The only things that matter in life
Are time, and suffering, says my friend Maisie,
Herself a philospoher, with two degrees,
One in philosophy, so she should know.
And time is fascinating, she says; odd choice of word,
Personally, I used to have no time for time,
It passed me by like a river flowing round a stone,
Until I got my new clock; new to me, that is
Though half a century of time has uncoiled
From its mainspring, up til now.
What is this stuff, time? No-one knows, says Maisie,
And true, I do know little of clocks, time’s messengers,
Though I know lots on suffering,
Having made copious notes,
Sometimes referred to as “poems”.
Suffering always goes hand-in-hand with clocks;
Sometimes, time ekes it out in gobbets,
And other times, clusters of sufferings.
My new clock ticks them off, one by one,
Within its wooden walls, its cheery face meanwhile
Round and rubicund, like an old friend.
Its chimes cathedral me through the day
And through the long canonical hours of night
Prime, terce, compline, it’s my own Abbey,
Ding-donging its echoes of gothic arches,
Stained glass, stone cloisters, mechanical
Heraldic quarter-boys, Jack Blandifers,
And the Garden of Wiccamical Prebends
(“Keep Off The Grass!”)
Part-astrolabe, part-orrery, its moving parts inside
Its polished case regulate my every task,
Hands quarter off my days, cogs circulating
Like planets in a system, a universe
Of wheels with teeth, and chains,
A lever-arm, a rack, even a snail
Are caught up in mechanical suffering.
And so I let it count my seconds, tick each day away:
In truth, I have no option – tradesmen call,
Or couriers with deliveries, “before twelve”, it marks them all,
Opticians due at three, I’m marking time,
I’m killing time, or time is killing me, and suffering runs on
Like the brown Ganges round a rock, and every tick
While the church clock stands at ten to three
While there’s honey still for tea, each seven seconds,
A baby dies in India, like clockwork.
Do hands sweep over faces to catch hot tears,
Or is that time’s pursuit, not suffering? Or both?
There’s one born every minute, so they say,
But maybe God needs winding up a bit,
On his bad days, when he says “suffer, little children”,
And really means it.
Time will bring suffering to an end,
Or vice versa, therefore do not seek to send
For whom the clock chimes: it chimes for me.