Cadmus and the Dragon

Tom Paulin

Metamorphoses 3, 1-136

If Cadmus is the Age of Reason – and he is
if Cadmus is the State – and he is
if Cadmus is Descartes with a scalpel – maybe so
then Cadmus must also
shadow Locke with his shovel
a shovel loaded with decaying sense
but always new and stainless
like the idea of rights
– rights not duties be it said – yes brother

so Locke hires a surgeon barber
to make an incision
in the Earl of Shaftesbury’s right side
for like a monstrous dragon
of superstition and formal piety
the suppurating cyst on the earl’s liver
menaced English liberty
but the little silver tube
that Dr Locke inserted
gave one man life
and restored the nation’s freedom

therefore Cadmus laid a conduit
in the body politic
which has to mean
that we’re safe and secure
with Citizen Locke
– though they set spies on him
he worked
to bring ruin on the Stuarts
and plant an orange tree at the gates
of their state brothel

but if Cadmus is a subtle doctor
it also occurs to me
that Cadmus was present at a working lunch
in the Stormont Hotel
the winter of ’90 or ’91
– there was a civil servant on my right
and when I glanced at his left hand
a signet ring
cut with a tiny gold pentagram
was making its point quite silently
while beyond the picture window
the neoclassical gateway
the long straight drive
– it dips into the underworld
and that hollow muscly facade
were also making
much the same point
– so Cadmus is Sir Edward Carson
raising his bronze fist
against the twisty tail of Home Rule
– a theatrical gesture
he copied from James Larkin
who raised the dragon people
against their bosses

but let’s say instead
that Cadmus is Willie Whitelaw
sitting at a bootshaped table
with the Spartoi
– they wear hoods
balaclava helmets
and dark glasses
– here Cyadmus
one of the hoods says
ye cannae sit in this coul chamber
wi a bare head
at a table that’s shaped
like a Wellington boot
– put you a hood on
and we’ll do business
for as Lévi-Strauss’d argue
Cadmus is himself the dragon
and ancestor of the Spartoi
or as it says in the Good Book
as ye sow so shall ye reap
so know ye this
Mr Kidglove Whitelaw
we’re no Piltdown Planters
but the real autochthonous thing
– we’re the Cruthin aye
a remnant of the ancient British people
who rose again in ’98
in 1912 and ...
ack I forget what date it was
but let Ballylumford
be our rath and fortress
we’re not the ’RA
we’re the ’DA
know what I mean like?
this is Dadmus and the Cragon
or With the ’DA in Craigavon

if this seems a shade slippy
what stays constant
is that our hero Cadmus
would appear to be masculine
he’s all straight lines
he’s rule and measure
a rigid prick
or as Carlos Williams notes
there are plenty men
whose heads resemble
nothing so much as
the head of a dick
which is how I came to see
John Cadmus III
sitting at the wheel
of his pickup truck
in a parking lot
outside a Safeway foodstore
in Tucumcari New Mexico
– he looked a tad
like Norman Schwarzkopf
the day he turned back
on the road to Baghdad

and though I spotted
– or say I spotted
his lookalike in Tucumcari
I should have changed the location
to Rockville
Cementville
Oilville
Mechanicsville
for Cadmus is a grid person
who must imagine
not amor loci
not dinnseanchas
but the absolute antithesis of place
because he fears a parish dragon
some batlike mind
that’s forever trying to snuff
a cosmopolitan enlightenment
– Locke’s world of signs if you like

doing a steady 55
he admires all those high
blue boards along the freeway
how they say plainly
there is a rational liberty
that goes with cotton fields gumbo
and private property
this Cadmus
he’ll have no truck
with the dragon of any particular place
he’s dead frightened
of the monster that lives
in a cave overgrown
with branches and sally rods
a deep cave rich
in hot bubbling springs
a funky cave
where the mud is edible

so it would seem that the monster
the Dragon Other
just has to be a fanny
– maybe vagina dentata
if that’s what makes you fearful
or the bottomless vagina
flying in the south wind
easy effortless as a windsock
infinite as language
or everything which is the case

so this monster’s a giant fanny
o starry fig
o prickly
unpricked pear
o heavy moist musty warm wrinkledness
you belong in a gothic novel
– shave yourself and it’s Jacobin
scratchy as a cucumber leaf
else you’re a barber’s strop
a sea anemone
a tinker’s budget
or a thatched bothie
– an extra skin so thin
it’s no skin at all

– watch Cadmus shiver
as he hears a voice crying
you too will become a monster
you’ll toss your bucket
into the bairns’ well
and come back as fresh water

now he imagines something
dry and itchy like a desert
warm and silky like the Nile
soft black sogflaky and
sweet as a pickled walnut
or brittle like a sea potato
furred on the tideline
yes this fleshy oxymoron
is an ocean
that’s all ripples and taut muscles
it nips every cock in its pincers
and leaves behind
only a sagging fence hung with raindrops
piss sweat blood mucus
all the starchgreedy jism
they stream across
this prickly bed of tears
they enter this pouch
this tuppence hapenny
creased purse
– it’s a quiver of desire
an oozy whooze
or a peppery paper wasps’ nest

– juiced and tightswelling
this blind cave
how it haunts the knight in armour
it’ll smash every lance
that jigs into it
and mangle poor Boswell
who hides behind a rock
to try on a tricky condom
made out of a pig’s intestine

or maybe this dragon
is a nation under arms
not a single hero with a name
it’s the body earth
that turns out turds and babies
like loaves of bread
or it’s the bloody earth
that rakes its own hills
avec les crachats rouges de la mitraille
and though its soldiers
spring fully armed
from out the grassy soil
only to hack each other
down to the last five
– the remnant
we console ourselves
that because Pallas
told them to observe a ceasefire
in order that Cadmus
might build Thebes
this has to mean
that we are all born of the spirit
and not the earth
though maybe the opposite
just happens to be the case?