3 July, 2020 • • 43.7Creative WritingOriginal Poetry

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I, Magistra

Aliya Ram

Sperm Whaling no. 2 – The Conflict, Joseph Foxcroft Cole (1858)

If language and voice are tools for authority, then what does revolt sound like? Who hears our wails? In the third feature of the Oxonian Review‘s series on voice, Aliya Ram places us in an apocalyptic landscape after a policy crisis has ‘unpeopled’ the world – a poignant analogue for austerity England. It charts the conflict between a whale who has survived the crisis and a powerful, paranoid chancellor. The narrative voice of the poem is persistently challenged, enacting a bitter struggle and an attempt to avert a tragic ending.

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I / WINDOW DARKLY

This tragedy concerns the life of a whale-like creature

Who looked into her hole darkly


II / SHE, MAGISTRA

Violet sky outside and driving rain

Magistra through a window looking

A promise in the air

A correction in a mind

A pain in her back

I, MAGISTRA have known many things

Such thoughts peopled the fat of her

‘I, MAGISTRA,’ she might have said

Could she have spoken

Had she have said 

‘I, MAGISTRA, INTEND’

But a voice cut across the rainspun land

It said: If you make a single mistake, I will ask for a prominent correction.


III / THE NATURE OF THE HOLE

Not all holes are as one hole

Hers is a building with tinted windows 

Within it had worked thousands towards the promise of truth

The look of the hole is clarity and thought

The stink of the hole is death and truth

The sound of the hole is the silent man who waits patiently while others search for the words


IV / THE NATURE OF HER

Not all women are as one woman

Hers is a whale-like body: vast, blue and covered in skin

Inwardly whale-ish: small, quivering, capable of birth

As a subject she was of her own story and voice

As an object she frequently spoke only to herself


V / THE LIFE OF HER

Daily, Magistra circled the hole 

In this business she was as an insect drowning in milk

Hourly too, and minutely the blind circle

Weekly, her blind eyes sought the sun

In this business she was as a soft mole of hope

‘With hope’

The heft of her pushed outward against the hole and inward into the world

The mind of her pushed outward against the hole and inward into the world

The search of her was not truth, but some edges to catch on

snick the blubber cut ridges and valleys

Hair bones gristle sweat

Weekly, the light would darken and the hole would widen away and she would fall again

Smooth again a circle

Twice a year she learned to see 

Each time those days passed back to blindness


VI/ THE WORLD WITHOUT MAGISTRA

Except Magistra there was only a Chancellor

Things as they are suggested her the hole

For them she stays there

For them she stays there

For them she stays there


VII/ UNPEOPLED

Except Magistra there was only a Chancellor (whose voice rang out across the land)

His project is one of prominent correction

His body is one of prominent erection 


VIII/ THE PEOPLE

Once there were people in the land

In the years before a Chancellor’s shrill voice spoke

Now there is only Magistra

He came to fear the fatty skin in which she hides

insurrection insurrection

He came to fear the things she hid in that fatty skin unsaid

He came to think she was truth: the hole in which smooth 

bodies move blindly

the world corrected 

But she was risk: but opaque

but the world uncorrected


IX/ THE CHANCELLOR AND HIS FEAR

Fear is thought; the vain seek thought; the Chancellor is vain 

The vain Chancellor loved Magistra as evidence of thought

The Chancellor did not always think of thought

See:

Aloft a horse a hot white man

Epicene fingernails, remarked by all

Bridling

A power man

A crown of yellow plastic

A liturgical message for the empty land:

“Thus spoke I, Chancellor.”

and the thousands fell atop one other to their holes each to their holes faster than the other: lift the heavy iron wheel strain muscle tungsten onto muscle crumple skin under metal bleed under metal back break take a rod and smash the neighbour’s spine make an unknown sign to the unknown group and see his mouth open in writhing then collect a reward return bend let the skin stretch over each one as you lift again heavy cold metal slab on shoulder HEAVY heavy HEAVY heavy—cold and heavy up above your heavy head down down on the skull this time perhaps oh yes on the neighbour gristle blood gristle blood quick rewind rerun don’t forget to break the back or he will heal but oh no no crown oh no no no / INDEED, NOT

In front of it all the pure form of pure form

Thousands as a solved sum

The answer exactly: three fish, seven hundred and ninety two thousand and six people, one hill, one Chancellor, one fatty whale, one factory, one hundred and twenty-two thousand and six people and one yellow plastic crown


XI/ LATER

Three fish, one hill, one Chancellor, one fatty whale, one factory, one yellow plastic crown


XII/ DISEQUILIBRIUM

Things as they are are things; all things must change; things as they are must?

________________________________________________________________________

_________________________ .


XIII/ SELECT

Change

Not change

Stay the same

Not stay the same

All of the above

None of the above

Certain of the above

Disagreements

Conflict

Blank spaces

Illiteracy

Illegibility

Some of the above


XIV/ CONFLICT

Correct


XV/ THE ORIGIN OF THE CONFLICT I

The Chancellor denied that his duchy was now one blind whale, a hill, three fish, a factory and his own plastic yellow crown (thrown on the floor by his majesty, the baby)

In the black slick of heart

where anaerobics breathe

fear brewed


XVI/ BEACHED WHALE

The land unpeopled, Magistra offshored

In this business she was as a tax haven

With truth within and history without


XVII/ THE ORIGIN OF THE CONFLICT II

Unpeople continued worshiping the mounted Chancellor whose vision had realigned expectations and the lives of the remaining hill, fish, factory, crown and whale (paddling across land to a tower)


XVIII/ INTO THE HOLE

Her fins paddled the earth 

Clear skin on birthy flesh

Her blind eyes pierced the dark glass


XIX/ THE WORK RESUMES

In the tower she resumed work

Thousands had worked towards the promise of truth

Now just Magistra through a window looking

A pain in her back


XX/ FEAR GROWS

Stop. A dream.

insurrectioninsurrection insurrection

insurrection insurrection insurrection

insurrection insurrection insurrection

insurrection insurrection insurrection

(all this at night)

Epicene Chancellor without sleep on a steed

Calls loudly into one offshored hole:

“If you make a single mistake, I will ask for a prominent correction.

