Philip Gross – Demonology

Philip Gross LEP&W V3 Dec 2022

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Live Encounters Poetry & Writing Volume Three December 2022.

A Preamble to the Demonology, poems by Philip Gross.


Photograph by Mark Ulyseas
Photograph by Mark Ulyseas

A Preamble to the Demonology

1. We want a word for them, these opposite-to-angels, antitheses of what (glancing, more verb than noun) an ‘angel’ ‘is’.

2. These days, demons are what celebrities have instead of problems. Oh, lucky demons, to be woven into our dark cults of personality.

3. The reality is duller. Demons: nubby cankers on the trunks of living trees. A growth that is a stunting.

4. Paul Klee’s angels are the beveled edges of this world. They catch the light, a flash of timelessness, are gone.

5. The opposite of that, then. A demon is a fault line, where the stress will always tell, hairline crack where the damp will get in.

6. No account, ancient or modern, should make them interesting. They are the direst bores you might find yourself trapped sitting next to on a train.

7. Fall into conversation with a demon, and the train will get no closer to the station. Time becomes recursive, a Möbius strip.

8. Are they bestial? Not in the way of true beasts – lithe and whole-body- responsive to the twitch of scent or threat or appetite.

9. More, maybe, like automata – self-making machines that do their single tick-tock trick, doing themselves being themselves doing and so on?

10. Natural images…? The buzz of flies drawn to a hint of putrefaction. The zizz of them somewhere nearby, nowhere you can shoo.

11. Or the Gothic image – hunched thing squatting on your shoulder. Its idiot grin at finding easy meat. You half invited it. Its teeth in you.

12. No, individual demons don’t have names, not like people. Maybe abstract nouns for their one idea each. They love to generalise.

13. An angel moment is a wake-up. Alarm, maybe, but enlivening. The residency of a demon in the heart is weariness. It weighs and weighs.

14. Oh but we’re creative too, one whispers. See how we take a hint, we spot the symptom, then, aha… we start to improvise.

15. Improvise, that is, never outwards, into choice – but inwards, intra- fractal, into blind alleys in which you’ll stumble, be mugged by your self.

16. Seductive? You know, the way they sidle up, that shy ingratiating smile, and take such an interest. In you. They want to talk about nothing else.

17. Have you noticed there seems to be no such thing as a new demon? Their entry line is always like an old friend. Faithful. How many years has it been?

18. Like family, almost. This one knew me as a child. Before my beard. Before my own believing in my selfhood, my being in the world.

19. Some may be hereditary. This one, old nagging Dreadful, may have been my mother’s too. He might not even recognise the shift from mind to mind.

20. There’s something almost comforting – that’s the line they urge – in the sheer continuity. We can always make you miserable. Half frozen with dread. In a rickety world, on this at least you can depend.

21. Not part of a grand plan, not the theologians’ ranked armies, either side. Every demon is lone wolf. It’s just that in the half-light all wolves look the same.

22. Indeed, a fairytale life. Big bad stories are the Big Bad Wolf. So they would like you to believe. Lie quiet, children. Shudder.

23. Or rather, they rely on you, to tell them their stories, the tales of themselves. Again and again.

24. To ‘cast one out’ might seem conclusive, but it simply releases it into the everyday air we breathe.

25. If they seem to serve one cause, it’s accidental. Maybe all tend to narrowing, to cramping. To lockdown in the soul.

26. So it’s a soul issue, then? Think of Dante’s Satan at the Earth’s core, locked, cramped, in his own eternal raging ice.

27. Do they belong to Infinity, then, like the good powers? No, they are tiny. They just feel interminable.

28. Their power is petty, but insistent. And it can be sapped a little, just by naming it. Yes, I know who you are.

29. Part of their power is in the disguise, the sidelong inching into consciousness, like a new realisation. Inspiration, even… Oh… Oh no…… I see…

30. Have I corralled them, at last, in a page of words? Dream on. They are burrowing their wormy tunnels inward as I speak.

31. No, whispers my demon, tapping its worn claws impatiently. You can’t outweary me with listing. Go on, try.

32. Even this recitation, therapeutic though it seems, runs the risk of feeding demons. They drink ink.

33. They love the tale we tell about Einstein and infinity; head straight away from me, the demon says, for long enough, and I’m where you arrive.

34. An angel moment is a flash of self-forgetting, opening out into world. A demon sidles in and shuts the door behind it.

35. Name one as often as you like. Like an abusive partner, it will own up. Then say, ‘Pity me’. Then, whinging, ‘Honest, I can change.’

36. Masters of (attempted) irony, they can mock-confess, ‘True, I’ve always been lying before, but wouldn’t it be ironic if now, just this once…?’

37. Dread shows me future-snapshots of myself racked, crippled, cramped. In fact, these are its own selfies.

38. How big, strong, how soul-well would I have to be to reach out to the demon? Oh, you poor hurt/hurting thing.

39. When you think you have one on a leash, check: which of you is leading the other? And where?

40. I would sign off now. But some demon has got there before me. Look how well it has learned to forge my name.


© Philip Gross

Philip Gross, born in Cornwall, UK, son of an Estonian wartime refugee, has lived in South Wales since 2004. The Water Table won the T. S. Eliot Prize 2009; he received a Cholmondeley Award in 2017. He is a keen collaborator – with artist Valerie Coffin Price on A Fold in The River (Seren, 2015), with poet Lesley Saunders on A Part of the Main (Mulfran, 2018), with scientists on Dark Sky Park (Otter-Barry, 2018) and, in Troeon/Turnings (Seren, 2021) a ‘translaboration’ – mutual translations/responses – with Welsh language poet Cyril Jones. His new collection The Thirteenth Angel (Bloodaxe) is published November 2022. https://www.philipgross.co.uk/

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