Paradigms Lost

Two Election Poems

  1. General Election 1992
  2. Sleight of Hand

Twelfth Night

Paradigms Lost

Moderately Good King Wenceslas
being a Free-Thinker
and not altogether sober
was stirred, but not shaken
at finding himself tripping
over the tangled feet of the Drunk
at his castle gates:

nor was he deaf
to the cry for pity
hanging in the frosty luminance
of a Bohemian night.

He was too humble
too weighed down
by his own sins and sensibilities
to offer his own meagre competence

So he called the Samaritans
(but the line was engaged)
so he called the police
(but they were out at a crime)
so he called the Council
and when he went out the next morning
the pavement was vacant.

Much later
with becoming humility
he breached the Gates of Eden
but was pronounced

Dead on Arrival.

Copyright David Harley 1980


Two Election Poems

General Election 1992

Wearily, warily
picking paths across the polluted airwaves
our aspirant masters resquare the circle
making very clear
what they have already made perfectly clear

a last desperate loudspeaker
grates up from the street
calling the faithful to vote

Katie, aged 2 and 1/3
cuts through the evening’s recycled waffle
with the tersest political commentary of the day

“People shoutin’….”

[My daughter showed an early knack for turning exactly the right phrase. I remember her coming home from nursery, having been told there that there was a dinosaur exhibition at Alexandra Palace, and telling us “There are dinosaurs at Buckingham Palace.” Out of the mouths of babes…]

First published in Vertical Images Volume 10, 1995
Copyright David Harley 1992

Sleight of Hand

When I walk the high-wire,wobbling and wavering
as only the iron-nerved and stone-hearted can,
you giggle at my meticulous ineptitude
and gasp to my orchestration
as I threaten to fall:
but my safety-net is constructed
to rigorous specifications
and the highest standards
your money can buy.

Behind the motley
you fail to recognize
my other public faces: why should you recall the face
of the ticket-seller who allocated your seats?

If I cared,
I could place you
anywhere that suited my whim,
but seldom do such facile conjurations
distract me from my larger schemes.

Not for me, now, the commissionaire-crimson
of the Master-of-Ceremonies:
at present I prefer the red nose
and custard-pie-proof guise of the buffoon
while you gangle-dangle to any tune
I care to have you play.

Your names are of no significance:
your numbers are arbitrarily assigned
for my convenience.
Your individualities
are no concern of mine
and I deny your right to an opinion
that doesn’t conform to my programme
(which I passed among you to offer for sale
as though you had some option of non-acceptance).

I give you your reward:
I set my foot gingerly.

The wire trembles, and the breath clogs in your throats.

I stick out my tongue. You laugh,
confirming my contempt.

I scream ‘Fire!’
and you smother the flames with your bodies
while I rattle the matches in my pocket,
unheard above the martial music.

I allow you crumbs and spectacle.
You give me gold and obedience.


First published in ‘Poems for Hastings’, published 1986 by New Hope International. Copyright David Harley 1983.


Twelfth Night

It was The Deadline.

First, the Christmas cards were filed
under Correspondence
(sub-category Sentiment):
somehow their final disposal
seemed a job better suited
to Spring.

Then the balloons:

[P * O * P]  [P * O * P]  [P * O * P]

with a white ball-headed pin.

Some with a bang, some a whimper.

At length, sated with violence,
I turned to the tree.

Stripped of its baubles and tinsel,
like a disgraced militiaman
it lurched over my shoulder

I carried it down to the garden
to make its Last Stand.

Parodying life,
shedding needles like green, spiky tears
through the kitchen
and all down the backstairs,

wringing (ever so slightly)
my heart.

“Don’t cry, little tree,”
I pleaded (under my breath)
true to Nature
it simply
pined away…

Published in Vertical Images – New Leaves, 1989. Copyright David Harley, 1987.
Slightly revised 8th November 2020.

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