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Poem: Epiphany (For Adrian Mitchell, 1932 – 2008)


For Adrian Mitchell (1932-2008)

Epiphany is not a blazing light. A blazing light

blazes when warplanes spread their demon’s wings

and drop their demon’s eggs over the city,

and the city burns like the eye of a screaming horse.

Epiphany is a comic book during the war.

A sailor on the convoy from New York to London

brought home bundles of American comics

that you studied like the scrolls of a world beyond the sun.

These were heroes who would never become a hand

waving goodbye from a pyramid of bricks.

The pages rolled: Batman. Superman. Whit-Man.

Walt Whit-Man. Whit-Man could not fly, yet he soared over mountains,

seeing the fur trapper and his native bride, the panther pacing in the branches.

He did not brawl with grinning villains, yet he was one of the roughs,

yanking doors off hinges, shouting about the rights of them the others are down upon,

as the auctioneer of shackled men and women cowered in his shadow.

He was far across the sea, yet he was there at the war hospital

unraveling the bandages, sponging clean the stump of an arm.

He was a shape-shifter with a wizard’s beard:

now the sailor in the crow’s nest, now the mutineer in jail,

now the runaway slave leaning on a fencepost, out of breath.

He spoke in a tongue called barbaric yawp, mesmerized

by a spear of grass, amazed at the machinery of a mouse.

Epiphany is not a blazing light. Epiphany is a boy asking: Is Whit-Man real?

Epiphany is the poem you wrote in a boy’s hand, the letters rising on shaky legs.

Epiphany is the poem you wrote to praise the great bell in the great singer’s chest.

Epiphany is the poem you splattered against the epiphanies of cathedrals.

Epiphany is the poem you sang a thousand times against the blazing light

of bombardment, still sung as armies wander through the desert, spitting sand.

Epiphany is the night you sat in jail for trespass at the gates of the naval base

and the cop who called you sir, listening to every word about the missiles.

Epiphany is the joy of your creature the ape-man howling his poems in the forest,

even after the other creatures told him that howling would never change the forest.

Epiphany is the chorus of rebels, beggars, lunatics bellowing with your voice,

the flickering revelation that the words of the song in my head are your words.

(Featured in NP 14, which you can purchase from our shop for 3 pounds including postage and delivery:

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