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Justin Clemens

The Mundiad, Book IV

sic transit gloria mundia

This piece is about 16 printed pages long.

“The world is too much with us” — William Wordsworth

“In the same way that Nature displays itself in the universal elements of Air, Water, Fire, and Earth: Air is the enduring, purely universal, and transparent element; Water, the element that is perpetually sacrificed; Fire, the unity which energizes them into opposition while at the same time it perpetually resolves the opposition; lastly, Earth, which is the firm and solid knowledge of this articulated whole, the subject of these elements and of their process, that from which they start and to which they return; so in the same way, the inner essence or simple Spirit of self-conscious actuality displays itself in similar such universal — but here spiritual — ‘masses’ or spheres, displays itself as a world.”— G.W. F. Hegel

“The world is all that the case is.” — Ludwig Wittgenstein

“The stone has no world, the animal is poor in world, the human is world-forming.” — Martin Heidegger

“When a philosopher looks to poets...for lessons in how to individualize the world, he soon becomes convinced that the world is not so much a noun as an adjective.” — Gaston Bachelard

“It is the ultimate picture which an age forms of the nature of its world that is its most fundamental possession.” — E.A. Burtt

“The world now becomes the warehouse of jetsam where the uncanny fishes for its scarecrows.” — Giorgio Agamben

“Every world is capable of producing its truth in itself.” — Alain Badiou

“The world is gone, I must carry you.” — Paul Celan


To carry Christ across the waters you
Must do exactly what he tells you to —
But then you find, reaching the other side,
It wasn’t Him! So may these lines provide
Some further fare to tide you over, till
Your pulpy rations rot, ferment, distill
A heavy draft to down in editing:
Bearing beyond what is beyond bearing.

For one as beautiful as you, he says
Those seven years of labour seem but days —
Whereupon he finds the boss has ripped him off,
And passed the younger for the older’s love,
And that he’s raised the lambs for other’s good —
As if true love could be exchanged for food!
But — revenir à ces moutons — he’ll reap,
In finding daughters cometh with the sheep.


The Argument: Little Mundia, incarcerated with her parents in the maternity ward despite her expressed desires and desperate attempts to escape their dastardly clutches, finally cries herself to sleep. She is thereafter visited in her dreams by the Night Parrot, a beneficent though disreputable supernatural being who watches over infants, bed bugs, and diverse species of pongoid. The Parrot speaks to Mundia, counseling her on the best way to proceed through the obscure and labyrinthine passages of her life, and, in the course of dispensing his sage advice, makes many encouraging prognostications as to her destiny.

Well — greetings, friends! — I must confess delight
At rendezvousing in this lettered night
With you again, the stars now fallen to
A wintry earth, on which the old and new
Misrepresent themselves as this and that,
In such a way as to make every cat
As grey and undistinguished as alleges
Hegel of Prince Schelling’s verbose hedges,[1]
And which is why you need — the word’s correct —


These stanzas to discern the Droit from Recht,
Each cat from cat, the white from red, from black,
The yellow belly from the vaulted back,
So as to grasp that truth’s obscuring veil
Is truth itself (and not a feline tail).[2]

Remember Mundia, my little girl,
A grain of inky sand who’s turned a pearl
Within the wrinkled oyster of my verse,
And whom I pimp to plump my flaccid purse? —
Well, friends, she’s back! — as uncontrolled and lewd


As any harridan or barroom rude,
And more than willing to reduce the earth
To smoking wasteland, just to prove her worth.

You must recall how she, being stuck and bored,
An inmate of her primal womb and board,
Induced herself, so prematurely that
Her glorious birth knocked several nurses flat,
Surprised her father, splattered walls with gore,
And slammed her mother hard into the floor,
Only to find that gravity still holds


All objects in its supple space-time folds,
And that — no matter though you’re world itself —
You need to work out like a crazy elf
If you’re to stand on your own little feet
(as Plato says, the Good’s arse-end is vite).[3]

But what I failed to mention, in the stir
This parturition caused, is that, with her,
Another thing, less pleasant, less divine,
Had also slithered out across the line
Which, mobile, intricate, and blind, divides


The undead from the living, and decides
The allotted time that each has in, well, time.
This Thing, congealed if insubstantial slime,
A seething, silent, restless coil of life,
Throbs, pulsing with apocalyptic strife,
A spectral double, inconsistent, wild,
Which will now haunt our unsuspecting child
Throughout her nights and days, and prove to be
A great, implacable adversary.

