On Being Right

A number of recent events have given me occasion to consider what it means to be right.

Viewed through a rationalist filter, humanity can manage itself well (if not easily), provided its curiousity remains strong and its faculties of discernment are not tarnished. This assumes, of course, that humanity as a whole is curious. I am learning, to my dismay, that it is indeed curious, but not at all in the way I thought it was.

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The Coral Garden

Our time down here is short. Watch carefully,
and I will show you how to dodge the light
whose lances pierce the blue below with white
hafts that wound and feed this shallow sea.
We’ll share the humour in the moray’s grin, for he
can laugh like Death. He understands this bright
pageant. Every creature within sight’s
an incandescent killer, sinning, free.

You do not break the surface; it breaks you.
And what flows down beneath these waves is more
immersed in evanescence than the shore-
bound sack of bones that thought it knew
what time was all about, and when to leave.
The coral garden wants you. Only breathe.


Full fathom five? No time for that. We’re down
where pugilists in clown face guard the waving
face of each anenome. The roving
reef shark wanders amiably round,
oblivious to you and me. We’re bound
to have his kind attention, but he’s waiving
recognition. Now our shadow’s moving
a little deeper, a little further down.

We learn again what colour is, and time
is tightened, stretched until it only flows
in patient, ebbing seconds. Now our slow
ascent along the cliff face is a climb
to altitude. No sooner does your burning
chest abate than you talk of returning.


Parrot fish and angels clean the reef;
iridescent wrasses, gold and blue,
clean angel fish and parrot. So what’s new?
Eating turds for breakfast is the brief
of every soul. Post-Darwinist belief
that somehow human nature could accrue
some special status simply isn’t true –
we see shit-eating grins, but not the teeth.

So don’t pretend that lobster in the pot
is sweeter when our ignorance of sources
denies excreta’s one of its main courses.
Wish truth were always beauty? Well it’s not.

I only wish that people had the grace
these fish have when they stuff shit in their face.

The rumour of a passing file of silent
grenadiers, distant flashing epaulettes
of silver, guards the border of the depths.
A pageant, witnessed through the blithe lens
of fancy. You might never leave these islands.
But why depict how Life calls in its debts
as sweet Romantic rhapsody? Do let’s
admit for once its means are often violent.

And when entranced by light and silent grace,
let no impassioned thoughts inveigle you.
This cohort’s made of pretty killers who
are second-rate compared to our race.

For though Death’s means are seldom found deficient,
humanity is vastly more efficient.


Five feet below the surface, everything
comes clear. Though sunlight reaches far below,
until you breach the thermocline, you’ve no
clear picture what you’re witnessing.
A hanging moment – motionless, you cling
to clarity of vision, try to slow
the heavy, even seconds. Still, you know
there is no greater joy than surfacing.

Why life should love the sun’s no mystery.
The crowded, shallow spaces that it reaches
are rife with testament, as are the beaches.
So why dive deep with such alacrity?
And when you reach the depth where colour peters
out, what have you earned but fourteen meters?

The Centipede


Franz Kopra

Friday 19 September


I woke this morning to discover a centipede in the kitchen. He was leaning in a nonchalant manner against the counter, regarding me incuriously as I lay there in my bed.

I’d been told that centipedes on the island of Efate are very large, but nothing could have prepared me for this. With tremendous fangs and stinging pincers, he was a fearsome sight. Five of his legs tapped idly against the counter as he whistled a quiet tune. (Bartok? I couldn’t be sure.)

I lay frozen in my bed. Above all I did not want to antagonize him. I attempted a smile, then realized with sudden dread that some animals regard bared teeth as a challenge. Had I made a fatal mistake? I observed him carefully. His posture hadn’t changed, but he was now clearly whistling Gershwin. What to do?

Fully 30 minutes passed before I mustered the courage to sit up. I cursed myself for renting such a tiny apartment. Whatever small moneys I had saved seemed insignificant now that I had to share this cramped space with another. My first concern was that the toilet was located directly beside the counter where he stood.

Yet I did not dare approach him. I pulled on a pair of trousers I had left draped over the only chair, tucked my nightshirt into them, and stood up. Taking great care to shake out my shoes (what would he think of me if I squashed one of his brethren?), I donned them barefoot.

Thank goodness the icebox stood only feet away from the bed. I opened the door as discreetly as I could, and retrieved a jug of milk and yesterday’s bread. Clutching this modest breakfast, I backed carefully to the door, opened it quietly and slipped out.

Leaving the bread and milk on the steps, I trotted around the corner of my building, unbuttoned my fly and relieved my bursting bladder. I heard children laughing from the alley on the other side of the bushes, but I could not stop what had already begun. I finished as quickly as I could, then returned to the steps to retrieve my breakfast.

The bread was stale. I found that if I poured a small amount of milk onto the crust, it became soft enough to bite. The milk had begun to turn, but hunger made it palatable enough.


Work was a purgatory. Fraulein Schimmiefaster, holding court in the staff kitchen, exclaimed that no self-respecting young man should allow his night-time debauches to affect his day-time appearance, loudly enough that sniggers could be heard throughout the office. Herr Brupt, the office manager, gave me a pointed glare, and did not speak to me all day.

Saturday 20 September


How can I live like this? I am in constant fear. When I returned to my apartment, the Centipede was still there, and what’s more, he’d eaten the last of the eggs. He stays mostly in the cooking area, and leaves the area of the bed more or less to me.

I must remember to buy cold cuts. He seems to like them.

Sunday 21 September


I have had the worst day of my life, I am sure. I came home Saturday afternoon, laden with groceries, only to discover that he’d invited friends over. Without so much as a by-your-leave! Imagine how I felt.

