Inscription on a Paper Dart - M.K. Joseph
Take now this tome of criticism
Judicious, up-to-date and learned
And let it fall upon the ground
Ponderous as a ton of lead.
I fold a sheaf of verse at random
(This one perhaps) into a paper dart,
Launch it on an auspicious up-draught,
Watch it gliding out of sight.
Pious Muslims it is said
Treasured each scrap they came upon
Of paper lest it should contain
Some potent text of the Koran.
Even pious Muslims now
Let the crumpled fragments pass
And give their holy custom up
Knowing that the world is full of trash,
Yet some old turban'd holy man
Passing down Hiriri Street
Seeing the name of God somewhere
May pick this up and cherish it.
Drunken Gunners - M.K. Joseph
The gunners move like figures in a dance
Harmoniously at their machine that kills
Quite casually beyond the shadowed hills
Under the blue and echoing air of France.
The passing driver watches them askance:
'Look at the beggars - pickled to the gills.'
Yet bodies steadied in parade-ground skills
Correct the tottering mind's intemperance.
Housed under summer leafage at his ease,
Artillery board set up, the captain sees
His rule connect two dots a league apart
And throws destruction at hypotheses,
Wishing that love had ministers like these
To strike its distant enemy to the heart.
Jocelyn (Otepoti) here:
The second poem is a much-anthologized relic of Joseph's war service, and if you're thinking, those Kiwis, they're pretty obsessed by war, aren't they, then you'd be right. I don't know why that is, except that we've been so isolated from major conflict that perhaps we feel drawn to stare into the abyss, and jump in now and then. (There were NZ troops in Vietnam, Korea, Iraq, and are still in Afghanistan and Bosnia, and peace-keeping troops in Vanuatu and elsewhere.)
But the first poem, the title poem of the eponymous collection, published 1974, is the one that sold me on Joseph's poetry, back when I was sixteen, and I haven't stopped loving Joseph's work. Unlike, er-hmm, Kahlil Gibran's The Prophet, which I was already well-over by then, having had a brief flirtation with that piece of sixties kitsch culture.
Now you can tell me what outgrown tastes of your teenage years now embarrass you, and what has proved of lasting value.
Tragedy, Comedy, Guardians of the Galaxy
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