Xenia, the first safety net


Looking back at the introduction
to the Odyssey, I realise what I once
assumed was an encompassing theme
was in reality a brief reference.

The reference was
to Zeus as Zeus Xeinios,
Zeus the protector of strangers,
of the shipwrecked exile, the refugee.
Xenia the root, hospitality.

Xenia made perfect sense:
anyone might get wrecked on the coast
of the Mediterranean. Where then
would one be, without a gentle host?

Xeinios was what you’d call the sky boss
when without a visa or a passport
you were at a loss in another land.
Having lost the bet with fate, you’d hope
for xenia, the west’s first safety net.

You’d think it was hard to forget,
even if the ocean was choking sand.
But if one never thinks themselves a guest
in a strange land, how could they intuit
the pricelessness of a warm welcome?

Listen Listen (1060k MP3)

Dead Air

for Merlin Luck

having stitched your lips shut
with the duct
tape you snuck
past the thousand and one lenses,

boos like angry bees
echoed through the studio
stinging executives – this was calculated
premeditated murder of television –

you knew full well
and we could tell by the welling
in your glazzies
bloodshot with conviction.

no cheap angel
wings propped up your eviction.
the enraged host, a former columnist
couldn’t turn to grist your most

expensive silence.
uttering no words you spoke
volumes in instants
of our vacuous entertainment

and our treatment
of those who, like
you, we locked up, then voted off
the show.

The Monastery of Sant’Onofrio

Winter is in the trees. The fountain’s moss-stained
cherubs spit endlessly, rehearsing
unrequitedness, their cold lips’ ‘O’ wrapped
around the water’s soft calypso. An old wind wakes
the holly oaks, sneaks along marble,
flirts with one plump Nike
dangling, fruit-like from a bough.

What hermit lived here, disowning
his other half, paired only
with an absent god? Another gust, another decade,
the nearby basilica rising like the scalp
of serene Janiculum,
the skeleton in the fresco hinting all.
Two birds fall into the fountain.

The martyred sun will soon come down
from its cross, prised from its sky of cruel silicon.
At the base of the stairs, an impatient Vespa
blares above the Vatican traffic;
someone shouts abuse, and try as I might
I cannot confuse the sound,
cannot mistake it for a lover’s call.

‘the economy, stupid’

benign as Mugabe, market
forces the not-so-new
religion, set to sort all things worth sorting
through competition & the rags
promote the fight in which they’re invested.

(in bed with ads, big media roll over –
the advantage of poems, perhaps)

what’s left for us? the choice between two
different brands of toothpaste,
finger-on-the-pulse stuff: wouldn’t want to miss the
bargain on the zeitgeist shampoo.



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