I was sitting – sulking, I’ll admit it – on the bed. I’d only just lit a cigarette when the mosquito swaggered over and snatched it from my mouth, explaining, ‘These things can kill you.’ He flipped the cigarette into his own mouth, and all three of them laughed uproariously.

Of course, they ate all the Timtams.

This morning the Centipede blocked the door as I tried to leave and asked me if I intended to visit an exterminator. I pled innocence, but let it slip that they were closed on Sundays. He knows.

Now his friends are back – four of them this time. I must make canapés….

Monday 22 September


I am overcome with remorse. My mother came to visit Sunday evening. Naturally, she took the Centipede’s side in every argument. Then he stung her and put her in the ice box. I complained that she was too stringy for anything but stew, but he wouldn’t listen.

Thursday 25 September


These endless demands are ruining my life! The landlord just called to say he is doubling the rent, and warned me that he could sue me for keeping a lodger without permission. I was enraged and accused him of allowing vermin to run free in his ill-kept properties, but he threatened to tell the Centipede what I had said. In the end I had to accede to the rent increase. What choice did I have?

I don’t dare approach Herr Brupt for a pay rise. What shall I do?


Insult to injury! The Centipede said he was having guests over, and he told me to leave. I’m not invited to a party in my own home. Who prepared all the food and paid for the floral centerpiece? Answer me that!

Monday 28 September


Despair. He changed the locks last night. I overcame my fear and banged on the front door until the police came. They were responding to a complaint, they said, and would lock me up unless I left quietly. I was about to explain the situation when one of my neighbours appeared and identified me as the man who had exposed himself in the back alley. I spent the night in the lock-up. I arrived at work unkempt, smelling of that ghastly cell, and Herr Brupt sacked me on the spot. Fraulein Schimmiefaster laughed at me. At me! The trollop.


I cannot go on. He won’t even give me my clothes back. He says they fit him better anyway.

I have pawned my shoes and bought a gun.

Ball and chain

Make a little more money
take a little more time from your friends
Makes it a little harder
to get started at
making amends

Making amends
because you took that time away from your friends
circular cycle
but I’m telling you now this has to end

I am tired of you
being your own ball and chain
you’re pushing me in circles girl
but this time I don’t come back again

Seven days
since I held your hand
Nineteen days
since I talked to you
Been a long time honey
but I don’t know how long it’s been
since I loved you

Perfect blonde

I used to know the perfect blonde
with a smile as wide
as a riverside

She could turn the moonlight on
like a shining light
on a midnight ride

In the end I let her go
She was never kind
with what was on her mind

Guess it only goes to show
that we sometimes find
love ain’t blind

And I said, ‘Looks don’t mean that much to me’
only now I see
I’m a liar
God in heaven give me reprieve
’cause I don’t believe
there is anything higher

I got with this flaming redhead
She never let me down
when she come around

Blazing like an Arctic sunset
going on and on
from dusk to dawn

She left me in the wintertime
and the irony
didn’t rust on me

Said, ‘stick it where the sun don’t shine’
such a symphony
of sympathy

And I said, ‘Looks don’t mean that much to me’
only now I see
I’m a liar
God in heaven give me reprieve
’cause I don’t believe
there is anything higher

Wouldn’t mind the wind

Arctic hillside
see a raven
dressed in black for sins he can’t atone

Stealing daylight
from the season
when a young man’s thoughts just turn to stone

A dying newborn squalling in the night
lacks the pathos of this raven’s flight
Wish that this were my ancestral home
Maybe then I wouldn’t be alone

and I

Wouldn’t mind the wind
wouldn’t mind the freedom way up there
wouldn’t mind just swimming in
an ocean full of air and sky
Wouldn’t mind the wind if I could fly

Time is rolling
like a boulder
down the steep decline that is my life
My chief achievement
getting older
dead-end job, dead child and grieving wife

I hear the cackling raven’s raucous jest
‘I bet you think your life’s some kind of quest
Like a glimpse inside a peep show booth—
that’s how I’d describe your search for truth.’

and I

Wouldn’t mind the wind
wouldn’t mind the freedom way up there
wouldn’t mind just swimming in
an ocean full of air and sky
Wouldn’t mind the wind if I could fly


I’m up at midnight staring at the sun
‘Cause there are things that cannot be undone
Guess I’ll wait till my last failing breath
to admit that I’ve got time for death

and I…

Back to my cave

Time was
I could share with a lover
never worryin’ ’bout another
come to share in my place

My loss
I guess I never discovered
the differences between me
and the human race

I know sharing’s a virtue
but you don’t like it
when I share my fears

I know I hurt you
I hurt me too
Maybe I should just get out
get out of here

Going back to my cave
Mm-hmm I’m gonna be brave
put down my club now
and I promise to behave ’cause I’m
going back to my cave

I know I’m less than
politically correct
got nothin’ on me

But hear me now
and forgive me if I’m too direct
Neither one of us is ever gonna be free

I know love is a virtue
but how to love you
ain’t never been clear

I know I hurt you
I hurt me too
Maybe I should just get out
get out of here

Going back to my cave
Mm-hmm I’m gonna be brave
put down my club now
and I promise to behave ’cause I’m
going back to my cave

Not crying now

Take your petty feelings
and feed ’em
on your freedom
tell me it’s alright

Should’ve known this moment
was coming
by the drumming
of your heart tonight

But what you doing for me
if you’re not crying now?
Tell me how could can I feel?
Have I made you happy now?

I know I’m not the very
first lover
to discover
what a heart breaks like

And I guess I owe and emotional debt
to that tact that
you’ve exercised

But what you doing for me
if you’re not crying now?
Tell me how could can I feel?
Have I made you happy now?