We were so happy to receive this submission from the national Poet Laureate of Canada, George Elliott Clarke. His verses are a re-telling of the Book of Judith for our readers at Cargo Literary, just in time for Halloween!
But nothing gets past our Poetry Editor, Angus MacCaull, and he had a few questions for Mr. Clarke first.
AM: Would you able to say a little bit about how this story is part of who we are today as Canadians? Why is reimagining this story important now?
GEC : Scriptural narratives represent a fleshing out of Wisdom literature– aphorisms, beatitudes, koans, proverbs, sayings…. So, The Book of Judith is relevant still as a warning to readers to never bow to idolatry, which is the prop for tyranny. One only needs to consider the current occupant of the White House, his egotistical vainglory and bluster, where he is THE STAR demanding subservience by all others, to appreciate the timeliness–and timelessness–of this scripture.
GEC: I seek to reimagine scriptural narratives so as to tease out what
I consider to be the embedded, folk/vernacular theology, thus
revitalizing the works. I think that the “inspired” authors of scripture
were themselves poets.
GEC: My rewrite of The Book of Judith belongs to a larger, epic project, titled “Canticles II,” which will consist of rewritten scriptural narratives from various Faith traditions, including, I’m glad to say, The Book of Mormon.
GEC: “Canticles II” will be published, like Canticles I (MMXVI) and Canticles I (MMXVII), by Guernica Editions of Toronto, and, like its 2-volume antecedent, may be read as a species of travel writing, given that each piece has been written in many parts of North America, Central America, and Europe. I encourage readers to see my Book of Judith as being invested in (ancient) Assyria vs. Israel frontiers (or front lines), that is to say, as a version oF travel writing….
- 1. Warned of Hollowferns’s nascent Blitzkrieg,
his “Great Assyrian Cultural Revolution”—
his “Greater Assyrian Co-Prosperity Sphere”—
his intention to slaughter, sack, wrack,
synagogue-smash, and crack hymens,
plus shackle down survivors,
the Israelites quaked for Jerusalem—
to imagine God’s Temple trampled, polluted, torched.
2. They feared Hollowferns would scribble over God’s Word
with some homicidal, Stone Age poem.
3. Only recently had the Hebrews recuperated
and reconstituted their tribes—
and also reconsecrated the Temple’s vessels and altar,
4. Only recently had the Israelites re-gathered babes
formerly sloughed off in wilderness,
and left to wolves
in preference to th’Assyrians.
5. Moans seeped starward;
letters migrated into keeps.
6. (Note the onrush of evaporation as ink dries,
dies, quickening—and fixing—the words.)
7. Thus, messengers combed the realm
to push garrisons up to highlands,
and spruce up walls—fortifications—for villages,
and spur on the instant harvest
and holding of grape and grain—
all so that the Mosiac cities could brave Siege
and survive well enough to counter-attack,
do guerilla insurgency,
enact anti-encirclement drives….
8. Now was the time to get in firewood, dry,
and to seek full cords—
with no poplar or softwood mixed in.
9. Now to cook up franchemole (lamb’s fat and eggs);
prepare long arms (to reach stored food);
set up sieves (for wine—
the chartreuse suggestion of retsina)—
set out shears, the tremor of knives
(for emergency patching of clothes,
tailoring of bandages)—
and brew ox-blood for callaloo.
10. Now, hospitals enlarged prison-big,
but gaols emptied out, furnishing “Do-or-Die” soldiers.
11. Everyone figured Hollowferns’s “Huns”
were guys good for Hell.
Everyone was as gloomy as bad asphalt—
12. Accordingly, the High-Priest, Joachim, warned,
“Intrabit ut vulpis,
regnabit ut leo,
morietur ut canis.”
13. He ordered the newly drafted, ex-con kamikaze
to staff mountain passes to hinder invasion.
14. (These approaches were so narrow, in places,
that only two soldiers, shoulder to shoulder,
could pass at any one time.
15. Such a bottleneck
could serve to sever each Assyrian’s stiff neck.)
16. Let Hebrew guardians’ swords
swish through flesh;
black smoke puff from pinked, enemy marrow.
17. Now Senatus Populesque Israelus—
“The Senate and the People of Israel”—
vowed rock-steady Defence.
18. Verily, all deplored the nightmare
of witnessing th’Assyrian host gliding
their knotty, rigid pricks—
into Hebrew daughters’ gleaming seams.
