09 October 2006

John Haines

[from John Haines’s For the Century’s End: Poems 1990-1999]

excerpted from “In the House of Wax”


In all these wax memorials
only appearance changes.

Crowned heads and axes fall,
thugs and jailors rise
and displace each other
in this long, uneasy walk
we have littered
with claims and captions.

The heroes are always welcomed,
are propped and shaven,
their ruddy male composure
is sleeker than ever,
though the great sleeves
and brutal collars
give way to softer buttons.

The paper in official hands
rustles as before,
though it is only paper,
paper in cheap supply,
and not the bleached fell
of a difficult sheep.

And yet the neat persuasions
are seen to tighten,
and each new litigation
is a running noose . . .

All that increases,
all that gluts and fattens,
matures its option here:
Honor to thieves and merchants,
long life to the butcher.

And for the just petitioner —
sweeper of hallways, scapegoat
and discard — no reply
but the rote of legal fictions;

to which he listens, now
as in the days of Pontius,
stricken with understanding.

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