Ivan Head: ‘The Elocution of Billy Graham’ and ‘Laudato Si’

The Elocution of Billy Graham

The mesmeric Billy Graham
pronounced “soul” distinctively,
and made it resonate.
Perhaps it was part hypnosis
or its old, archaic cousin, gnosis.
Did he learn to purse his lips
to get that emphatic sibilant “s”
followed by a held, tight vowel—
Not the lazy ō that opens
the flat Australian mouth as a lazy “a”—
as if the person speaking
really had nothing to say,
or like water dribbling
into sand, just seemed
to fade away. But Mr Graham,
protestant inquisitor of intense blue eye
and straight-to-camera vision,
was tight-lipped on his lip-pursed “ou”
energising “soul” almost with a central “w”
and made it ring as warning bell.
His subtext rang:
Do not ask for whom it tolls—
It is your! soul! I want to save! from hell!
But Mr Nixon played him well.

Ivan Head

Laudato Si

In the next fairway, where magpies sing,
and seen through slowly wilting conifers
that draw-up glyphosate from weed-spray rings
and run-off from the roadside ditch,
I see an early golfer swing his favourite wood and hear its ping.
It was easy to nuke the weeds and let the drift
get into waterways and the roots of trees.

The glyphosate of life is in my DNA
since the first catastrophe
Eve said “spray” and Adam said “OK”.
Cain got Abel out of the way.
The apple-tree and Eden
have been dying since that day.
It’s all downhill on the green.

Ivan Head

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