19.The lewd Assyrians’d stuff their stiff things
into every Jewess….
Undertake cross-eyed copulations.
20. (Gruesome “honey”?
That’s rapists’ slime slicking Hebrew thighs.)
21. Everybody—including Resident Aliens, Guest Workers
(generally Turks and Falashas), non-status Landed Immigrants,
and Non-Naturalized Slaves—
donned drab, uniform sackcloth,
prostrated themselves in the dust of the Temple floor,
unfurled reed mats
upon which to touch their faces,
dashed ash arabesques cross their foreheads….
22. They strew their stews with rosemary;
spiked their sheets with cacti:
To prove Penance.
23.Israelites sable-cloaked the altar,
and prayed desperately, tearfully,
that God forestall the smashing of babies,
the tupping of wives and daughters,
the stabbing of men and boys,
the Profanation of the Sanctuary—
amid the chortling of savage Gentiles—
their evil hearts,
their evil eyes,
their evil throats.
24.The people’s prayers? Assembly-line Piety.
25. Cultured voices guttered, industrious, in choirs.
Other wretched throats gave out retching songs
as embers crackled in publicans’ fireplaces.
26. Well, Lord God welcomed Israel’s urgent Humility.
27. (God outwits doors and windows.)
28. The volk swore to back more Public Works,
not capital-intensive, black-box-funded “white elephants”;
swore to practice common Devotion over private Piety.
29. No more “hot pants”; no more velvet smoking jackets;
no more Velcro-clasped brassieres.
30. (Note that High Priest Joachim and elders
and generals and poets—
all strolled naked save for the sackcloth
shrouding and prickling their genitals.)
31. The daily burnt offerings,
the nightly candle kindlings,
the ashes streaking and daubing turbans:
All these deeds and demonstrations
marked Israel’s fervent opting for God—
i.e., the people’s wish to stave off Hollowferns.
32. Better tears now, the folks thought,
than tears of wounds later.
33. Yep: They weren’t excited saints,
exultant at Matyrdom.
34.Prayers licked from tongues—
and leeched onto God’s ears.
35.Charcoal was Holiness:
White logs dissolving in smoke.
36.Cathedrals exhaled chimes, inhaled incense.
[Dublin (Ireland) 9 octobre mmxvi]
- 1. Hollowferns’s spies exposed Jewish defence:s
Booby-trapped mountain passes;
fields cleared of peasants and wheat and grapes—
and cows and lambs and chickens.
2. So thorough were these Fifth Columnists,
they i.d.’d—named—Israel’s big boys, the satraps.
3. Hollowferns summoned his strategists, and asked
“Who are these Canannites atop the hills?”
4. “Why have they alone—of all our Orient—
refused to pronounce Nebuchadnezzar fealty?
5. “Are we the half-cannon,”
he thundered, “and they the full works?!!
6. “Can’t I arouse their Humility by decimating scores?
Won’t arrows and spears contort em,
outfit em as corpses?”
7. Ammonite League chief, Lord Acton, answered,
“Well, these hillbillies constitute Mesopotamia’s dregs,
but, being perverse—if proud—monotheists,
were forced by so-called idolaters
to remove to Canaan.
8. “But the people are lions,
and that’s their whole Genealogy, right?
9. “Unless the Israelites have blasphemed their ‘God,’
their foes are fast frustrated, shortly executed.
10. “Note: Hebrew expertise is in merchandising gold, silver,
cattle, sheep, and Manischewitz Concorde wine.
They host a lot of high-end start-ups—
and the metals they mine
drug one with their dazzle.
11. “Famine compelled em to Egyptianize,
where their revanche du berceau
exploded their numbers such that the pharaoh—
his hackles raised—
forced the Hebrew host to slave,
brick together pyramids outta mud and straw.
12.“Gypsies diagnosed the Israelites as a bad disease.
But the Egyptians had no blameless guts….
13.“Pharaoh was a trollop—
a troll, squat and bleating on his throne,
that dirty stern.
The supposèd deity looked a scrunched-down,
stunted sculpture, a runt.
14. “Afflicted, oppressed, the monotheists demanded
their God afflict and oppress the Gypsies.”
Soon locusts bled their crops;
and Ebola bled their bodies.
15. “Hospitals resounded with birth wails
mingled with death rattles,
and po fuckers screeching
gainst the holy writ of The Book of the Dead.
16.“As the plagues on Egypt waxed worse and worse,
wanton assassinations of Jews multiplied.
