Theagony: 2022 adieux

by Rafaël Newman

William Blake, “Satan Before the Throne of God” (1805-1810)

When we began, our gods were junior,
Their profits, and our problems, punier.
The deities who drilled at dawn
Paraded in a pantheon:
Born out of Chaos and castration,
Theirs was a piebald population.
They mingled with a breed of men
And women we’ll not see again,
Who shared those gods’ own groaning board,
Where things were rarely untoward—
Unless you count the odd abduction,
The semi-bestial seduction,
The anthropophagous pot-au-feu,
Or the Promethean pas-de-deux.

But more than this, our gods were many,
Though not, for all that, two-a-penny.
A deathless numen dwelt within
Whatever was, would be, had been,
And granted every abstract noun
Its aegis, buckler, crest, or crown;
Its anvil, lightning bolt, caduceus;
Its cuneiform, and its cartouches.
There was a holiness at large,
A broadly scattered, sacred charge.

But now? Our gods have been compress’d,
And we, in consequence, less bless’d:
From Twelve Olympians downgraded
To single Seigneur. We have traded
That polychrome diapason
For a grimly grayscale monotone.
At best, our world is Manichaean,
Though not as praised in Persian paean.
The tyrants twain who rule this globe
Are those that frame the Book of Job:
A sadist, distant from the Earth,
And Satan, who assays the worth,
In worship and obedience,
Of hominid ingredients.

And, as in heaven, so below:
The prologue to our present show
Is quite outdone in cruelty
And sanctimonious fealty
In the current theater of war
Staged on the bloodlands, where a store
Of the People’s Own Materiel
Is spent to make a people’s hell;
Where a Muscovite Mephistopheles
Whom the world sought cravenly to appease
Intones the post-colonial gospel
While bombing school, and church, and hostel;
Who uses “Nazis”, nukes, and NATO
In place of Fanon, Freud, and Plato
To draft his casus belli writ—
And shackle those he’d manumit.

Such was the dire and desp’rate auspice
That met us as we left the hospice
Where we had lived two years a-tremble,
Now thinking we could re-assemble—
Only to greet a virus greater
Than omicron, or letters later:
The malady of wasting war
Deployed to render whole once more
What apparatchiks had lamented,
But since was fashioned new, fragmented
Into a cruel revanchist kernel,
Sworn to survival sempiternal,
Fringed round with what had been its flesh,
Now freed to go, and grow afresh—
A polymorphic polity.
(May I no Pollyanna be.)

Still, there’ve been moments we enjoyed,
Both frankly, and with Schadenfreud:
As when—obit regina—C. rex,
As tame and trivial as T. rex,
Saw PMs in and out at Buck House
As if they were his out-of-luck spouse.
Then there was novelty, if not kicks,
In a duchess dissing, on Netflix,
The very Caesars she was wed to
On learning they were brutalet tu?!
(The Windsors, Sussexes, et al. a
Pallid copy of Valhalla,
More Fafner and his traduced twin
Than Fricka, Wotan, Froh, and kin.)
We cheered as much for Lula redux
As we booed his rival (human reflux);
We greeted Gabriel Boric, sworn in
To a land unlike what he was born in,
And jeered at Pinochet’s dismay
Beyond the tomb, without a say.
And finally, the midterms woke
Our faith—a bit—in US folk,
Who, by a margin faint as chalk,
Chose the less wicked wing of their ruling bloc.

There were some pleasures, if but seldom,
We savored plain as we beheld ‘em:
We nearly cracked a case of Pernod
When the Nobel Prize went to Annie Ernaux;
And, though our taste in song is stricter,
We saluted Eurovision’s victor;
We toasted Joshua Cohen’s win
For Netanyahus, readably thin;
And, at the Opera House in Zurich,
We welcomed heaven made telluric
With two new Rings: old Richard’s suite,
And Wirth and Littell’s take on Tracy’s Griet.

Alas, we mourned in nature’s course
For those who’d been a steady source
Of lyrical and other pleasures,
In Lydian and other measures:
We raised a glass and bade farewell
To Enzensberger, Brook, Mantel;
To Rorem, Cara, Lynn, Sempé,
To Oldenburg and Miyake;
To Trintignant and Hurt and Vitti,
To Newton-John and Poitier—pity!
To Lansbury, Godard, and Caan,
To Jerry Lee and Thích Nhất Hạnh;
To Pelé, and the Pistols’ dresser,
Ms Westwood, haute couture’s transgressor;
While Meat Loaf, Mugler, Kripke, Leakey
All breathed their final vidi, vici

So now we’ve made it to the summit,
And pause before the coming plummet
Into the next vale. Shall we pray?
Would orisons improve the day?
But that would mean we’d have to name
A deity to vet our claim—
And I’d be loth myself to choose
The God of Christians or Jews;
The Lord Almighty for whose glory
The mullahs hunt their unkempt quarry;
The Buddha of Sri Lanka’s war,
Or of the junta in Myanmar.
But much as I would dearly love
To welcome back the goddess of
War strategy, Pallas Athena,
And furnish her with a subpoena
To summon all the scoundrels to her
That she might thrash each evildoer;
Or sic Diana on the horde
Of oligarch and overlord;
Or bid Inanna build us bunkers
Against the Jacobins and Junkers
Who charge their armies and police
To dig a grave and call it peace—
Yet such gods, too, command devotion;
Would only set new cults in motion;
And soon enough would have us baying
For novel blood, instead of praying.

Then let us sing, and let me hear it,
Each to the god*dess of their spirit!
In Chautauqua or Uvalde,
To “Stefania” or Vivaldi,
In Kherson and in Kakanien,
In Kurdish tongue and in Ukrainian,
That all for all of us may good go:
Jin, Jîyan, Azadî and Budmo!