This Thing is not like anything you know —


Like Proteus, it changes as you go,
Being now a twisted spine and now a goose,
A rotting donkey, coins, a well-worn noose,
A form of mud and hair, a crystal eye,
A brooding sow unblinking in her sty,
A glistening egg, a word, an alien
That wriggles quietly through the ears of men
To settle in the grey mess of the brain
And whisper till its host goes quite insane.[4]
For now, however, it has slid beneath


A fresh-dead cancer patient’s plastic teeth,
Where it will lurk, secreted, planning that
It play the dog to our young lady’s cat.

If you would like to get a little more
Than’s given in this covert semaphore,
Then — dullard unbeliever! — you’ll disdain
My writing only as unnatural pain:
Since I express myself in riddles, puns,
In glossolalia, in babbling runs,
And sometimes speak with maths, sometimes with myths,


In dulcet tones of redescending fifths,
Cacophonies torn from the old and young
And poets sweet in every foreign tongue,

Until — great god! — you readers find your ears

Are bleeding from the doubts, the strains, the fears
My words inspire, you will in panic glean
Only the ennui of an empty screen.

Our crazy chum, the young Dane Kierkegaard,
Who mixed up Sex and God, the Lean and Lard,
Once noted, in his Fear and Trembling phase,


With his peculiar pseudonymic ways,
How thoughtful kings may pass on to their brood
A ruler’s wisdom — and without being rude.
“I’ve captured Gabii, Daddy — what to do?
How should I deal with this unseemly zoo?”
This plea for aid, from a successful son
Inspired advice as just as Plato’s One:
Tarquinius Superbus, unconvinced
He’d trust the messenger to get foes minced,
Went quietly to his garden, where he lopped


The tallest poppies with his cane — then stopped.
The messenger, completely puzzled, left
To tell the story in its woof and weft
To Tarquin’s vicious son, who understood
To kill the leaders of the neighbourhood.
“Tall poppies” says it all — the city’s fate,
A dynasty, a code, affairs of state,
The hapless media who blab, confused,
Completely missing that they’re being used
By cunning tyrants for the worst of ends —


For which their snivelling won’t make amends.

Of course, the world goes one way — then the next
You’ll find your perfect plans have been quite hexed,
The Tarquins’ fate being here exemplary —
For they’re brought down by false stupidity.
Incomparable Lucretia, faithful spouse,
While others dance, sits spinning in her house,[5]
When Sextus Tarquin, one hushed night, sneaks in
Like a repulsive human garbage-bin,

And rapes her violently; at once she calls


Her father, husband, friends back to her walls,
Where, having spilled the prince’s beans, her pride
Affirms fidelity in suicide.
At this, one Brutus — which means “idiot”
In Latin (and whose brother had been hit
By Tarquins) — in a fury summoned Rome,
And drove the Kings forever from their Throne.

Not that these happenings put an end to fear:
Let’s jump five hundred to the fateful year
Of forty-four B.C., the Ides of March,


Where, clustering before the Senate’s arch
With friends, another Brutus bides the hour
When he might stop Caesar from seizing power —
But how will his Republican desires
End? Brutus tops himself, his deed inspires
The very Empire he had tried to block,
Then Dante puts him in the lowest dock
Of Hell, forever macerated by
The Devil’s gnashing teeth, for treachery.

(Was Willy S. then right to write a king


Was simply nothing but a nothing thing
Or did his slanderous thoughts just coincide
With nascent dreams of English regicide?)[6]

So it appears the greatest deeds can turn
Against their actors, who will never learn
That any true Republic must portend
A brute at its beginning — and its end.[7]

A Note on Heads, and How to Undo Them

The Ancien Régime of France
Didn’t like to punish with
Decapitation, as the Dance


Of Death required a certain myth:


That the victim mustn’t die
Too quickly or too pleasantly,
But must be made to twitch and cry —
All demonstrated festively.