Punks robbed and stabbed Israelites.
Guts—torn out—became Wailing Walls.
Inconsolable carcasses bled tears.
Toothless, saggy-titted grannies,
at the thresholds of pyramids,
took stiff, Gypsy cocks in their assholes.
17. “The ghettoes hosted broken windows,
broken jaws, broken bodies,
as Grief broke Gypsy hearts,
and their useless prayers
vented as broken speech, broken words,
broken laws, and treaties.
18. “To remedy the civil disorder,
Gypsies compelled Jews to exit;
but then, furious, at the rapturous withdrawal—
a rupture of the labour force—
chased after their ex-slaves.
19. “Horseback racket echoed after
the exilic Abrahamese,
hooves splashing desert sand—
hooves trampling the map of Egypt—
up to and into
the Red Sea,
which the Israelite God had split open—
a chasm as wide as an X—
right down to its bottom,
to allow the Hebrews dry passage to Liberty,
but then let clap close again after em,
thus swallowing whole the Gypsy cavalry.
20. “Prize, Arabian stallions were surprised
by the surge—fusillade—of waves.
The horses became as dead—
but as buoyant—
21.“Pallid slave-traders became dead testicles,
despite the cursing, tumultuous, drowning mouths.”
22.“Gypsy sails at first serrated the horizon,
but that flotilla soon dwindled, flattened,
splintered into driftwood,
the exodus of rats—
while sailors curled, uncurled,
insectile in the sudden, vivisecting flood,
the bellow of ocean.
23. “The Imperial Navy was now the driftwood
of drowned pirates,
warmongers suddenly upside-down dead.
24.“To this day, that sea-bottom is
and well-preserved skeletons;
and one can easily exaqua* skulls
from the white foam dregs tiding the shoreline.
(Some skulls are brown or mustardy;
others look egg-shell-white or fog-grey.)”
25.“Quickly then, dark whispers threaded
the Gypsy catacombs,
‘The Pope—Pharaoh—is in error’;
and, given his rout, the man-god was thrown
off his throne,
kicked down and disassembled by his guards,
so he is now a battered skull
and a shattered pelvis,
with some bits pulverized
and the powder pioured into flour
and baked into bread.
26.“Thus, the Canaanites bested Egypt,
then slew every human in Heshbon
and commandeered the heights,
and then either exterminated or relocated
every tribe, hindering their viticulture,
agriculture, animal husbandry,
and precious-metal exchange.
27. “The Hebrews dispatched whole peoples
to the metropolis of Hades:
28. “One heard relentlessly
the uncensored thuds
gurgling down a toilet.
armies of turds
gone down to a sewer….
29.“The Israelite victories entailed massacres.
These were not ornamental die-offs.
Jarring genocides got jerry-rigged.
30. “Brute force took raw gold—
via paraphernalia of Slaughter.
31.“But this violent horde has an Achilles’ heel:
Whenever they become fat and gilt-heavy—
whenever their veal is ever delicate—
and their gold grows heavier
in sprawling, fattening sacks—
they discount their no-name ‘God’—
guffaw at their former Faith—
and then they’re easily snookered,
32.“Once debauched, the Israelites debouch curses—
barbarous as scissors.
33. “Legal script develops loopholes—
curlicues of style;
Illegality is embroidered, flaunted.
Bribery greases the merry-go-round spins
Empires of funds get Liquidated via Fraud.
Receipts sprawl like fly larvae.
34.“Labourers become loafers—
attentive to Ease.
Every breakfast is leisure;
every supper an orgy.
35. “There’s the endless shift-work of sex positions—
wallowing of—sex partners;
anguished schoolgirls languishing in brothels;
genealogies dissolving into consumptive Bastardy….
36.“Boys, girls, get butchered and salted down
as pork—voluptuous meat—
Cannibals crack bones and slurp up marrow,
their pink tongues turning dark and greasy.
37. “Assassins become busybodies,
their demand heavy.
Extinct tyrants get rehabilitated as amusements….
38. “When Jewry flout their ‘God,’
these are the signs—sins—of their Apostasy.
39. “The difficulty now is, the Jews are pious—
and rejoice at their Redemption from Babylonian captivity,
have re-occupied Jerusalem,
re-etablished their holy Temple,
and now thrive in the hills.
40. “Their synagogues exhale prayers;
anonymous hymns drone from basements—
even from de facto parliaments—
41.“Their moon is—to speak metaphorically—
a placid, silent gong,
resonant when sunlight strikes!”
