What is the purpose of human life?
asked the corpse with a clod in its mouth.
I know nothing
, it added. Perhaps I never did.
Then the worms, like paparazzi, besieged its skull

and brain turned to mush, the careful hands
lost flesh, then bone became as flint
and that was the end of all pretension

said the Luddites, the Roundheads, the punks.

But listen and his notes are borne through the park
as if from hidden speakers, arpeggios take flight
and it is clear, above all else, that he played,
that his life was play. That play was the work of his life.

And you can still hear him soloing. The disc revolves
like the blue and implausible earth, as if amazed
at its own complexity. The defiance of dust
is what it hymns. That was purpose enough
, it says.


Those limited editions, most marginal of all,
with their woodcut covers and mock-baroque vocals
growling and seething to a backdrop of tape-loops.
What savage majesty was here intended. Malador and Spare
were summoned back by teeth-clenched tours-de-force

of necromancy and, tracking those releases down,
we felt as if at one with a demonic project
to blow the world wide open, letting in the nightside.

ÔIn the final summer the rapture descends...'
We lived expecting to see that final summer,
the only escape the gates that would open
by our magic, transporting us to Ma'atian pylons
where the world would shrink to a faint blue memory
speckled with dead slaves who had perished
from the hubris of their masters... this music was our soundtrack,
taking us beyond the sad domain of a weakling's law.

But O the sadness of things
. The world that could not last
deceived us, surer than we thought, and instead
it is we who will die. Those undercurrents petered out
in somatic raves and bucolic exile - the rest of us
dispensed with our vinyl stacks, those limited editions
that are now worth so much, and got on with our lives
so far from Heaven and Hell that they are like cartoons
inscribed on the back of a soggy papyrus

as if in the bedsit rain that fell as we played
Coil or Current 93, Nurse with Wound or Psychic TV
and plotted our itineraries on both sides of the Tree
to Ipsissimal splendour as the words of our Beastly Uncle Aleister
droned on, as they once did in the Museum of Witchcraft
in flood-blasted Boscastle. 'Bury me' he buzzed
Ôin a nameless grave/I came from God the world to save'...
to we who came from the world to save ourselves.


Cocteau Twins

It's thirty years since my first encounter
with the brooding blackened sandstone
of this city of crenulations. I walked its streets
with awe, went down into its dankest graveyard,
was besieged by a wasp at the entrance to the castle,
saved a friend from being hit by a car
at the same street-corner, twice in a day
And I think of this most gothic of cities
when I hear this music, the swirling distortions
of Robin Guthrie's guitar, the sinister mermaid croon
of Elizabeth Fraser, still in her teens, releasing syllables
beyond mere sense. I cannot help
but equate the city and the music -
I was there in the place in which it was made.
And so I hear its ascents and descents,
the view from Calton Hill, the looming tenements
of dark Grassmarket... reading it into the music
I conclude, reducing art to geography
but that's how it is. Because I'd return
to that place, that day, that city as it was
but time defies me as it moves
this album to a close. Its name is Garlands

and the garlands bestow a precarious grace
as I listen in to the turrets, the volcanic topography
and ghost-strewn mythology of this city -
knowing that I can return, accompanied by the music
but thirty years older and to a city
I can never again experience for the very first time
outside this music, this sanctuary for ghosts.


Don't Look Now

Water under the feet. Water under the stones.
Water under the skin, red as the raincoat of a child
and a stain that covers the image. Red as the raincoat of a killer.

Red as the blood, as a mind that seeks death,
distracted in a labyrinth of musty stucco.
Red as the mist in that mind at the end

when the chopper finds its neck, the dead-eyed god the mortal.
Red as the stones are not. Red as the gaze is not.
'Darlings' she says. Father and daughter find death

in a haze of shared redness. We search out our dooms
and the places in which we die become our hidden names.
All the time, the camera moves, god-like in its indifference,

past water and stone. The black barge slides like a relic
and the Doge calls out from his walled-up palace
as the city sinks. Red subsides to a grey-black murk.

Outside the lagoon, the indifference of space and sea
converge, as ever. The camera captures the deaths it avoids.
The director cuts with a razor - Shiva, god of the butcher's caste

lets the stain run from him to the cosmos.
Raincoat red. The stare on the face of the killer
dwarf, in the slaughtering place to which we are led.

   © Norman Jope 2014