(or, On Dissent)
Wait, stranger! Why the rush? This place
just turns upon itself, so to leave is only a step
to hurrying back. What’s the difference
if you pause and talk? Those scars
across your chest and face: did you once march
with spear and shield? I fought
at Potidaea and Delium. I’m Socrates, of Athens.
Yeah, I’ve heard that bit. Righteous bastard
with all the questions. I must be dead,
to run into the likes of you.
Was it an accident? A sudden
fall from craggy heights? Or did you disturb
some starving animal in its sleep?
Who gave you those injuries?
I cut my chest with broken glass.
And the scabs on the back of your hands,
were they not left by spear tips?
That was just a laugh with a cigarette, some game
we’d play in the Hampstead bedsit.
What was the purpose?
It was funny. It was supposed to give
them second thoughts about trying to smack me.
Show them that anything they’d try
isn’t half of what I’ve had already.
Who are they who’d seek to harm you?
Suits and coppers. Punters in the audience. The fucking lot.
What were the reasons for their enmity?
They didn’t like us. We were wasters
and fuck-ups who wouldn’t settle for what they
stood for: blind acceptance, apathy and moderation.
We pushed some buttons. Got kitted out in handcuffs,
leather, safety pins and razor blades. Nicked stuff.
Punch-ups. Three-chord songs with aggro-lyrics.
Style as revolt, arrogance over ability, violence
if the music failed. Like Rotten said, it’s worth
going where you’re least wanted,
since there’s so much more to achieve.
Were you an actor, or a rhapsode?
A person skilled in reciting verse. Who takes the stage
at festivals with words stitched together so dramatically
that the rhythm of the music loads the crowd with feeling.
Years ago I met another rhapsode, who came from Ephesus.
I convinced him that the passion of his art passes through him
from gods into the audience; in effect he becomes possessed.
That when the beat and tone are right, frenzy builds,
and like the bacchants, he can momentarily lose his mind.
Yeah, sounds about right.
When you look down upon the spectators
from the platform and see them weeping,
awestruck at the power of your tale, is it proof
you are a conduit between the gods
and the common crowd?
Are you taking the piss?
What was the source of your enthusiasm?
Are these some other, newer gods? What was their purpose?
Let me ask you this:
do you claim they brought disorder
into your minds, while still protecting you?
Tell me, what is the meaning of virtue?
Remember, I was once like you, the stubborn
rube who stood against society’s rules,
then was put on trial for revering new gods
and corrupting youth. I too pulled faces
at the world, and shouted down
the ruling powers. Didn’t a jury find you
guilty of crimes against the state
and sentence death?
I got fixed for good before they had the chance.
What was the vehicle of your death?
Drugs. It was the drugs, mate.
Me, too. This was equally my fate.
Oh yeah? What did you in?
Where’d you get it?
It’s brought by ship from Crete or Asia Minor.
Must be good.
The effect is satisfactory. Your legs feel heavy,
then retreat from feeling anything,
as if a cold blade went tickling up your thighs
to snip and trim off portions of your body
with a thousand nipping cuts. It leaves a chill,
a glaze that frosts toward your heart,
pinching off your breath. It was the punishment
they prescribed, all because I asked
too many questions and failed to compromise.
Ever since, I’ve been cited as an example
of how to live the good life. You see the paradox?
Listen, geezer, fuck right off. I wasn’t
looking for a dialogue, just the karzy.
But if all this tripe you’re laying out
is meant to serve me up as some stunned muppet
for your logic to outsmart, I’ve got a few words
you might need to chew on first,
since I’d hardly time to write some weepy memoir.
All that’s left of who I was
are press interviews, Pistols footage
and video of me in skids, scarred and junkie-thin,
dancing to an Eddie Cochran song in the sheen
of a scuzzy mirror. When I came on the scene,
I was just naive, then turned volatile;
they shoved me in the spotlight, stitched me up
with all the drugs and hype, then threw me to the wind.
I couldn’t get my head right, and never surfaced.
Since you’re so keen on painting
you and me as being two bin bags from
the same rubbish, I’ll tell you what: the question
isn’t virtue, but how you exercise it.
You can’t know if a wheel rolls till you nudge it
down a slope. So where was all that search
for virtue’s definition when the pro-Spartan Thirty
lodged their regime in your democracy’s agora
and started topping the opposition?
Suddenly, you were keeping mighty quiet.
Remember Heraclitus: ethos anthropos daimon?
You got yours, didn’t you?
Are you suggesting I deserved to die that way?
No, mate, I’m just saying you must have seen
it coming, like I should’ve, coppers everywhere
and the tabloids predicting the end of the world.
Backing slogans like ‘No Future,’
I had to go the distance, didn’t I? Once the Pistols
imploded, I’d have been a pretty sight, in silk
and power tie, tugging a handgrip on the Tube,
counting off the platforms on the way to the office
and some thicko with a Green Day T-shirt shouting,
‘Hey, weren’t you Sid Vicious? Yeah, you did it
your way, looks like!’ I think I see that now.
This afterlife must be the best detox going:
a clear head and all this time to wonder
what I think, now there’s time to think it over.
You speak as if the person you refer to
were someone else, a completely other soul
than the one you’ve left behind.
Look, I don’t know. There’s no fucking logic
in it, right? How can we know ourselves?
We change. We backpedal. We try again.
One of you blokes once said the soul’s
an activity, not a state. That would give me hope.
That way, I could’ve worked through the trap
of being me forever. What a laugh.
This still isn’t you or me talking anyway,
just proxies in a poem. We never got to play
our parts; you’d your man Plato spinning
yarns about how ridiculously smart
and virtuous you were, while I got Gary Oldman.
So what’s one more tosser playing puppets
with his hand up our collective arse?
So who are we?
A monkey’s tea party, for all I know.
Counterweight to the comfortable
and approved. A fishbone in the throat of those
who never bothered asking
whether wealth and power were such
gasping pursuits. But what’s a better way
to go than making one unholy noise
when you’ve got the world’s ear?
You might’ve been an annoying prat,
but I’d back you every time, even while
you were turning blue across a mattress.
At night, I hear feedback so constant
I think I haven’t dreamt it. There’s
no wind here, no sky or streets,
not even a proper pisser,
and I’m with my mind all the time.
David O’Meara lives in Ottawa, Ontario. He is the author of three collections of poetry and a play, Disaster, nominated for four Rideau Awards. His poetry has been shortlisted for the Gerald Lampert Award, the ReLit Prize, the Trillium Book Award, a National Magazine Award and he won the Archibald Lampman Award twice. His most recent book is Noble Gas, Penny Black (Brick Books, 2008). He is director of the Plan 99 Reading Series and was the Canadian judge for the 2012 Griffin Poetry Prize.
Look for an interview with David in the upcoming volume of Lemon Hound.
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