Large public crowds would gather in


The squares where spectacles of pain
Assured that every major sin
Against the King would lose its stain

When washed by sulphur in the blood,


The eyes burnt out, the limbs torn off


By horses straining through the mud.
The rack was then a work of love.

But when the Revolution came,
And all the Royals lost their pants,
The torture-wheels and tongs’ dull flame


Appalled the nouveaux hierophants —

And yet the criminals remained!
What could be done? How to dispose
Of types who must not be unchained?


One man stepped forward, to propose


The great, immortal Guillotine,
Which killed a peasant as a king!
You didn’t have to keep it clean;
It worked by letting go a string.

To mark the fact that Louis was


No longer Roi of the Royaume,
They took his head, and like a Cos
Lettuce let it fall to loam.

Thus Death became a non-event,


Which so excited Marianne,


She, overcome with sentiment,
Cried “Liberty!” and “Rights of Man!”

But let us not take History as our Guide:
We know that Clio is as stuffed inside
As any constipated boy. Instead,
We should take on existence at its head,
And shake some sense into its shapeless skull,
So, to that end — for history’s just so dull —
We now return to our great Mundia


Who is herself a destiny — I swear!

We last saw Mundia, distressed, disturbed,
To find her awesome will so brusquely curbed
By something miserable as gravity,
Which rules both gods and insects equally,
And sucks so hard, the universe will end
By disappearing down a black-hole’s bend,
As if the whole thing had been just a joke
In which a poet’s crushed by Mini Moke.[8]
For newborn Mundia, still drenched in muck


And fluid from the amniotic sac,
The serpent’s tail of her umbilicus[9]
Becomes a tongue that flickers out to hiss:
“Though you have railed against Necessity,
It wields a lash no living thing can flee,
So vile — no matter if you’re tough or weak —
Its wound will fester till your vitals leak
And what is you dissolves into null stuff,
Devoid of body, spirit, and of love.
How, inter urinam et faeces born,


Could you expect the trumpet and the horn
Of empire’s triumph to ring out for you,
Derisive amalgam of dust and glue,
A fleck of matter in improper place
On whom the void has turned its absent face?”

At this, her mother, father, and the mob
Of ailing patients suck and heave and sob
That, in the final count, this awful child
Must learn her fury’s influence is mild
Compared to the real forces that dissolve


In pain and suffering the most firm resolve,
And bleed the greatest till their bones decide
It would be wiser to have simply died.

So Mundia — so sorely tried, distraught —
Now recognizes she is truly caught,
And that — l’horreur! — she will be forced to stay
Incarcerate of shadows, chains and clay
Until the schedule of biology
Announces her allotted liberty:
From nought to one, you’re at your mother’s breast;


From one to two, they’ll toilet-train the rest;
From two to three, you’ll find your genitals
Should salivate when rung by Pavlov’s bells;
And all the while your ears and mouth will baulk
At noise that adults represent as talk;
Whereupon, for seven further years, you’re left
To make the most from friends and school, the cleft
Of Being gaping ever underfoot,
The very earth a clag of ash and soot —
Then — just when things may seem to right themselves —


You get a visit from the sex-crazed elves,
Who these days speak with learned expertise
Of how “the orgasm is just a sneeze,”
And that the building blocks of human bonds
Are simpler than the sprays of ferny fronds.

As one of those geneticists might say,
In tones like Zarathustra’s ass’s bray:
“It’s elementary, my dear Watson, Crick!
The gene’s the thing that makes the living tick,
Through which — as clinging ivy on an oak —


The double helix winds to make us choke,
And infiltrates in every thought and deed
The secret agents of its secret seed.[?]
A sequence of three billion letters from
A four-bit alphabet make our genome
The total recipe of human cause,
Luxe, calme, volupté, brain-death, caries, paws —
For now we know love’s sprung by nothing but
A short promoter screwed into the nut
Of oxytocin-, vasopressin-gene


Receptors, programmed so the whole machine
Must whirr and click and blink and cough until
Our gene-crossed lovers squelch, their organs still —
This shows if orgy’s at the origin
Of human love, its end is Origen.”
And then, this disquisition done, you’re freed
To root around, to couple, squirt, and breed
Another generation, who’ll be caught
By you — repeating what your cells have wrought.

