(with acknowledgements to Billie Holiday & Abel Meeropol, Jim Morrison, and Devo)
This fallowed field frames our time:
the structure of our soil redefined
untilled until the flood we know will come.
Well-worked before the blight
we test its tilth in silent streets
quiescent public spaces, empty slips.
But the abandonment is shallow
only surface-bare, the ships and buildings
bleed, so thick they are with life and longing.
Still we shelter in our cabins, becalmed:
the flesh retreats to salty sallow bones
of sickness and regret. In desperation
we borrow the youth of our children’s lives,
secretly reverse our parents’ mortgage,
and pawn grandparents’ legacy for booze.
All to justify the past.
The bill is due.
Ironic elect-ronic comics co-mix on the air
virus protection severed at the head
logic circuits shorted-out with hairspray
spurring minions on to armed denial:
Open up! Damn the data! Full speed ahead!
Yo! Gallows crooners! Sing to the rafters!
Appeal for more applause as trapdoors drop.
We sail away to reap unfallowed shores,
to use the heated tide to raise all boats,
but though flood waters rise, there is no wind.
Lulled, we pull from dinghies, coxswain hoarse
reshouting orders never understood
masks cover both his ears but not his mouth
weak wet breath fogs face shields as we row
we squint to read the signing hands behind
propaganda podia performers
reality stars spew unreality
The Situation stalks the Situation Room
he’s been elected Captain of the World
the Ship of State is in his grip of doom
the lemming-rats escape into their tombs
sailors in shallows schoon into reefs
pursuing loyalty not buoyancy
they kiss the ring of commander-in-thief
setting canvas as the virus rips our hull
while body-bags of new Strange Fruit are hanged
from the pure white yardarms of Good Ship Hope,
its red double-crosses spawning tent-morgues.
Embalmed. Becalmed. Fallowed.
Horse Latitudes breed coarse platitudes
still-birthed currents tiny monsters.
Flail or fallow further, dance or drown.
Legs furiously pump the volume
cranking up confinement music
break on through to cardio panic:
Keep it going! Keep it up!
Pant! Fetch! Roll over! Play dead!
Don’t let yourself and others down!
Don’t fallow idle! Teach the children!
Spur your hobbies! Make more art!
Up and download! Stream and binge!
Zoom around your partner’s screen
forget to clear your history
schedule make-up sex, forget your makeup
sext your landlord by mistake
pandemic virtue-news is fake relief
relive, retrieve your life in full
pass-time all the time
pass time times past time’s up.
Now the fever fills the lungs and shallow
intubated breathing clings to life.
We cultivate, we culturate
evacuate occult blood from our bowels
as all around us human tallow drips
and draws the sea-salt sorrow from our eyes.
Ground-fog rises to lowering sea-clouds
the vampire-mist brighter than the slate-sky
as dawn-light splits the air from darkened hills
grey rainbows wet the backs of starving cows:
the morning comes, yet no one wakes.
We sleep. Becalmed. Fallowed.
These naked fields will in time be fecund.
Weeds that we call crops will intercede.
Though oceans we pretend to sail are beckoned
to hollows in the earth to salt the seed
the earth below, slow burning, will explode.
Our culture is at work at home
the culture of the loam
the tunnels of the worms
the nematodes of joy
the nodes of nitro-fixing germs
we till to live we live until
untilled becalmed we fallow.
How will the callow children of this night
begin to find their hallows of delight?