42.“General Hollowferns, to joust at Jews,
thou must identify their infidel transgressions
against their own ‘God.’
43.“Thou must discover the torn screen—
or the hairpin fracture—
in their Piety.
Note where snow has thinned, gone dirty,
or looks parched—
so to speak—
and’s no longer thick, downy, pristine.
44.“But,” Lord Acton continued,
“if the Hebrew ‘God’ defends ‘His’ folk,
thou must let em be,
or risk Destruction thyself.
45.“Heed the Israelite motto—
(“Israel will recover”).
46.“Elsewise, our army suffers the waste that’s Defeat,
the paralysis of mummies,
the erasure of our front-lines—
despite the cheers of 120,000 Fascist hearts,
120,000 Black Shirts!
47.“We’ll oversee men dulled, desolate,
their defunct bodies astride skinny horses—
or fallen to prone cadavers, collecting dust.”
48. Having tabled this dossier, Lord Acton
sat cross-legged in the tented Diet,
while the Joint Chiefs of Staff and junior officers
squabbled over his provisos,
condemning him for his “treasonous Defeatism.”
49.The Wehrmacht brass speculated that Jewry were
effete, decadent “peaceniks,”
unsuitable for War,
and voted—with raucous Passion—
shouting unanimously, ultimately—
to back Hollowferns
in a campaign of sheer killing, killing, killing.
50. Hollowferns now rebutted Acton:
“Enough with strangers on our borders—
and dissident pilgrims
in this provincial Assyriana!
51. “As I am—
il ministro della Guerra—
the responsible officer of the Government—
I dub the Jewry ‘fugitives,’
meriting segregation as slaves
and extermination as threats.”
52.Hollowferns’s “charismatic personage” revealed
total detachment in directing psychopathic, Death squads.
53.Th’Assyrian foe now sought to decease
“totally the grotesque and hermit-like Israelites,
jesting constantly with their totally useless,
faceless, nameless deity.”
54.Lord Acton interrupted:
“To undertake this campaign could wrought
our falling, useless—
not even as useful as Autumn!”
55. Hollowferns retorted, “I foresee
no big difficulties.
Degenerate mongrels like these anti-Assyrians
are mental cases that dirty Asia.
Their scriptures are useless doggerel.
Their brains are vainglorious meat.
56. “Let us gondola through their blood!”
57. (Pandemonium magnified this Ultimatum.)
58. Hollowferns was a hairy statue;
his black shirt, though unbuttoned,
did not expose his non-bleeding heart.
[Deer Island (New Brunswick) 13 & 14 octobre mmxvi;
Vancouver (British Columbia) 16 & 17 octobre mmxvi]
* Cf. M.N. Philip.
- 1. Pissed, Hollowferns rebuked Lord Acton
as a “treasonous defeatist …
as milquetoast as a missionary,”
and “no red-blooded Assyrian.”
2. “What the fuck’s wrong with you, Acton?
Did you mistake your head for your foot—
and butted down the doors
you thought you’d kicked down?
3. “What god is there but Nebuchadnezzar?
His Imperialism is 99‰ Wrath and 1‰ Lust.
4. “We—I speak as his emissary—will annihilate Israel.
We—the king’s disciples—will destroy these dissenters
down to the last ass.
5. “We will take apart what War has put together:
Israelite hearts, preening,
must soon keen a crimson tide, resistless.
Gashes will burst bellies.
6. “Hebrew wine will cascade their mountainsides;
their vineyards will be chaotic graveyards.
7. “It’ll be a first-class masterpiece
No piecemeal burning.
8.“Not even their footprints will remain.
They’ll be fertilizer.
9. “Lord Acton, thou art no soldier
no Minister of War,
but a craven fool—
as parasitic as a syringe.
10. “Your report will cut 10 pounds from your neck
because the 10-minute length of your speech
amounted to the vomit of a screelpoke—
the author of false accounts.
Your report’s a yellow-jacketed paperback,
a scrofulous giallo.
King Nebuchadnezzar’s pen is a sword,
but yours is a turd.
11. “Thou art garbage, undiluted garbage,
and ugsom (ugly) and lothly (loathsome).
Confess with your face that you’re a fake,
a sodomite confection!
12. “You’re clearly a whitey black—
a shit-covered marshmallow.
You need to be squashed—
and I’d do it,
save that you’ll stink and make a mess.
