Friday Circle Home

Triumph of the Swill

Poems by James Whittall

If Adolf Hitler were here today,
They'd send a limousine anyway.

— The Clash


          Let's have a war
          and sell the rights to the Network.


Rejoice, brothers and sisters, rejoice:
The triumph of the swill is today!
How long have we sought
What is now within our clutch?
Years? Decades? A lifetime?
Too long! I say it has been too long!

Where there was once majestic intellect,
Now there is the big-breasted bimbo —
Sanctified by instant celebrity —
Who severed her husband's penis
With a kitchen meat cleaver.

Where there were great deeds,
The noble endeavors of a higher vision,
We savor instead the ugly spectacle
Of unflappable Presidents dodging
The character assassin's bullets.

Media, and not Death, are our great equalizers:
Illiterates ponder the weighty musings of imbeciles;
Kings and queens consort with minor devils;
The best hire publicists, while the worst
Negociate the rights to their atrocities.

Were we to suddenly abandon this base creed
And revel again in Florentine renaissance,
Television, radio and the press
Would pronounce this time our darkest hour
And then announce with trembling anticipation
The prophesied return of Gomer Pyle.


Returning and returning to the same flawed logic
The program is lodged in an infinite loop;
Sun-Moon wheels in its rut; moths navigate by porch light;
The mindlessness of repetition wearies the world;
Blood-pulse wearies us; we keep its time
As seconds are collected on the face of a clock;
Women caught in their endless cycles;
Men condemned to the mistakes of their fathers.

What sick humour is it that reveals
The self-same pattern with such infinite diversity?
History teaches all children that evolution giveth
But revolution taketh away;
One cinder block wall crumbles to dust
While another is kilned in the ovens that spewed
A flurry of ash on Tyrolean peaks;
And from somewhere across the century's assembly line,
A black-booted man raises again his broken cross
To the marching drums of the cruelest human hearts.

Let us in ignorance retrace the circle and name it Progress.
What need have we to heed the warning cry of our murdered kin,
When all around us birdsong welcomes yet another Spring?


The first bullet whistled up into the air. The second drilled into the side of a building, spraying chips of brick. The third struck a little girl in a stroller. People started to shout and run for cover.
          The police fired back, killing two of the men. The last man stumbled out with his hands up high. He tossed a suitcase clattering into the street. One cop rushed over and threw him to the ground and pressed a shotgun barrel to his temple. Everyone was screaming.
          I saw the mother kneel and gently wipe blood off her daughter's face.
          By the time a doctor arrived to give her a shot, she had run out of Kleenex and was using the sleeves of her shirt.

CURT KOBAIN 1967-1994

          I wish I could eat your cancer
          when you turn black.

You can touch It, if you listen, but the knowing was his:
Kin to plastic lilies rustling in a tomb,
The photograph that accompanies a closed casket,
The gaping maw of an open grave.

Hemingway knew It too well, and Plath;
Who set foot on the other side and returned,
Bringing news that nothing awaits
Once Death has laid His cold hand on your head
In black baptism, ceremony of unbeing.

It was heavy in him, this weight of knowing,
This ravenous cancer, this diseased lung.
You can hear It, if It touches you, but you cannot know;
For the knowing was his, and his alone.


Not for you this artificial species of death
Only modern medicine can breed;
Not for you the slow and calculated
Demolition of a proud man's dignity.

You took your leave unexpectedly,
And with arrogant presumption
Thumbed your nose at that Cold Technologist.
What wild rebellion! What riotous anarchy!

Let the grim boneyard monuments
Whisper their perennial tales of grief:
I celebrate the emancipation of your body by fire,
The deliverance of your ash upon the water.

And I shall look for you, friend,
Not in a handful of words perfectly engraved on stone,
But rather in the green leaf
That is first to quit the wind-ravaged tree.


Kirsty worked in Radiology at Saint Mary's. The walls of her small, dirty apartment were decorated with the pictures of stillborn babies she had snipped out of medical journals. There was one little boy who had no skull, so his head looked like butterscotch pudding in a plastic bag. Another had been born with his torso split open down the middle like a lobster cracked in half and waiting to be baked. A little girl with blond hair had her heart purple as a plum dangling on the outside of her chest. Kirsty called them her icons of the new age.
          I felt vaguely nauseous looking at the pictures. "It sort of makes you not want to have children," I said.
          "Don't worry," said Kirsty. "These are the very, very rare ones. The ones who have been born ruined on the outside."


Engine bellows and abates, bellows and abates —
An unrelenting roar that is both inflated and infertile.

Stereo pulses its throbbing erection of bass;
Tires squeal like four wet virgins, penetrated;

Then car and driver shoot abruptly
Down the naked thigh of the street.

The vaginal night swallows whole
This metal phallus and its dysfunctional seed.


Three out of four dentists agree,
My love for you reduces plaque above the gumline.
In a side-by-side comparison with the leading brand,
It washes dirt clean away
And never leaves a soapy film.

When we love, it is like new Q-tips
With fifty percent more cotton softness;
Or no-tears baby shampoo —
Gentle enough to use every day.

Fear not, my sweet, the unavailing arrows
Decay slings at my affection for thee.
I repel them, as antiperspirant repels body odour,
As antibacterial spray repels household germs!

I will remain, forever and always,
Your fresh-as-a-spring-day douche;
Your extra-absorbent pantyliner;
Your ultimate feminine protection.


You fit around me
Like a noose around a neck

A hangman's noose
A broken neck


The crowd swelled forward as the motorcade pulled away from the hotel. I was further down the boulevard and couldn't see anything except the backs of people waving placards and shouting. Then the mounted police arrived, and I could see them clearly above the crowd, on horseback, using the horses to push a path through the crowd. I watched as they pushed closer to me, now swinging their billy clubs to knock away the hands that were reaching up at them; and finally the first of the long black limousines came into view. I readied myself and waited. When the limousine pulled up beside me, I arched back and hurled a gob of spit at the windshield. I saw it hit and slide down leaving a wet trail. The car lurched forward and everyone was spitting at it and shouting, the prime minister waving through the back seat window as if nothing was happening, and that stupid smile on his face.


And in the end,
The love you make
Is briefer than the love
You fake.

About the Author
If James Whittall wanted you
to know anything about his
personal life, he would have
written an autobiography.


The author wishes to thank his Muse for assistance during the creation of these poems, and wonders why It doesn't show up a little more often.

"Love and Personal Hygiene" first appeared in Bywords.

Copyright © 1995, 2003 by James Whittall

Print edition, 1995. ISBN 1-896362-04-4
Electronic edition, 2003. ISBN 1-896362-18-4