Yet if you struggle to evade this fate,


You’ll find futility’s become your mate,
And what you thought was freedom’s giddy thrill
Is grist for Capital’s Consumptive Mill,
And, as you blink and cough, learn in distress
That Pleasure is a perilous goddess.
Old Horace said, “we are just numbers, born
To eat resources” — so the golden corn
Which did Romantic poets once amaze
Becomes genetically augmented maize,
And, in this labyrinth of artifice


A techno-Dedalus throws techno-dice
Until, at last, their faces briefly fall
To monstrous hybrids like a human bull
To chase our once-loquacious Mundia
Until she’s lost in brute anarthria,
And forced, frustrated, to confront as real,
Behind the walls and locks of seventh seal,
A truth our two-faced metaphors must screen:
Just like a poem, girls should be, not mean.

As Sigmund Freud suggests, true thought begins


With the enigma of our origins,
And is inspired, supported, by the drive
To stop the juggernaut of being alive,
By seeking to inhibit further change
With sexual theories that, however strange,
Attempt to salve the wound of what’s been done:
“How is it I am not the only ONE?”
So children buzz about with fantasies
As honey-seeking as a hive of bees,
For instance: what all people share is this


Small fleshy cylinder called the penis;
Or: that it’s not the stork by which we’re sent,
But others shit us out as excrement,
And so we must be careful what we eat,
For babies may be consequence of meat;[10]
Or: that the scene of sexual intercourse
Involves the sadism of brute and force.

And if you think these thoughts are merely tales
To scare the innocent, or whip up gales
Of knowing laughter, well, you mightn’t care


The devil rides you like an evening mare,
And not a single mewling thought escapes
Its dark enfolding in unconscious drapes;
Then, sometime later, when this early phase
Devolves to vacant prepubescent haze,
Your fantasies of family romance
Will cause the devil’s spawn to sing and dance
A tarantella on uncanny earth
At claims your parents were of better birth.

In pointless recompense for body’s rack,


Unconscious thought will, in its silence, track
What happens like a freelance private eye,
Remembering all (except it’s going to die),
And always tells itself it’s on the verge
Of catching out the brains behind the purge,
As if it held impossibility
To be mere reflex of contingency,
So to assure itself there is a way
Out of these caverns, and from heart’s decay —
If it could only find that single trait


Which would undo the Gordian Knot of Fate!

If, as we’ve seen, our little Mundia —
Like anyone — cannot the Must defer,
She is, however, not so subject that
She’s stuck, cute rabbit in genetic hat —
For, being at once so full of life and yet
Not quite the child her parents would beget,
This gives her certain powers to evade
The iron cycle of the earth and shade.
Because already-dead and not-yet-born,


Our Mundia is able to suborn
The very absolutes upon which run
Atomic sequences, the stars, the sun,
Dull conversations with the office bore,
Your local council regulations, law,
Bad habits, TV scheduling, and dreams
Of winning beauty contests, hair-brained schemes
Of share and property investment, work,
The (true) suspicion you are just a jerk,
The rippling of a poet’s painted fan —


For, speaking chemically, it seems she’s an
Abrasive concentrate that yet anoints,
Sublime corrosive of existing joints.

In several stanzas, we’ll find out just how
This feat be done, but it’s enough for now
To say that — even with her special strengths —
She’ll have to go to quite peculiar lengths,
As well as get help from imaginary
Beasts you won’t find in any bestiary...
But let us first propose a metaphor


To show how Poets dodge the Will of Law.

