The Putative Egg
or The Length & Breadth of Italy
- I learned from the minstrel the Songs of the East
- I knew a girl who ate no pears.
- The snow falls each morning at 6.35
- I saw ten children every afternoon.
- So as the sun sank slowly in the east, we cried aloud,
- I listened to your vibraphone with nothing but alarm
I learned from the minstrel the Songs of the East
That proclaim the supremacy of a certain beast.
What its name? And where its dwelling? Be it clean or evil-smelling?
And has it ever been released
To charm the maidens of the East?
The minstrel knew not aught of this
And wandered the perimeter of the oblong town of Fiss.
Where is he now? And what does he do? Is he a Hindu or a Jew?
Is he Mister, Sir, or Miss?
What young lass awaits his kiss?
His songs of the beast made the townsmen take fright
For the beasts they were used to were camel and kite
And the sociable goats who go "Hello" in the night,
That they fear, 'tis as right
As the sinister, sinister kite.
O I'm certain the beast is supreme in the land
For its flavour is fine, be it fresh, be it canned.
Is it here? Is it there? O where is its lair?
Is it arable, rodent, eland?
How's its pituitary gland?
The eligible elephant spoke of the day
When its mate was unclothed by a gamma-ray.
X the spot (but what is not?) where trunks were stoppered by a clot.
Where's the cove, and where the bay?
The minstrel leads us thataway ...
Over hill and under mountains, by the portholes in the sky,
By the anchors, by the anchorites, Ank…ra came we nigh.
Where's the bird? And where the beast? Or the friendly goat at least?
Where the lass he longs to kiss?
(Will he hit or will he miss?)
Through the rhomboid burgh of Diss
Time will tell: let's hope it will not lie.
I knew a girl who ate no pears.
That's sixteen altogether ('scuse the joke).
She sang inveterate Abyssinian airs
Beside the Nile where crocodiles a-croak
To lure unknowing lovers to their lairs
To know alluring lovers down in theirs.
She was the mother of a lycanthrope,
With feet of clay and brass head, all the rage,
Who at the midnight hour would meekly mope
And drink the hour glass, her thirst t'assuage.
With murderous intent he took a rope.
Though he was stoned, I'm sure that he could cope.
But no! For lo, behold his shaking hand,
His aluminium armpits, see them buckle!
As the sable currents lash his ampersand,
His enemies emit a sombre chuckle
That rouses every creature in the land,
Which destiny has grouped, or rather, clanned.
Thus kith and kin, they all come to her aid.
That's lemon, lime or orange ('scuse the pun).
They rescue her, this humble working-maid
Who toiled her life-long life, by moon, by sun,
And never servile wench her whims obeyed
Nor gallery her canvasses displayed.
No dealer would her canvasses unfurl,
Nor auctioneer deliver with a gavel --
Thus spurned, her head was in a whirl,
A lycanthrope no human could unravel.
Especially she: she was a no-pear girl.
If wit be gems: an artificial pearl!
The snow falls each morning at 6.35
Shortly before the starlings arrive,
And shortly before the starlings arrive
No man is alive
To sing in the snowfall
Of the bread and the loaf, all
The things that the baker brings just before eight
And leaves in the dustbin in front of the gate.
Those leaves in the dustbin in front of the gate
Are teeming with life,
Pray sharpen your knife
For the dangers are great.
The children go out at a quarter to nine
As the starlings sunbathe on the railway line.
And sunbathing there on the railway line,
The carriages glide
And marriage is mide
In Heaven to shine.
At twenty to ten housewives chop off their heads
And pour pink petrol in everyone's beds.
And pouring pink petrol in everyone's beds,
The mob is inflamed,
The mobile is framed.
Their houses are sheds.
And late in the evening the husbands return
Shortly before the thunder-clouds burn.
And shortly before the thunder-clouds burn
The starlings withdraw
By tooth and by claw
And all men will learn
That Midnight, the moment, is master of man
When the night is as still as the day that began.
And the night is as still as the day that began
When the hour-glass ran.
And it lay in my hand still
As it came to a standstill.
I saw ten children every afternoon.
