Sunday, July 8, 2012

Tuesday Poem - The Fall of Aphrodite Street by Les Murray


The Fall of Aphrodite Street

So it’s back to window shopping
on Aphrodite Street
for the apples are stacked and juicy
but some are death to eat.

For just one generation
the plateglass turned to air –
when you look for that generation
half of it isn’t there.

An ugliness of spirit
leered like a hunting dog
over the world. Now it snarls and whines
at its fleshy analogue.

What pleased it made it angry:
scholars Score and Flaunt and Scene
taught that everything outstanding
was knobs on a skin machine.

Purer grades of this metaphysic
were sold out of parked cars
down alleys where people paired or reeled
like desperate swastikas.

Age, spirit, kindness, all were taunts;
grace was enslaved to meat.
You never were mugged till you were mugged
on Aphrodite Street.

God help the millions that street killed
and those it sickened too,
when it was built past every house
and often bulldozed through.

Apples still swell, but more and more
are literal death to eat
and it’s back to window shopping
on Aphrodite Street.


I really liked this poem when I came upon it in the 90s in Les’s book Dog Fox Field. It spoke to me. I had two young children and I had been following the progress of the AIDS plague since the first mention of it in a newspaper in the 80s. And remember that back then we did not know quite how far it might go. I am a heterosexual woman who had come to maturity during the 60s and had taken advantage of the freedoms suddenly offered to us all. But I have got to say it wasn’t all that great. Looking back. Anyway, I had had the chance to be free of the material consequences of ‘easy virtue’ – pregnancy and incurable sexually transmitted diseases. But it seemed as if my children wouldn’t. I would have to teach them to be cautious. I had hoped that once we got over our greediness at suddenly being free of material consequences, we all might pay a little more attention to the spiritual consequences. I had been mugged quite a few times on Aphrodite Street and had the scars to prove it. And I can’t be absolutely sure that I didn’t enter into the spirit of the times and give as good as I got.
Anyway, back in the 90s, when I read this poem, I was very much thinking and feeling that we had had our chance, and we blew it.
Some time later I found out the poem had been the centre of quite a literary controversary. Les had changed the name from The Liberated Plague. But I have never bothered to follow it up until I decided to post the poem today – just because the rhythms of it still connect with me.  
‘You never were mugged till you were mugged
on Aphrodite Street.’
So I googled and found that it is still out there in cyberspace. Interesting reading I thought.
  
http://www.lrb.co.uk/v09/n19/les-murray/two-poems

3 comments:

  1. That's a striking and sobering poem. And I've just looked up the link regarding the literary controversy, which also makes interesting reading.

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  2. I agree with Janis. It's a very sobering poem. It took me a while to pick up on the meaning but it already spoke to me in its imagery. I particularly enjoyed the fourth and fifth verses for that reason. Also enjoyed the first and last verses, the way they connected the whole piece. In spite of the raw pain of the topic, it is beautifully expressed.
    and than you for your honest and interesting comment.

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  3. Poem is a perspective on the negative side of the sexual revolution. Period. I got this on the first read. Anything else is reading into it.

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