In all our sanctuaries we sit at risk



This poem seems to follow on a bit from the previous one uploaded here. But whereas I wrote “I Insist my Ribs…” over three years ago, “Counting” has been written in the last few days.

I have a vague idea of what was in my mind as I wrote this latest poem. And looking at it now, I’m increasingly seeing things which were not in my mind at all, but which inserted themselves anyway.

I suppose it is a bit of a “what am I ?” poem. Or “what is my value and where shall I find it ?” And I think the main impetus for it comes from the context in which we are all now living, at least here in the UK. An incessant and utterly reductive quantifying of information at all levels, but used by the market and by those presently in political power to manipulate us without principle and without care, purely for the sake of their own immediate (and hollow) advantage.

Of course, the poem rests to an extent on a humble pun, or double meaning. The verb “to count.” It means to tot up, to add up ; but equally to matter, to have significance.

But the poem also rests on a much more fundamental dichotomy, or duality. I am not just a list of measurable quantities, it says, although those do exist and I do belong in them. Much more than that, I am a carrier, a source and messenger, of qualities. The world is of quality, not just quantity. It is in the the world of qualities where I can best find myself and am best found. In the how of things, not just the what.

Which brings us to other dichotomies, such as the two brain hemispheres, the left and the right, the left in denial of the crucial primacy of the right, even of the need for the right to exist. Our nation’s essentially fraudulent and fundamentally unworthy Prime Minister is called Mr Johnson (I call him Mr Toad). Mr Toad’s very dangerous senior advisor is a human exemplar of the left-side brain hemisphere bursting its banks and running amok, and of the abusive felonies which result.

Cummings fights for, and glories in, a world run according to the left hand side of the brain. In his case, this seems to go with a virulent hatred of, and contempt for, anything or anyone living according to different and saner principles. Having “taken the measure” of the creation he sees before him, he’ll seek to manipulate it so as to control it, reduce it, “whack it,” subsume it. Chaos and division result.

He “couldn’t care a flying fuck,” a PR agent told Adam Forrest of “The Independent,” on Cummings’ reaction to the uproar that followed his Durham/Rose Garden excursions. He has a “very thick skin,” apparently. It’s almost as if not caring – or rather, “not caring a flying fuck” – is a new desirable. Being a miniature dinosaur in service to AI really “gets it done.” It’s the ultimate triumph. A perfection of control.

Towards the end, the new poem quotes the greeting “I see you,” a traditional Zulu greeting. This link is to some thoughts on the subject, written by a South African, Bridget Edwards.

Here’s a paragraph from her piece : According to Peter de Jager, the Zulu greeting ‘Sawubona’ means ‘I see you’ and the response, ‘Ngikhona’ means ‘I am here’. As always when translating from one language to another, crucial subtleties are lost. Inherent in the Zulu greeting and our grateful response, is the sense that until you saw me, I didn’t exist. By recognizing me, you brought me into existence. A Zulu folk saying clarifies this, ‘Umuntu ngumuntu nagabantu’, meaning, ‘A person is a person because of other people’.”

Bridget Edwards, also mentions another traditional greeting, this originally from the Sanskrit, and still used in India by Hindi speakers : “Namaste.”  The greeting is accompanied by a bow, with palms pressed together as if in prayer. I bow to the god in you, the divine spark I see in you and seek and serve in me, knowing it is there, connecting us.

Now back again to the African continent. An encounter between bush men of the Kalahari, recorded by Laurens van der Post. The one begins with an ancient greeting : “Good day.  I saw you from afar and I am dying of hunger.”

The other’s right hand is raised, palm open, fingers up.

“Good day!” says this other person. “I have been dead, but now that you have come, I live again.”

In a very real sense, these formalities express a recognition of the human individual’s place in community which has been shared across the world, in all the major faiths and traditions.

Here, for instance,  are words written by the late David Jenkins, as Bishop of Durham, (“the Red Bishop”) making reference to St Paul’s letter to the Romans” : “We are members one of another.”

And here’s Martin Buber, the great Jewish thinker and writer : ““As I become I, I say Thou…All real living is meeting.”

What clear-seeing there has been in human history, despite its horrors. Where has the clear-seeing gone ?

“Hi !” we say to each other. And our Dom, (I call him the deathwatch doom beetle), senior advisor to a UK Prime Minister, couldn’t care a flying fuck.

The poem also mentions a panther. It is of course a reference to Rilke’s great poem. The panther encaged in a tiny space, pacing without end.