

ignored, neglected and expunged:

a merry circus balloon unwittingly

setting her aflame. Luzia dies

thrice—breadless, uprooted, forlorn—


finally to shuffle off her fossil

limbs; be ash, bone

turned to air,

and flee—

mummy no more—

this dank blood-

sodden bog

men call a world.


Moonset in Walt Whitman

These few lines from Section 8 of Walt Whitman’s When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d provide something of a master class on how to write a skyscape within a funerary ode against a dark broiling broader political backdrop. They also epitomize how luscious repetition (anaphora) can be used as a poetic device. All those repetitions of ‘night’ and ‘as’ and ‘walk’ convey a glorious if gloomy experiential impression of walking through lush wet grass in the dead of night. Poetry to weep to and enjoy.

O western orb sailing the heaven,

Now I know what you must have meant as a month since I walk’d,

As I walk’d in silence the transparent shadowy night,

As I saw you had something to tell as you bent to me night after night,

As you droop’d from the sky low down as if to my side (while the other stars all look’d on,)

As we wander’d together the solemn night….

As the night advanced, and I saw on the rim of the west how full you were of woe,

As I stood on the rising ground in the breeze in the cool transparent night,

As I watch’d where you pass’d and was lost in the netherward black of the night,

As my soul in its trouble dissatisfied sank, as where your sad orb,

Concluded, dropt in the night, and was gone.