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Vol. 40 No. 17 · 13 September 2018
Poem

It wasn’t meant to be like this

Paul Muldoon

It wasn’t meant to be like this.
If we were destined to push the envelope
surely it was by flying a recovered Avro Arrow
above the speed of sound?
The most we were meant to condemn
was the brief resurgence of Day-Glo
in a thistle flower, given how we routinely forsook
such dazzle for the drear.
That was before spring itself was a no-show.
The fact of global warming, we must now concede,
has left us barely a coast to hug.
When we stared into the abyss

we were meant to be in something akin to a state of bliss.
We were meant to tope
the fermented fruit of a saguaro
with which a shaman absentmindedly downed
a handful of Diltiazem.
We weren’t supposed to uphold the status quo.
Nor were we meant to brook
such an assault on all we once held dear
by Bully Boy and Il Generalissimo.
An ounce of weed
was to represent only the idea of a gateway drug.
It wasn’t meant to be like this

re-run of the ban on the Mississippi
of Huck Finn and the defence of Scopes
by Clarence Darrow.
Now the Supreme Court has likely found
against its own judgment in rem.
We expected an end to gerrymandering, Jim Crow,
winning by hook or by crook.
We were meant to somehow be in the clear.
Who knew the Russians would be once again gung-ho?
Who knew Bully Boy would sell our title deed
to the thugs?
When we stared into the abyss
we were still meant to be able to reminisce

at length on the hay rope
and the horse-drawn harrow,
the hare run ragged by a rag-tongued hound,
the stately diadem
and the golden long ago.
The poem that dogged us from an old schoolbook
was to be found by a dog-ear.
Page turning was a habit we’d eventually outgrow.
Even though a newscaster sometimes buries the lead
in a whiskey fug,
it wasn’t meant to be like this

spinning of platelet-tops, this trompothrombopoesis.
A radioactive isotope
should have shone through mostly in our bone marrow
rather than as the glory that crowned
an ICBM
as it shuttled to and fro.
The news is now not only gobbledygook
but geared, it seems, to what each wants to hear.
Each sits in isolation on his ice floe
with his personalised feed
of hogwash and humbug.
When we stared into the abyss

things were supposed to be slightly hit-or-miss
yet allowing us to maintain the hope
we’d not quite strayed from the straight and narrow.
We were meant to stride along the higher ground
rather than slouch towards Bethlehem.
We were inclined to fall in with things being so-so.
The thistle’s beard was meant to make it look
wise beyond its years.
Not wise, exactly. Somewhat in the know.
We didn’t expect ‘thistle seed’ to be thistle seed
but we did expect to feel self-satisfied, maybe even smug.
It wasn’t meant to be at all like this
when we stared into the abyss.

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