The Ninth Circle
Deep on the path into the centre of the earth
where a chaos of crystals hung like unlit candles,
as I waited the ferry to cross that black river,
those depths that glooped and spat like blood,
I met one I recognised amongst the hosts there.
A self-important harridan, in life she delighted in cunning,
forever wearing different masks for her purposes,
spreading illusion and malice where she went.
Here, she held her heart in her hands, so it beat there
perpetually between her fingers, veins and arteries
exposed to the poisonous fog of the air about us.
But this was no normal heart: on each cycle
of systole and diastole, the opening to each chamber
became a mouth full of razor sharp fangs
snapping and biting at her fingers like enemies,
as if her grip were the grip of predator on predator,
and this heart, cornered, fought for its very life.
In desperation, she juggled and caressed the thing,
even bending to speak soothing words to its fury,
but nothing availed: again and again she was bit,
sometimes with painful flesh wounds that opened
and pooled with blood like artesian wells;
other times with bone-deep, maiming savagery
so the very joints and whites of her bones were shown.
In a tremble of terror and wonder I watched her approach
and as she drew level, I rose and spoke to her.
‘You there, the woman who tosses her heart like a hot coal,
always compelled to catch it again in cringing pain:
I knew you well in life: you are the government woman,
the one with the home-making name. Vicious and insensitive,
duplicitous and ingenuous, deceptive and malevolent,
you were nicknamed by many The Snatcher, indication
of the hidden savagery of your dark heart’s purpose.’
‘You name me as you knew me’, she replied.
Terry Jones' poems have appeared in The Morning Star, The Robin Hood Book. The New Statesman, Poetry Review, The London Magazine, New Welsh Review, and many other magazines and anthologies. His first short collection, Furious Resonance was published by Poetry Salzburg in 2011.
‘In life my purpose was to be a teacher and cultivator;
the work of the sciences, the glorious vision,
the ennobled idea of human perfectibility and knowledge,
but seduced by power and grabbing greed, my dark anima,
I climbed the bloody pole of executive power,
steadily ascending and hanging at each vantage point,
taking the opportunity to shit on those beneath me;
forever sounding for new means of self-advancement,
I rejoiced with the mantle of a saint at my election.
Where there was harmony, I brought discord;
where truth, error; where bright faith, dark doubt;
wherever hope, I worked to bring despair and isolation.
In life I thought I had achieved the final freedom:
freedom of the wolf, freedom of the hung buzzard,
of the snake bright as a flag that hunts the nest,
of commitment to nothing but a clotted ‘Me’;
in death, I have learned how hollow and self-divided.’
With these words, she opened her soiled coat to the chest:
there, where her own heart should have been hidden,
tied to its true purpose of circulation and animation,
was a great cavity, more cave-like than biological,
and as I stared in disbelief, new horror overcame me:
from the gaping wound in her chest a bat flew out,
one tiny, black and vicious. It circled her head twice,
then with a grin of malevolence on its mouse-like face,
flew off into the gloom and shadows of the abyss.
Forget this letter: I wanted a surprise;
I nearly tricked myself into seeing your eyes
light up with a sense of wonder.
You wouldn’t believe it, but half-gutted,
coughing blind in your own common blood,
you would recognise the new world.
You would need to make a fresh march
on the new priests, the towers of privilege,
on the self-servers, the un-affirmers
who cancel society and assert themselves.
You see, everything has changed, but this:
the contemptible poor still die in their ditch
and god remains utterly loyal,
without question, on the side of the rich.
thistles stretch their prickly arms afar
A Letter To Wat Tyler
I think you would be baffled to know
that a thousand years after you were slashed
and stabbed, dropped like a dog
at Smithfield, probably kicked and stripped,
the bits of you carted around the Kingdom,
that we have put robots on Mars,
speak to each other in light waves,
could move from London to Cornwall
(traffic permitting) in the same time taken
to make a turnip or a rabbit stew.
Not that you, weed amongst wheat,
down to earth, were well disposed to miracles:
believing that a labouring man could make
as good a sacrament between two irons
as the priest does upon his altar:
you would shake your poll of hair,
the locks of the unwashed, in disbelief.
But think. Our million sized villages lit at night;
flying crafts in the air; mad magics
transformed into the daily ordinary,
though never belonging to the ordinary.
You would be much less surprised to know
that all men are not free and of one condition,
that most of the world is unchanged,
that children turn to sticks and die
that the self-entitled swan the planet,
and the same men who put you in place,
preened in rank and gold esteem,
are still in charge; believing that for humans,
providing they are not their own blood,
nothing is enough and nothing good enough.