L’Homme Révolté

In loving memory of my uncle, David Liddell (1945-2003)

Youth is a blunder; Manhood a struggle; Old Age a regret.
                                                 – Benjamin Disraeli, Coningsby

i)  Child

My father has this box of matches he won’t let me hold.
He says: “They’re very dangerous. It’s like they have the sun
concealed beneath their hats. They’re not designed for childish fun.”
I shouted back: “I’m not a child! I’ll soon be six years old!”
But he just smiled and laughed at me in front of everyone.
Though normally I try to do the stupid things I’m told,
it’s different now. I’ll show them how. I’m very big and bold.

So Pháëthon, his mind made up, sees Helios go out.
He finds the box of matches, and he soon gets one alight,
but when it burns his fingers he releases it in fright.
He’s petrified by what he’s done. Can no one hear him shout
in horror as the carpet, drapes and furniture ignite?
They’ll call it misadventure, but there’s hardly any doubt
he couldn’t go ahead till there was nobody about.

ii)  Teenager

Don’t try to stop Narcissus in the middle of his dance.
For once the one he loves loves him. For once it’s not the case
that Echo comes to comfort him. No longer does his face
communicate disaster. For once, he took a chance
and fell into the water at the local steeplechase.
He knew his own reflection wasn’t worth a second glance,
but second-hand he saw it and was thrown into a trance.
He stared in blank amazement. There was nothing to commend
those muddy eyes, that greasy hair, that corrugated chin,
those twisted lips, those crooked teeth, that acne-riddled skin,
yet out of curiosity he yearned to comprehend
the alienated genius crying out from deep within.
And when he saw it was himself, he couldn’t help but bend
to kiss his spitting image. Now, at last, he’s found a friend.

iii)   Torch-bearer

Prometheus is drinking hard – neat vodka all day long.
He used to be devoted to the service of mankind,
but now he seeks oblivion, with nothing on his mind
except the next delivery of vodka. And this song:
“Why was he born so beautiful?” Come morning and you’ll find
him sprawling in the same old place. And yet, there’s something wrong.
He’s not the wreck you might expect. He’s fighting fit and strong.

And then, cold sober, he complains: “It’s all the fault of Zeus,
who’s punished me for harnessing a natural supply
of raging fire.” He shrugs his shoulders, gestures at the sky,
and points a finger at the sun. It isn’t any use
appealing to his common sense. He thinks the reason why
he’s drinking is his lighter works. An item he’ll produce
in evidence. Try telling him his argument’s too loose.

iv)  Teacher

Odysseus is knitting – woollen socks for Penny’s dad.
She disappeared ten years ago, and since then he’s preferred
to live alone, quite adamant she’s given him her word
she’ll find her way back home to him. We told him he was mad
and begged him to forget her, until finally we heard
him promising to activate a marriage bureau ad
as soon as he’s completed these two socks. But we’ve been had.

It’s been three years, and still no sign of any fiancée.
Perhaps he’s sensed defeat? A little rattled that his age
will figure on the Internet? Afraid that once his cage
is showcased on the World Wide Web his wounded pride won’t pay
for licensing his ego to go waltzing centre-stage?
Or else the Fates that smile on him conduct his hands as they
unravel all the stitches at the end of every day.

Duncan Gillies MacLaurin

If you've any comments on this poem,  Duncan Gillies MacLaurin would be pleased to hear from you.

Snakeskin logo