The Wicked - James Brown
It starts at the edge of your teeth
like a small stone caramelised within a black jellybean,
and then it is grinding inside you like a cancer.
How can you write words you can’t even splutter,
that you can barely even think,
your mind an unspeakable furnace,
your tongue forever tripping over the neighbour’s cat?
You can’t find a fucking pen
in the whole fucking house that works
and, when you do, anger leads you nowhere.
But you follow, oh how you follow,
suddenly hearing the voice of that appalling poet
who once told you how he sent his books to schools
with a note saying they had ten days to return them
before his invoice would arrive. ‘It’s often easier,’
he’d confided, ‘for busy librarians to write out a cheque
than to re-package the book and return it.’
You’d wanted to pull his miserable beard out
there and then. You count calmly to ten
then go about resetting the rat poison without
a moment’s consideration for the neighbour’s cat.
You feel a wonderful power ‘surging’ through you.
Clichés feed your strength because
you’ve got a one-way ticket to hell
and you don’t care. Fire rages, clouds scud.
On your bike you weave and spit
a throaty, viral gob over the windscreen
of an SUV that won’t give way.
There is no rest for the wicked in this world.
At night you bully the dishes
into some sort of submission
before reading the kids a super scary story
—though you are the one tormented by nightmares
of terrible things befalling them.
On the news, the pain and hatred between
the Palestinians and the Israelis are exemplary.
From a distance it’s plain how senseless it all is,
and how nobody can win, but you can feel the anger
and frustration seething inside you,
and you know you’d be out there,
telling yourself the old lie about
how it’s because you love your home
and family more than life itself
that you can feel your fist rising
against the armour
in another offensive headline,
your partner wailing at the news,
your children’s indescribable faces
howling into the cycle.
JAMES BROWN lives in Wellington with his partner and two children, where he makes a living as a freelance copy-editor and writer. His three books of poetry – Go Round Power Please, Lemon and Favourite Monsters – are all published by Victoria University Press. A fourth collection, The Year of the Bicycle, is in the pipeline. He is also the author behind the popular non-fiction booklet Instructions for Poetry Readings (Braunias University Press).
About ‘The Wicked’ James writes: ‘I began the poem in 2003 and put it aside due to lack of time before picking it up again during my stint as the 2004 Writer in Residence at Victoria University. I wanted to write an angry poem simply because I think anger is quite a hard thing to express successfully in poetry. There are a lot of poems about things that might make a reader feel angry, but they still tend go about detailing them in quite restrained ways. I wanted “The Wicked” to sound angry. I don’t recall being angry about anything when actually writing it, but it certainly wasn’t hard to find things to feel angry about. The poem contrasts small, domestic annoyances with a much more significant site of anger, the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, in order to show that there isn’t necessarily a smooth correlation between cause and response. I tried to imagine how I might respond if I were forced to live as the Palestinians are forced to live or if a member of my family had been killed by the opposing side, and concluded that it would be very hard for me to turn the other cheek. As a cyclist, there are often times when I fear for my life, and mostly the flight reflex kicks in and I go onto the footpath, but sometimes, if the opportunity presents itself, the desire to fight back briefly takes over. Am I an angry young man? I doubt it (for starters, I’m no longer young), but I can be impatient, and unfairness and bullying always raise my hackles.’