after the Latin ‘Franciscanus’ of George Buchanan (1506-82)
A barren haugh. No flowers, no trees for miles.
No use for harvest. Barbed-wire thistles spatter
Dour, poisoned fields. Bare space. Hoofprints of cows.
Dysart, folk call it. Under desert earth
Vulcan’s mile-long unmined coal still smeeks
In runnelled caves. Random, lung-clogging fires
Belch out all over through the veins of rock,
Firing up flumes of fumes, and, underfoot,
Pica-fine, pitch-black clouds smother the soil.
Jailed in dark caverns, sheer heat tries to burst
Up through drab, crusty, perforated ground
All over, fissuring that tired-out waste,
Reeking of sulphur. Father William Lang,
Franciscan spin doctor to James the Fifth,
Let on that he could hear lost souls being racked there,
Could tune in to their endless yells and yowls
And spot dark demons wildly trampolining,
Slewing their sinewy tails across the beach.
One day in Dysart on an empty stomach
He said he breathed the low cuisine of Hell.
So, after spinning this tremendous story,
Lang decks himself out as The Exorcist,
Scrawls an enormous circle inside which
Other much smaller circles are sketched out,
And drives a stake, dead-centre; plonks beside it
A crackling cauldron. Then, all mumbo jumbo
And last-gasp oaths, he stirs in salt and ashes.
Act Two. The Reverend Holy Father Lang,
Dressed to the nines, goes ladling holy water
All round, and, hocuspocussing like mad,
Denounces devils, then invokes the heavens,
Earth, firth, and all Acheron’s bowel-dark kingdoms
Rifting and belching in the deepest depths.
Act Three. The Dark Night of The Sacred Secrets.
Hordes of local farmers crowd around:
Wives, husbands, nubile daughters come to gawp,
Itching to see what’s up; but, just in case
They catch him out, Lang yells, ‘Stand back! STAND BACK!
Especially you who have not made confession
Since yesterday, or else these trepidatious
Phantoms may flit before your uncleansed presence,
Or Cacodaemon with his greasy jowls
Gulp you right down and flense your sin-drenched shanks!’
Act Four. A local yokel, The Boy Martyr,
Is hauled out to the stake. He knows Lang’s game,
But still he’s shit-scared, just as if, about
To jump blithely ashore from Charon’s ferry,
He catches slobbering Cerberus chomp up
The bodies of the damned. Maybe his granny’s
Stories come back to haunt him, or it’s just
That carbon copy of hell’s kitchen-stink,
Dysart’s midnight pitch-black darkness, spooks him.
The farmers cower. The exorcism goes on
With no one except Lang having a clue,
Though everybody hears groans, grumbles, voices
Threatening, then chanted prayers, answers
Flung out to questions nobody had asked.
One moment bowing to the dirt and beating
His chest, the next his eyeballs rolling round,
Lang goes for broke, and hoses holy water
All night, till the dawn chorus scares away
One last ghost way down to his ancient den.
Act Five. The folk go home. Lang cites as true
What no one really knows: the spirit’s fate;
The bushfire heat of purgatorial flames;
How many pots and pans Hell’s demons stir;
How many souls they skewer on their spits;
How many souls get drowned in waves of ice;
How many masses it may take to let
Each soul off just a bit; it sounds as if
Lang wrote the Rough Guide to the Underworld.
His audience loves it, and soon Purgatory’s
Back in fashion, much to Martin Luther’s
Disgust – and Purgatory’s hoary glory
Would still be mushrooming, had it not been
For Lang’s wee sidekick who, whether through fear,
Or for a bribe, or after one too many,
Spills all the beans – that Sorcerer’s Apprentice,
That sad debunker of The Exorcist!
From then on all the hopes of Dysart shrivel.
Nothing can bar the Glory of the Truth.
So take heed after this not to make up
Fake phantoms, spooks that hoof it through the night,
Tales of the Unexplained, unless of course
They take place far from home, way out among
The Spaniards or the Coimbran Portuguese,
Or way, way out in Dark America,
Or underneath the Ethiopian sun,
Where no eye-witnesses can say you’re wrong,
Or where the Nile’s source hides out in the desert
And no one knows the Dysart Exorcist.