After Mark Gertler’s painting of 1916

Merry-Go-Round 1916 by Mark Gertler 1891-1939

Here we go round the merry-go-round, the merry-go-round, the merry-go-round,
here we go round the merry-go-round
in saecula saeculorum:

on Hampstead Heath by threes we turn,
no way forward – we never learn –
fixed for ever, still and moving –
our nannies nod their heads approving;

trapped, we look in the next direction –
dress and deportment turned to perfection –
no one knows if we’re laughing or screaming –
sleepriding blindly, awake but dreaming;

if we come unstuck we’ll surely die –
do what all the rest do, don’t ask why –
keep on circling to postpone our fate –
circulate, circulate, circulate;

swapping clichés, repeating them afresh –
tongue exercises for the sagging flesh –
I’ll say something, you agree –
then you can do the same for me;

traipsing vacant-faced through exhibition halls,
staring at dead people on the walls –
why don’t the living vanish when I close my eyes? –
I need free hands and feet, no human ties;

through angular spaces carpeted with jazz,
lifting our noses above the razzmatazz,
we find our way by a thin yellow line –
dictatorial, one-dimensional, serpentine;

squeezing through the many, never meeting eyes –
how can these others live whom I despise? –
looking only in order to look away and scorn,
heading for the solitary chair on the empty lawn;

get up, go to work, the weekly routine –
the same at sixty-four as at sixteen –
the only escape routes TV and sleep –
other distractions never come cheap;

along the City streets the unremitting bustle –
swept to my next appointment, apostle
of the mobile phone – I hurry therefore am alive –
running round the treadmill eventually I’ll arrive;

commuters crushed on tubes and buses –
the boy barges past, the old woman fusses –
accusations, shoving in the queue –
excuse me, I was here before you;

fashions repeating – hems up hems down –
last year pink and blue, this year cream and brown –
songs of thirty years ago are sung again –
up the airy mountain, down the rushy glen;

chew gum and turn your music high –
if you have to speak make sure you tell a lie –
play computer games, take drugs, don’t think –
blot out your dissatisfaction with a drink;

dole out gossip with like-minded guests,
dream of making citizen’s arrests –
there are no new ideas left under the sun
and we have done those things we ought not to have done;

don’t dare get off, don’t try to live –
remember there’s no alternative –
sweet dreams as long as you hold tight
spinning down dark spirals of endless night;

keep on spinning happy till you die,
spun on your way to pie-land in the sky –
then your relatives will act surprised –
they thought death long since exorcised;

some are dying, others being born –
spare parts to replace the overworn –
the dead are recycled in the living –
the mother views her infant with misgiving;

more and more degeneration, nothing moving on –
too late to turn back now – we’ve crossed the Rubicon –
spinning so fast we’re almost standing still,
helpless to make a change for good or ill;

trapped, we look in the next direction –
smart sophisticates in our subjection –
no one knows if we’re grinning or screaming –
our mouths in rictus of fear or inanely beaming;

on Hampstead Heath by threes we turn,
no way forward – we never learn –
progress ended before we’ve begun –
no reason for living under the sun:

here we go round the merry-go-round
in saecula saeculorum.


©Virginia Rounding, 1995

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