Monday, 30 December 2019 22:36

After the Latest Defeat

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in Poetry
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After the Latest Defeat

After the Latest Defeat

by David Betteridge

The defenders are not demoralised,
nor do they abandon their positions,
even among the ruins,
nor do they lose faith in their own strength
or their own future.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           - Antonio Gramsci

I

Can wells,
that a long drought made bitter,
self-restore?

Can sparks,
scattered from a beaten fire,
be raked in, and fed,
and made to blaze more brightly
than before?

Can pages,
torn from a precious book,
be chased,
brought back from a high wind,
and then re-bound?

Can there be a spring of good
sufficient to flush clean
the heaped contaminants
that history conveys?

Can we, struggling,
find a countering force
to lead us into wiser ways?

II

We have occupied today’s disaster ground
before.

Time after time, losing advantage
more often than we gain, learning little,
we have fought the same long war,
being punished, time after time,
by defeat’s sharp pain.

Between our failed resurgences
we have conjured up, in manifesto words,
our visioning of a new-style state,
their promises soon rubbished
by the realpolitik of fate;
for words, unless they’re grounded
in a way of feeling and a way of living,
are poor guides, as too often
down the years has been our case.

Too great the gap
between our stated aims
and chosen means,
and between our leaders
and the people they would lead,
a gap that is an open wound
gashed from heart to head,
disfiguring our collective face.

Too great the incoherence
in the syntax of the arguments
that latterly we made,
too weak our storyline.
A rival pack of ideologies proved
more persuasive
than our counter-claims.

We are the many,
while the class that we oppose,
that owns the power and wealth,
they are the few: this truth informs
our moral stand, and fuels
our fight for it;
but this same truth misleads us, too:
we trust our size will guarantee
our victory, as Goliath thought,
the fool, whom little David slew.

Amnesiacs, we scoff at the toffs
who face us.
Memo: winning is what they are born
and trained to do.

How many lives have been destroyed?
How many more are now condemned to go,
suffering, into years or decades
of a bleak parenthesis?

What high price does history demand
we pay?

III

Things change.
We make them change;
and, in doing so,
we ourselves are changed.

We are not the same People as before.
Warnings, precedents, insights,
new alliances, anger, mourning ,
hope: these things that shape us,
focused by our late defeat,
all are more.

There is a way in politics,
akin to Neptune’s Staircase
or the Falkirk Wheel,
that serves a People’s rise
from subaltern to higher state.
This way requires that we deploy the best
of everything that time has given;
annul the worst, especially the worst
within us; and the rest transmute.

Pursuing good ends by wrong means,
or opting for the flawed pragmatics
of the status quo:
neither of these courses
answers our crying need.
No: both are marred, having
at their heart the further ravaging of lives.

Root, stock, and branch,
we have no choice but to supersede
all that, deploying every atom
of intelligence, every syllable of art,
to achieve all that,
restoring to a heartless world
its heart.

Green ribbons of deep song
and deep thought can,
through their strong tug,
engage the furthest folk,
and bring us to the dear place,
in good time,
where we belong.

Cities, wrecked by poverty or strife,
can stand again, as can countries
and whole continents,
proud on their old ground,
sustaining the prerequisites
for a good life.

IV

Driven, drawn, again, towards,
together, commonweal, beyond:
seven words that comprise an epic
of the shortest form, signalling
the direction we will take
towards our goal.

Examples from our forebears’ struggles
burn in us, reproachfully,
like sulphur flames.
We cannot shame them, or ourselves,
by lumbering, our children haplessly in tow,
into no-man’s-land again.

Where dilemmas show their sharp horns,
and debate quickens;
where division drives in its hateful wedge,
and solidarity is cracked, breached,
threatened, whether by gender, race,
or faith: there must we be,
fostering unity.

When battles are engaged,
and lost or won, and battle-plans require
to be appraised; wherever and whenever
struggle is, there and then is our place
and time, learning, leading,
learning to lead, constantly.

Building and rebuilding,
over and over where unmaking reigns,
always from love, for love,
how we must labour
to remake the ravelled world a home;
and how we must relearn,
always and again from scratch,
the need to work as one,
as home and world that we build up
repeatedly are smashed!

Let our emblem be the Red Rose -
yes! - a bonny flower, and traditional,
and with a defensive stem;
but let our rose be intertwined
with the rhizome Marram Grass,
firm-rooted, as we ourselves must be,
always advancing by a horizontal spread,
closer than close to the lowest ground,
venturing even into stoniness,
mis-titled dead.

Driven, drawn, again, towards,
together, commonweal, beyond.

V

Great reasoners, great justicers,
whether your names are known or not,
workers, warriors, activists, come all ye!
Your qualities are needed,
now as never, to address our country’s
and the world’s rot.

We are burning in perennial wars,
and wasting, day on day, in famine,
drought, and flood, occasioned or made worse
by our idolatries and bad faith,
deep-drenched in the People’s blood.

Come all ye,
those who know the places
where true wisdom lies, and can pass
that wisdom clearly on, and learn
with others how to chart the forward path
that we should tread!

Along the way, for sure,
as in past stages of our Long March,
we will find high vantage points,
identified for us by some who,
seeing further, ran ahead.
From there, long vistas open up
that bring to mind both our aching wish
for what is kinder and the more just,
and our deep debt to those who also stood,
and looked, and wished.

VI

Wells,
that a long drought made bitter,
self-restore.

Sparks,
scattered from a beaten fire,
are raked in, and fed,
and made to blaze more brightly
than before.

Pages,
torn from a precious book,
are chased,
brought back from a high wind,
and then re-bound.

Springs of good
flush clean
the heaped contaminants
that history conveys.

We, struggling,
find a countering force
to lead us into wiser ways.

Three Doves

These five elegies have been extracted and updated from Flight & Fall by David Betteridge (2017). Images by Bob Starrett from Slave Songs and Symphonies by David Betteridge and Bob Starrett (2017) 

Read 454 times Last modified on Thursday, 02 January 2020 19:18
David Betteridge

David Betteridge is the author of a collection of poems celebrating Glasgow and its radical traditions, 'Granny Albyn's Complaint', published by Smokestack Books in 2008. He is also the editor of a compilation of poems, songs, prose memoirs, photographs and cartoons celebrating the 1971-2 UCS work-in on Clydeside. This book, called 'A Rose Loupt Oot', was published by Smokestack Books in 2011.