13. “You melted-wax cunt,
your own body is a kiln—
verbiage no better than a whore’s.
14. “You’re an expert in Entertainment—
whatever Degradation wins beggars’ applause.
15.“To sell the black slave on his Servility,
white lies must be said.
16. “You’re like a dildo—
a greasy translator—
or a paraquito—
a runty parrot spewin Israelite caca.
17. “I bet you’ve got Hebrew sperm coating—
and prickly, Hebrew cockhairs lacing—
your ass-accustomed tongue.
18.“Your anti-war bluster
isn’t even metaphysical cocksucking.
No, it’s bodily, sweaty fellatio:
The projected gasps and whines of our dying—
slaughtered by Hebrews—
our cries muffled by your officious drivel.
I’m as hostile to you
as is a gallow’s staircase
to a condemned man.
20.“Insinuation requires substance,
but you have fomented so much paranoid Champagne—
such foaming at the mouth,
such piss up your own backside,
you reveal yourself to be transfeminate.
21. “Your failure is insufferable.
You have abdicated your commission.
What you’ve conjured here is Perjury—
words born from cutthroat saliva.
22.“I see your timid stare—
the ‘intellectual’ genuflecting to his books!
23. “I hereby imprison thee until I return
from knacking the Israelites down to filth.
24. “Then, once I’ve returned, triumphant,
I’ll take you from your cell,
cut your heart from your chest,
and stuff it in your mouth.
25.“I’ll undertake the homework of Erasure.
26. “I’ll jail you in one of the towns we’ve conquered,
up in the hills.
27.“You won’t be held prisoner by mere ink.
You’ll discover Humiliation.
28. “When you hear of our Victory, stroke your neck,
for your breaths will be numbered.
Follow the crab-scuttle countdown
of the numerals demarcating your life-span,
sliding from lesser to lesser, hour by hour.
29. “In your case, the Head Office must decapitate
the back room.”
30. With gusto, Hollowferns pledged this sentence:
“You’ll be the last of the Isrealite dead,
for you’ve been most like an Israelite,
speaking bravely of their ‘bravery.’
31. “So shall your anti-monarchical proclivities
32. Hollowferns spoke the language of horses: German.
No palsied Fury panted.
33.Hollowferns’ troops led Lord Acton to Israel’s foothills
to cage him in Bethulia.
Their footsteps spiraled up into the hills.
34.Fearing that these men were scouts for an invasion,
the Israelites snapped slingshots,
lobbed stones downslope toward Bethulia.
35. To escape the Israelite barrage,
Hollowferns’s Huns threw Lord Acton
into a Bethulia cell, then fled.
36. It was a green jail.
(Extremities are dreams.)
Bees ate up flowers.
37. Swift, Israel’s militia advanced,
and snatched Lord Acton from his jail,
and led him—tethered as a “Prisoner of War”—
to their encampment.
38. Uzziah sat Lord Acton before all of Israel,
and interrogated the hombre.
39. Lord Acton told of Hollowferns’s boast:
He’d annihilate Israel rather than leave Jews
to their farms and Faith.
40. The Hebrews prostrated themselves,
yowling to God, so great was their Terror:
The front lines were as close as Bethulia, Egypt,
41. “O Lord God,” they beseeched,
“smite the arrogant Assyrians,
and preserve thine own people.”
42. The scared populace vowed themselves to Poverty,
Industrious Asceticism, and Prayer.
Lacerating was their inner turmoil.
43. (Horror is contemplation of Death—
44. Uzziah now brought Lord Acton
into his own home, to share a feast,
and pray to Divinity for Safety.
45. The Hebrews—Uzziah especially—viewed
Aristocratic Acton as a Bohemian,
a cosmopolitan, worthy of rehab.
46. Lord Acton was, actually, an instrument of Light.
He’d not end as a mummified saint.
47. Assyria was likened to a vulture surveying Israel—
“she,” a drowsing, bare-breasted beauty,
shadowed by a stone pharaoh
and a somnolent sphinx.
48. Lord Acton sensed that Uzziah wa
a canvas that could never be alienated.
49. The feast? Dead rabbit, dead pheasant,
dead deer, dying roses, and a dead duck.
Fresh bread—like soft milk—gleamed.
Purple, depressed grapes pissed wine.
Surge of honey at the end.
[YVR (British Columbia) 17 octobre mmxvi]
–GEORGE ELLIOTT CLARKE