They huddled in the waitingroom outside
Until the rising of the gibbous moon,
Until the ebbing of the mystic tide.
And on their faces awful fear was writ.
They crawled into my study one by one.
Their hands were lacerated by the grit
Which lay on every landing by the ton.
And when at last they all knelt by my feet,
All hypnotised by Job, the parakeet,
That sits in solemn silence in his cage,
His tonsure turning indigo with rage,
I thought of the unspeakable ‚lite
Whose reputation nobody can gauge,
The register no longer holds my name,
The catalogue no longer my address.
For striking gold, my name is stricken off.
The archives thus are marginally the less.
The blow is less the stipend than the shame
That earned me only momentary fame.
For liking home, my life was stricken off
I paid the County Council for my rooms
(The Count's ill but the earl is feeling better).
The Parakeet's my locum -- large he looms.
He spurns the children's infantile Vendetta.
Tell me, would you like a cup of cocoa?
Shall we sail the Amazon, or Orinoco?
Je dis Merci, Merci, Merci Beaucoup.
So as the sun sank slowly in the east, we cried aloud,
We wailed and wept and gnashed our teeth -- we were a sorry crowd
That shivered by the playing-field till the rising of Orion
And droned the dreary anthem "Thou who bringst tied goods to Zion".
We watched the thudding footballers who frolicked in the dark,
We spied the oaks who bough and bend and bole and branch and bark.
But all for nothing, since, alas!, our hopes were shattered when
The scrum scrummed down, the forwards flew, and Buddha turned to Zen.
Meanwhile a cricket match was played to shrive the heretic.
With currant buns for cricket balls the fielders all fell sick,
And brandy snaps for cricket bats, less durable than most,
The wicket was of celery, the groundsman was of toast.
Elsewhere, a furtive tennis-match with racquets of meringue
With combatants from Elsinore, and far-away Cadiz
(Where the golden elephant and the silver leopard is)
Delivering each service with a terrible harangue.
There is a land where every game is very like a meal,
Where lacrosse players hit lamb chops and darts is played with veal,
And chess is played with vegetables upon a sm”rg†sbord --
The room is flooded with white sauce when any points are scored.
And if a player cheats he'll find he's fast engulfed in custard.
The salt and pepper soldiers stand in fearsome phalanx mustered
Ready to attack straightway the barley-sugar bishop.
The condiment contingent wail a solemn plaintive wish -- a p-
Lea to leave the lamp aside for fear they should go blind,
For if sight is in the eye, who dares say `madness in the mind'?
And in this land a music-man is seldom given leave
To crush a four-leaf clover or to split a four-loaf cleave.
This land is where the sky is green and blood is seldom red
And Zion's eye on you and I, oneirophiles withal,
Will feed our minds with fantasies, for sleep is but a wall,
A fence so dense, a brick so thick, that we once lively, once deemed quick
Will slumber on in sluggishness, as if our life had fled.
I listened to your vibraphone with nothing but alarm
But my youngest daughter's perianth was enviably calm.
May your melody forever sooth my offspring's epidermis.
But my hit is to my miss, as her foolish hit to her miss.
Now it was the schooner Hesperus that sailed the wintry sea
From Italy to Italy, thence to furthest Italì,
Where bitumen tastes bitterly,
Repeat th'assassination when I've counted up to eight
For if you wait till seventeen it will be much to late
And if you wait till 31 the police will all arrive
-- That's a situation to prevent which we must strive.
But hail to thee blithe spirit, dickybird thou never wert,
For the nest was left unguarded and the weasel was alert
Whom vitamins avert,
Abominate the thief of time, for clandestine he creeps
And in his clock-filled haversack his timely harvest reaps
With pendulums about him, and his body swathed in springs
Firmly fixed, for time flies by on amethystine wings.
And tell me now, shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
Thou art more lovely, I would say, than April or than May
Whose pitch is in my pay,
Tarmacadam, Tarmacadam, mar no more my path
For I, of all the children in the world, I like the hottest bath.
©1973, 1999 The Rat Fathom Poets
Edited by Peter Christian
May 31 2023.