(from Twentieth Century)
A decadent historicism appeared in buildings, appalling to purists,
and executives of telephone companies walked daily
beneath romanesque vaults and the gilded wings of statues,
then on a clouded day no one could fix in retrospect
the body became a religion, sex a kind of makeshift sacrament,
and with nothing but this dim polestar to guide us
we must now confront the idea of continual mourning
and the necessity of pain, as a friend's handsome face
is reduced to something resembling a bruised skull.
It is a time of marvels: in midsummer a wind out of nowhere
strips the trees bare; every few minutes another Marsyas is flayed,
and the small uncomprehending dog laps at his blood.
Twentieth century, we still have much to learn from you
concerning the refinements of cruelty and its multiplication,
banal as shopping malls on the outskirts of a town,
flourishing as the centre dies and is boarded up.
Twentieth century, you are leaving us
with resurrections of dead gods who remain dead,
twitching in their galvanised graveclothes, and this is unkind,
since we have stayed faithful to you as if you were a good mother.
We ignored your cocaine habit and your masochism -
you appearing in the Irish bar saying, when we mentioned
your face swollen like a purple cabbage: 'Oh I had a bad fall.'
What kind of staircase could do that?
Tell us whose fist it was. Twentieth century, don't lie to us.
We love you and you are leaving forever.
Ash, John. "(from Twentieth Century)" Scanning the Century: The Penguin Book of the Twentieth Century in Poetry. Peter Forbes, Ed. London: Penguin Books, 1999. 400-1.