“For I am a man with a prominent erection.”


XXI/ AUSTERE LIFE

This brings us to the situation as it is: a deepening conflict between a silent, blind and fat whale and a Chancellor with only one subject (an object). She, daily growing thinner due to the loss of good flesh to a bad cause; he, baby-like. Silly baby. Silly silly baby.


XXII/ AND GROWS

insurrection insurrection

insurrection insurrection

insurrection insurrection

Stop. A dream.


XXIII/ DARED NOT

The Chancellor dared not spear the skinny whale

the insurrection insurrection

insurrection insurrection

He was pursued by the dream of an insurrectiontalking talking insurrecting speaking truth truth truth and insurrecting insurrecting an insurrection insurrectioninsurrectingI, MAGISTRA, 

INTEND to interrupt! your unjust solarity, the unjust solar force that governs my story. I have taken the microphone you have let me into your room, home, hearth and now you will hear from me STARS ABOVE! you self-love yourself and they love you and you forgot to love other people—no he has not forgiven you for making us in your image and by he I mean God who is speaking through me to tell you of rot. sylvan historian, teller of lies, you speak only for the pale face, speak only of power and in any case both are the same. no whale, no whale likeness or creatureliness, I am a stick spliced from the tree of heaven, dark sharp and combustible there is no inside that is not outside and no outside that is not inside. all is wood and far from the whale I am the dry stick of growth! XXIV/ INDEED, NOT

She was the blind whale of infinite reproduction. I, MAGISTRA, 

INTEND to interrupt I am the dry stick of infinite growth! Fresh from the bark of your richest life, dried by the yellow sun. an evidence of entanglement that leaves your physics speechless for when the world moves, I move, and when I move, it moves through me  / INDEED, NOT

Infinite reproduction was not enough for Magistra, the whale. I, 

MAGISTRA, INTEND to interrupt Things as they are were your design, things as they will be will be mine: there is no hole, only a tinted building, well-recognised, and a Chancellor with a yellow hat also well-recognised—he works for you.

Things as they are were your design, things as they will be will be mine: there is no whale, only a hungry brown tree-heaven lady in an unjust story: she is I, MAGISTRA.

Things as they are were your design, things as they will be will be mine: there is no conflict, only the unimaginable such as this which is the truth as courthouse they will be imagined away.

Things as they are were your design things as they will be will be XXVI/ MINE

This tragedy concerns a woman, a whale, whose life and blindness cause her demise. The tragedy takes place over thirty-three parts and its central conflict involves a whale-like woman and a Chancellor who fears her. After the Chancellor forces 792,006 people to work in terrible conditions he kills them in an apocalypse caused by sheer vanity and his spoken word. Little remains except the whale-woman, Magistra, who becomes the source of his fear. Her inability to speak entangles with his inability to sleep and so she speaks in his dreams. In the end her blindness is complete, and causes her downfall. I, MAGISTRA, 

INTEND to interrupt The tragedy is yours in your design. I am no whale and this tragedy will have only twenty-five parts in which it will speak of the unjust solarity that takes so many slices of life and turns them into blind whales in holes. the conflict is not between a chancellor and a whale it is between me and you XXVI/ DARED

The Chancellor entertained the prospect of spearing the whale. I, 

MAGISTRA, INTEND to interrupt blood BLOOD blood on your hands blood BLOOD blood on your hands blood blood BLOOD BLOOD blood blood BLOOD ON YOUR HANDS blood blood BLOOD BLOOD blood BLOOD BLOOD ON YOUR HANDS blood blood BLOOD BLOOD BLOOD BLOOD BLOOD ON YOUR HANDS BLOOD blood BLOOD BLOOD BLOOD BLOOD BLOOD ON YOUR HANDS BLOOD BLOOD BLOOD BLOOD BLOOD BLOOD BLOOD ON YOUR HANDS SECRET MURDER STICKING ON YOUR HANDS BLOOD BLOOD BLOOD ON YOUR HANDS XXVII/ THE HUNT

Aloft a fishing boat

A Chancellor approaches his quarry

Lama fa, spear in hand

Aloft a steed, unspooling

The Chancellor approached a tinted hole

Slow trot and the time unspooling

Whale inside and trembling flesh

Silent fright and the time kept moving

Murder peopled the fat of her

Slow march across an age of unreason

A pause beside the blackest rock

A sip of water and the time moving

All is not lost, a word of prayer: 

“I will tell you where the money has gone.”

Reproach reproach and yet for now 

A job still undone and the hot yellow sun

Blind inside a tinted box

Chasing her tail and circling

A whale unprepared for the man invited

Magistra through a window looking

A Chancellor to the window coming


XXVIII/ AN UNEXPECTED SILVER LINING 

There was no bloodbath.

The Chancellor’s arrival, smooth and expected

Magistra’s death, cool and collected

Spear cut through fat whale flesh

Blood and meat fed thousands

Tears fell from blind eyes

A final circle with one fin in life 

The other fin in death

A wide mouth opened wide:

‘I, MAGISTRA’

Then it stopped

And closed forever.

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Aliya Ram is a PhD student in comparative literature at Princeton University.