Saturday, May 15, 2010

The Thrill of the Kill

This morning’s radio rural section had an interview with a Scottish couple who have a small-holding not far from Masterton. Basically a berry farm, it also has a vineyard and a large vegetable garden. They sell produce – strawberries, raspberries, boysenberries, currants and gooseberries – and jam as well as vegetables, olive oil and wine. They have a stall in the Saturday Masterton market.

They keep a pig to eat up the spare and damaged veggies etc. Piglets are raised for the table. There are chooks, ducks, two turkeys and rabbits. A goat in kid has been ordered. They have given a small area to the nearby local primary school where the pupils have planted potatoes and have grown tomatoes all summer.

It sounds idyllic if hard work. In a different incarnation I would have loved it But it’s not Anne’s cup of tea and basically I’m a bookish man. Still one can dream.

Last night we watched another Schama art DVD – David’s portrait of Marat killed in his bath. McCarthy’s witch-hunts while they might have destroyed careers and lives on the whole did not impose the death penalty. The French Revolution moved very quickly from high expectations of liberty to bloodshed and terror. I am very conscious of the thin veneer that is civilisation over the beast that is in humanity.

Schama made the point that David’s portrayal was pure propaganda, transforming a brutal man into a martyr. He also made the point that the innumerable portrayals of Christ and the saints pursue the same goal. Rivera’s Mexican murals portray revolutionary idealism.

I wrote two poems as a result of my visit to Mexico. One was on yesterday’s blog. The other is below. When it was published several people remonstrated with me. You can’t equate the fortnightly mutton kill on the farm with the human sacrifices of the Aztecs? I could and I had.

The use of the word incarnation above sparked off a thought. If I’d been brainwashed from birth to believe that the sun would not rise without a daily human sacrifice would I accept the practice. Different circumstances and I might not be the kind person that I would hope that I am. I too might have been chanting ‘death to the infidel’ or ‘better dead than red’ or consigning people to Belsen. The Indian and Cowboys movies of my youth were based around the killing of the other folk.

I remember saying when the detestable treatment of some Iraqi prisoners by their American captors was revealed, ‘There but by the grace of God go all of us.’ The poem is an honest recall of an emotion. Sitting on the peak of that awesome pyramid my mind toyed back to my country boyhood. It’s a long way from Okuti to Teotihuacan distance-wise. That magic of childhood. But death with its strange appeal intruded. I was trying to comprehend the enormity the act of willingly killing another human. The more I thought the more I realised how the instinct seems inherent in our species.

The thrill of the hunt, the chase, the excitement of the kill. The last words of my poem are sobering.

From Okuti toTeotihuacan

Under circling buzzards,
pyramids apex to the sky;
the clamber to the top has left
me breathless in the northern sun.

After the smog of the city
where neon obscures both squalor
and splendour, clean air invites me
to be a boy again in that snug valley

where my small hand helped lamb
many an ungrateful ewe. Such chores
were interlude from exploration; deep
in the jungles of emergent bush, streams

contained crocodiles,
eels, at least, in every pool
if one were patient; on tussock slopes
scalp-hungry Indians; and hares, which when startled

always burst uphill.
Grotesque stumps, remnants
of great bush fires, crumbling quietly
through cicada summers, sign-posted clearings

where in rhythm, clematis
was miracle and blackberry was banquet.
A rusted billy-can upon a peak was then sure
proof that no one could have climbed so high before.

Resting here, my mind replays
another long-forgotten rapture, the
fortnight mutton-kill; a witness-compelling
ritual. Knife meticulously honed, the chase,

the capture, head forced back across
the knee, the one deft act as throat
is cut and neck is cracked. Heaving lungs
and flailing feet collapse into an awesome relaxation.

To poke an eye without
response … or track congealing blood
across the dust … Though as a link I am
rather tenuous, it’s not far from Okuti to Teotihuacan.

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