David Lewis Paget
Ampitherium - Poem by David Lewis Paget
The schoolroom overlooked the downs,
The heather in full bloom,
As Paul Remarque sat heavy-eyed
All through the afternoon,
He heard the teacher's droning voice
But nothing that it said,
As trees and animals and birds
Went racing through his head.
No thoughts of plain arithmetic
Had sullied up his mind,
He had no thoughts of nouns or verbs
Or any of that kind,
He sat bemused, and filled his head
With purple daffodils,
With giant gargoyle anthropods,
And distant, flowered hills.
He'd had the cane so many times,
His hands were almost raw,
The teacher called him out the front
For three times out of four,
He couldn't answer anything
Of what the teacher taught,
His mind was either journeying,
Or else was set to naught.
Then after school he'd race on down
That field at Emile's farm,
The one where no-one ever went
In case they came to harm,
For fissures there had opened up
The limestone caves below,
And that was where young Paul Remarque
Just knew he had to go.
He took a torch, and slid on down
Beneath a giant stone,
The ground had opened up just there,
He always went alone,
He took his torch, and made his way
To chambers down beneath,
Then looked up at the ceilings where
They'd drawn, in light relief.
The cave men of the region, they
Had drawn so long ago
The pictures of their daily lives,
Of bison, buffalo,
Of elk and deer and hunters
Who had slain with sharpened stone,
Those animals ranged round the walls,
That lived so long ago.
Then in a further cave, he saw
The monsters he had dreamed,
With teeth like savage ripping tools
Serrated on the seam,
With eyes as cold as avatars
And claws that gripped their prey,
That dripped blood, even human blood
The drawings seemed to say.
For as he watched, this panoply
Had swirled before his eyes,
Had bucked and twisted in the graves
These drawings symbolized,
And in their midst, a monster form
With head, part like a god,
And part like some bronzed eagle
Seemed to fix him, with a nod.
The longer that he stared, the more
The monsters seemed to move,
They stomped around the flickered walls
To see if he'd approve,
And soon this Godlike centrepiece
Came lunging from the wall,
'My name is Ampitherium, '
It seemed to say to Paul.
His parents visited the school,
'Our son learns nothing here;
We've waited for improvement now
The best part of a year! '
'He's such a dunce, ' the teacher said,
'Can't keep his mind on things,
He goes off with the faeries, and
I catch him drawing wings.'
'He must be taught a lesson, ' said
His father, heavily,
'I never thought a son of mine
Could act so stupidly;
He disappears for hours, when he
Should be returning home...'
'I'll find him, and I'll beat him, ' said
The teacher, Monsieur Sloane.
They went down in a group to find
Young Paul at Emile's Farm,
Arrived at the End Field, and then
They halted, fearing harm,
'This ground's unsafe, ' his mother said,
'I'll not go further in, '
And so they all marched back to town,
Each face was looking grim.
The sun had set when Paul emerged
From down beneath that stone,
He looked quite proud, as on he trod
That field, that hallowed loam,
For in his wake, a thundering
Of beasts, not seen by man
Appeared when Ampitherium
Came lumbering into town!
There is a town in western France
Where lies a mystery,
For there dark murder stained the pages
Of its history,
A teacher and two parents there
Were torn quite limb from limb,
Their son could utter just one word:
18 June 2009
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