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SCARAB

The Warmoesstraat is a seven-
Hundred-year-old tapeworm
In the belly of the bourgeoisie
A mercantile street, lain
Out from the river’s dam
To the harbour
The houses, built on sand
Now crane together
Wearing a tickertape of colour
Like a cheap boa
The stiff-necked gables confiding
How each is more shamefaced than the other

Because the children of this ghostly mother
Have rouged her skeletal face
And hiked her skirts
And have scattered like a fistful of grain
Across a field of stone
From which springs hyenas
And these twisted, pickled foeti
Grow high
Here in John Calvin’s good earth
To their necrophiliac mirth

I walk across the tombstones
Of elegant ladies
A sneer beneath a feathered chapeau
Their decomposed, dissolute souls
Hocking their cheap corpses
Where once they traded
In slaves, diamonds and gold
Here in the bartered alleys around the Old Church
Where the cheap tarts swivel in their short skirts
As the bloated scarab of the city crawls from its turd
And slithers as swift as continental drift
To drink from the eye of the bay

Now follow the line of the city wall
To the old harbour
And hear the wails of the widows
From the Crier’s Tower
Their men frozen like pearls
Far away on Nova Zembla
In the ice-fields of their greed
Hearing the staccato of laughter
From the sailors
On their lovers’ hearts’ radar
In the taverns and brothels
Beside the amnesiac water

Where over drifts the jurisprudence of crow-pecked cadavers
Condemned by mayor and burghers
For their misdemeanours
And rent arrears
Like the migrant girl
Strung out in the centre
The refusnik sex-worker
Who slew her would-be parasite with an axe
And who will hang till the bloated sack
Of her womb bursts
And gives birth
To a city’s more obedient daughters
These soliciting cadavers
That we now observe
And before whose feet
The supplicant painter
Steps from his rented scull
And kneels at his leeching palette
As he hurries to cure a corpse
But will testify only to the transience of the flesh
Swifter than Mt. St. Victoire
As it swivels from a gibbet in the wind
While the skilled scalpel of the sun
Perfects its canvas of flesh
The pigments oozing and fresh
As the portraiteer of death
Genuflects
In the cathedral of the evacuated breath
And what was transacted for sex
Now dangles from this phallus or cross
As limp as a Dali clock