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Ghost milk (previously unpublished), by Iain Sinclair

“I’ve been thinking about what to read at the Ledbury Festival. And, among the candidates, looked at ‘Ghost Milk’, an unpublished poem commissioned as a podcast. I have revised it slightly from that version. It may be too long for you to consider for the website. But it could go up, as a promo for the festival.
best,
Iain”

GHOST MILK

Yes, there is a democracy based on slavery. That’s the Greek model.

That works pretty well too…

Ed Dorn

 

Sliding after night-storm to lose footing

on rake of wet-shingle, and stopped

by broken spar, tarry black in blood-varnish,

bitter nails of old history, so many fire-

souls, 133 they estimate, tossed overboard, chains

as ballast, mid-ocean, to wander subterranean

caves and valleys, lost among drowned mountains,

false plants seducing a salt-blistered tongue.

The newspaper woman sold at the station

fetched £4,500: a buyer’s market.

Living with her mother and two accidental children

in a coldwater Lithuanian tower block,

offered employment abroad, a free-market choice.

Transported. Entrained. Cattled. Raped.

‘On average I had sex with 15 men a day.

When trade was brisk and the itch was hot

in the dermis of the city, I could service 37 during

a single 12-hour shift. I was not much beaten.’

‘It’s a matter of business,’ said the pimp.

‘The law of supply and demand.’

2

How can the giver of gifts experience the delights of the merchant?

William Blake

Geology precedes economics as winter tide

on a chalky southern shore

reseed naked meadow-beaches with black stone.

Dumb repetition smothers anger, making a palliative

fiction from crimes we choose to celebrate.

The cliffs of England, vertical boneyards,

‘where the ebb meets the moon-blanch’d sand’,

hide lists of scoured dead, unbranded, unaccounted.

They bleed pure water and look in preserved shipping manifests

like so many maggots freighting an iron surf-board.

Edinburgh was fortunate in its geology, martial

in dirk and kirk, a craggy extrusion of volcanic basalt:

garrison, royalty, prisoners of war buried in the rock.

Into the protected tail of sandstone, they dig,

invisibles, ragged imports, the necessary

collateral damage:  child labourers, hunchback women,

wageless slaves. Every bridge a den, damp cellars

like hollowed skulls candled in human tallow.

‘Boys were employed to sit far underground,

guarding the fire flaps that punctuated

the long dark tunnels. Even after reforms

passed into law, the conditions in the mines

remained little changed. Money was too cheap.’

3

The slaves will sell their masters and grow wings.

 

 

 

Better to buy than to breed: the riderless white horse,

its sounding ribs a wind-harp,

emerges from a crystal sea. A skeleton jockey

gilded braid, cherries and tassels, incubates

revolt, raises a  flaming sword to crop melon-heads,

moon faces in a cane field, strong teeth ground down

for sacred sugar. John Gabriel Steadman, a mercenary,

publishes his Narrative of a Five Years’ Expedition Against

the Revolted Negroes of Surinam from the year 1772 to 1777,

and hires the journeyman engraver, William Blake of London,

to harvest the fruit of horror, flesh barbecues,

blood-succoured tropical vegetation,amateur crucifixions.

And the ‘beautiful mulatto slave girl’, Joanna,

the one Steadman marries, mother of his child.

Torn by a dark tarot of images, the colonist keeps a journal

of his London visit: ‘Gave a sugar cruse to Mrs Blake.

The King’s coach insulted. Met 300 whores in the Strand.

French prisoners come home. Abershaw &c. hang’d.

Saw a mermaid. Russian fleet down. Two days at Blake’s.

Quiberon expedition fail’d. 188 emigrants executed.

Blake mobb’d and robb’d.’ The working artist, enslaved by

patronage, lays the first brick of the downriver factory.

The impulse is coded within our DNA, this slippery

hawser of genetic imperatives: to invade, brutalise,

capture and explain. Secret  interior tribes, our memory,

are linked, neck to neck, for pilgrimages across desert.

They follow a malarial river to a red fort, hungry surf.

Remember: ‘We come out of the ground.’  The grace of

their bodies as they negotiate space is future war. Jungles

migrate. Hurts multiply. Trade is the only constant.

‘By the late 1820s the economic critique of slave-grown

sugar had been widely accepted.’ The system didn’t pay.

Better to allow open competition and let fiscal malpractice

thrive where it would. Queen Elizabeth’s slave-master,

Sir John Hawkins, Atlantic pirate, founded an alms house

at Chatham that still stands. The Thames remains

a complicated flow of money, letters of credit and

trading instructions. The Port of London Authority

building with its fossils and steroidal statuary now deals

in re-insurance, risk, power breakfasts. Fixed profit.

‘The slaves changed,’ Catling wrote, in his late-surrealist novel, ‘before the morals of their owners. They had  transformed into other beings. Beings devoid of purpose, identity or meaning. At the beginning it was thought that their malaise was the product of their imprisonment. But it soon became clear that there was no personality left to feel and suffer such a subtlety of emotion. It was the forest itself that had devoured their memory and resurrected them as addicts to trees.’

1 comment to Ghost milk (previously unpublished), by Iain Sinclair

  • Ruth Rach

    Hi Iain, I’d like to make a shortish radio feature on you and your thoughts, in particular on the Olympic impact – for German Public Radio. I went to the Railway Inn in Angel Lane, a few years back, right opposite the fence and the big hole, a most surreal experience. It was the only house standing, a ghostly street where there used to be a big long street market.
    Can you email me, please? Ruth

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