In bat-infested caverns coiling deep
Into the earth like worms into a sheep,
Where no light shines, no vegetation grows,
No water trickles and no fresh wind blows,
Only the overwhelming stench of clouds
Of foul ammonia, and shrieking crowds
Of mating bats, their pale repulsive brood
That smear the roof like an anaemic hood,
We find the cold and craggy basement hugs


A living carpet of flesh-eating bugs,
Which — as they churn in countless millions — wait
For whimpering thing to drop onto their plate.
So densely clustered on the fetid roof,
The flightless infants grip, but cannot move,
Until some fall, soft honey from a hive,
To be devoured while they are still alive.
Into these stinking depths two types descend
Like Orpheus way past the Styx’s bend
To tear from irrevocable event


Another chance for lyric sentiment,
Yet not, like him, to beg Persephone
To liberate a lost Eurydice,
But for far lesser purposes indeed:
These creatures merely want a gourmet feed.
Omnivorous, the raccoon and the skunk
Crawl through the caverns in a cadenced funk,
And stagger blindly, deafened, nostrils clogged,
To catch those baby bats that fallen, bogged,
Squeal helplessly as they are torn to rents


By our brave poets of both chance and sense.
But now, I think, we’ll leave these topics there,
As I have scrawled myself way past despair,
And feel an overpowering need to rest
In lines devoid of scansion, and of zest.

A Drunken Interlude


You will, dear readers, be well pleased to note
That I had planned a Swiftian beginning
Which saw a toad, a turd, a tub afloat —
And yet it seems already I am swimming —
For what I thought that I had learnt by rote


Is fading in my memory gently spinning
And now it simply seems I can’t recall
What I was going to try to write, at all.

Perhaps an invocation to the Muse?


I doubt that such an august personage
Would be at all excited by the news
I’d named her patron of such verbiage.
Yet why should I be tempted to amuse
Whoever orders a base dish of cabbage,
Then calls, peremptorily, the snooty waiter


To ask the cook to do a little better?

And so — Gourmets begone! Gourmands delight!
Let my words prove a fast food for the soul!
Deep-fry my tongue, that Chaos and Old Night


Might go and drown in the cholesterol!
As anyone should know these days, a Sprite
Would not be found in any oak tree’s bole —
If you think Colonel Sanders some grey vulture,
At least he brought the hamadryads culture!

And now, that I might turn what’s cooked to raw,


It’s time to crack some eggs to break our fast
But — O, unappetizing metaphor! —
How, reading, does one save the best till last?
A doubt at which a true philosopher


Would, most indubitably, be left aghast —
The one I questioned had forgot the rule
That one should never gape when one is eating and ¬
      it turns out that one’s mouth is completely full.

His table manners were a true disgrace
(But this can probably be best ascribed
To the fact that he was clearly off his face


From all the alcohol he had imbibed),
His reddened eyes unfocused on a place
Where some brain-rotting liquor did reside —
The look he gave it, I would hesitate


To get between that bottle and its fate.

I left him disagreeing with his bowels
On learned matters aetiological —
Were chickens first, or did eggs beat the fowls?
But then who beats the eggs? Hmm. Logical
Inquiry always makes my stomach growl:


It seems, at bottom, scatological —
Like, when Locke talks about “retention,” it
Seems plausible that he refers to s—t.

Well, friends, I absolutely do profess


That I’ve enjoyed this little interlude,
It’s been such fun, we’ve cooked up such a mess,
And chewed the fat that’s carved from haute and lewd;
But now it’s over, I’ll throw up the rest
Of words I can’t keep down when really stewed...
Just guzzle to the point you’ve had your fill —


Then do exactly with them what you will.

But let’s get back to Mundia, in her cot,
Lamenting how it’s turned to swill and rot,
Trapped there, alone, in that cold hospital,
With not a soul to speak to, or to tell
Her deepest thoughts, desires or fantasies —
What makes her smile, how far she’ll go to please,
The sadness that she sometimes feels, the joy
Of hurting others, how her folks annoy
Her to the point she’d tear her baby hair —


And so she sobs, alone, in black despair.

