Sticking to the text

Peter Porter

In the Great Book of Beginning we read
That the word was God and was with God
And are betrayed by the tiniest seed
Of all the world’s beginnings, to thrash
Like sprats in a bucket, caught in deed
As in essence by shapes of ourselves,
Our sounds the only bargains we may plead.

So starts this solipsistic essay about words,
Its first stanza chasing its own tail,
Since no word will betray another word
In this sodality, self-repressing and male,
And we discover, hardly believing our eyes
And ears, a sort of chromatic scale,
That whatever lives and feels is logos.

Tell us then, vanity, what is truth
And how does it differ from honesty?
Ecclesiastics and analysts play sleuth
To that slippery murderer, but they require
The rack and the couch, tell the story of Ruth
Out of her country, such cheats of championship
As the Noble Savage or General Booth.

We can know only what words may say
Though we may say what we know is untrue.
Honesty lines up its troops – Thersites,
Iago, Tartuffe, the Abbess of Crewe –
The confessional rolls, the lottery pays
Timely prizes to me and to you,
Truly honest people, tied to the wheel.

And when love announces it is here
Either with a lily and spasm of light
Or rising from a childhood bed of fear
To assume its pilgrimage of grace,
It brings its style wars and its gear,
The triplets of touch, the ribboned letters,
Pictures of annus mirabilis or just last year.

Keeping ahead of death and Deconstruction
We have the text we need to play the game,
But what should we do to make it personal –
Your text, my text – are they the same?
The rules are on the inside of the lid
As fate appoints its contestants and fame
Picks one from the Great House and one from the Pale.

Too many fortunes are made by the Absurd:
It’s better to run in the linear race
Where everything connects which has occurred,
Better to suffer the nightmares natural to
The body and tell what you have heard
Among your fellow sufferers and hope
The story’s end won’t choke you on a word.