At last she falls asleep, just to awake
Alone and armoured by a stagnant lake;
Above, a cloud-rent, reddened sky detains
The sun in labour and the moon in chains;
The wretched silhouettes of burnt-out trees
Disport themselves around; like swarming bees
The birds, their songs too high and harsh and mad,
Sweep up in vast and dizzied spirals; sad
Small creatures creep from bush to withered bush,


The taste of springtime drowned in winter’s rush,
And, otherwise — nothing — nothing at all,
No people, buildings, tracks — as if a pall
Of iron-cast oblivion had struck the world,
Or petals of a loss had starved a field
And incarnated as our finitude
A universal act of solitude.

Trapped in this nightmare’s wasteland, Mundia
Turns to examine her baroque armour:
A helmet in one hand, her other holds


A twisted blade of steel; in glittering folds
Upon her back a giant buckler shines,
Its face incised with intricate designs
Of long-dead heroes, vicious deities
Whose torments shiver hell, whose sufferings please
Yet other gods, whose avatars appear
In crippled postures of deceit and fear;
Her body is encased in filigreed
And hardened metals; on her chest a steed
Mane rippling, rampant, kicks its iron-shod hooves


Against a pack of seven starveling wolves.

She places on her heavy head her casque,
So to become a fighter through that mask,
Adjusts the buckler on her trembling arm,
And hefts her sword — whereupon a strange alarm
And buzzing feeling near her groin... She starts —
She stops — she fumbles round — her panicked heart’s
Low dum-dum kicking like her breast-plate’s steed —
The buzzing grows in volume — will not heed
Her frantic movements — then — out pops the bone! —


Good Lord! — her suit conceals a mobile phone!

She drops her blade in fright; the phone rings on,
As irritating as when anyone
Upon a tram or bus starts scrambling round
For their elusive mobile, while its sound
Brays out across the air like asses’ cries,
Until, at last, they seize the trembling prize,
And, lifting it to one misshapen ear,
Scream desperately: “What’s that? I cannot hear!”
“Hello?” she answers, by that dreaming lake,


Convinced this nightmare is one big mistake,
And that, although it’s just the way things go,
When situations do not suck — theyblow.


[1] One might, however, suspect that Hegel himself is not always as clarifying as he would like to be. Take this (for example): “***”

[2] One of the origin myths of Western painting involves a competition between Zeuxis and Parrhasius. Zeuxis painted a bunch of grapes so realistic that birds flew down from the sky to peck at them; he then turned to Parrhasius, and asked that the latter remove the veil from his painting. Parrhasius replied: the veil is the painting. Na-na. The moral of this story? First, that artistic supremacy is best expressed in competition. Zeuxis is so good that his representations fool even dumb animals, but Parrhasius is the winner because he fools the person who fools even dumb animals, thereby bringing falsity to its zenith. There’s nothing more tricky than a fake mask that is the thing itself. Perhaps, anyway. So, second, the myth suggests that art is essentially antagonistic dissimulation. But it also, third, suggests that, despite its inherently agonistic nature, only art makes true generosity possible. It’s Zeuxis, after all, who unhesitatingly declares his rival the winner.

[3] In the Cratylus, egged on by Hermogenes, Socrates indulges in ludicrous etymological speculations, e.g., “The word αγαθον (good), for example, is, as we were saying, a compound of αγαστος (admirable) and θοος (swift),” 422a. Perhaps we should attempt a rapprochement here with Moses’ partial view of God’s rear-end in Exodus (33: 18-23), which suggests that any full-frontal apprehension of the “Good beyond Being,” would result in a blinding annihilation. In other words, to be human is to get only the arse-end of things, and you have to move pretty quickly even to get that. Note the behaviour of the Red Queen in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass, who realises that one must run faster and faster just to stay in the same place. Finally, I remember the great words of Paul Keating, Prime Minister of Australia, about his own country: “The arse-end of the world.”

[4] “But something other dearer still than life
The darkness hides and mist encompasses:
We are proved luckless lovers of this thing
That glitters in the underworld: no man
Can tell us of the stuff of it, expounding
What is, and what is not: we know nothing of it.”— Euripides, Hippolytus

[5] Given the traditionally close bonds between spinning women and political constitutions (for example, Odysseus’s faithful Penelope unpicking every night the tapestry she weaves during the day to as to evade marrying one of her many suitors), one should remember that ancient Rome began in slaughter and rape: “Among those who committed this rape upon the virgins, there were, they say, as it so then happened, some of the meaner sort of men, who were carrying off a damsel, excelling all in beauty and comeliness and stature, whom when some of superior rank that met them, attempted to take away, they cried out they were carrying her to Talasius, a young man, indeed, but brave and worthy; hearing that, they commended and applauded them loudly, and also some, turning back, accompanied them with good-will and pleasure, shouting out the name of Talasius. Hence the Romans to this very time, at their weddings, sing Talasius for their nuptial word, as the Greeks do Hymenaeus, because they say Talasius was very happy in his marriage. But Sextius Sylla the Carthaginian, a man wanting neither learning nor ingenuity, told me Romulus gave this word as a sign when to begin the onset; everybody, therefore, who made prize of a maiden, cried out, Talasius; and for that reason the custom continues so now at marriages. But most are of opinion (of whom Juba particularly is one) that this word was used to new-married women by way of incitement to good housewifery and talasia (spinning), as we say in Greek, Greek words at that time not being as yet overpowered by Italian. But if this be the case, and if the Romans did at the time use the word talasia as we do, a man might fancy a more probable reason of the custom. For when the Sabines, after the war against the Romans were reconciled, conditions were made concerning their women, that they should be obliged to do no other servile offices to their husbands but what concerned spinning; it was customary, therefore, ever after, at weddings, for those that gave the bride or escorted her or otherwise were present, sportingly to say Talasius, intimating that she was henceforth to serve in spinning and no more. It continues also a custom at this very day for the bride not of herself to pass her husband’s threshold, but to be lifted over, in memory that the Sabine virgins were carried in by violence, and did not go in of their own will. Some say, too, the custom of parting the bride’s hair with the head of a spear was in token their marriages began at first by war and acts of hostility.” — Plutarch, Romulus (in John Dryden’s translation)

[6] Significantly, Shakespeare writes about both of these events: first of the founding, then of the destruction of the Republic. The former he immortalizes in the immensely turgid poem “The Rape of Lucrece”; the latter, in the electrifying tragedy of Julius Caesar. Perhaps this generic difference itself propounds a profound political lesson: the proper way to celebrate the founding events of democracy is through high-falutin’ versified narration; the proper way to celebrate the triumph of imperium over democracy is in dramatic tragedy. The literary critic Franco Moretti has argued that Shakespearean tragedy’s treatment of the nature and figure of sovereignty was one of the ideological preconditions for Cromwell’s execution of Charles I. *n.b. The present note has been certified a true and genuine article of blue-blooded literary criticism by the appropriate authorities. Eds.

[7] As it happens, neither of the Brutuses were, strictly speaking, idiots. The first, Brutus the Liberator, merely played at idiocy to avoid the fate of his brother; the later Brutus, Caesar’s assassin, was a notoriously erudite fellow who so impressed Cicero with his sparkling intelligence, that, despite irreconcilable musical differences, the famous orator dedicated several treatises to him.

[8] 38. Mini Moke] O! Hip New York Poet killed by Dune Buggy!

[9] “The trail of the human serpent is over everything” — William James

[?] 89-90. clinging ivy...choke] “‘Je meurs où je m’attache,’ Mr. Holt said with a polite grin. ‘The ivy says so in the picture, and clings to the oak like a fond parasite as it is.’ ‘Parricide, sir!’ cries Mrs. Tusher.” Henry James, Henry Esmond.

[10] Built on incontinentia alvi,
One speculates misers’ anality
Is not a clear-cut character defect
As much an apotropiacal effect,
In that the hoarding that obsesses them
Does not concern the value of the gem,
But rather rests on metamorphic spell
Which conjures Money as the Shit of Hell,
As if from each sad throbbing rectum pours
The gold the devil gives his paramours.

Justin Clemens

Justin Clemens

Justin Clemens’ most recent book of poetry is The Mundiad (Melbourne, Vic: Black Inc, 2004). He teaches at Deakin University in Victoria, and is the art-critic for the national Australian current affairs magazine The Monthly.