Wednesday, September 23, 2020

'Dung, Guts, and Blood'

The darker regions of my imagination are entropic, not apocalyptic. We’re likelier to rot than vaporize. If I understand the Zeitgeist correctly, that puts me in the minority. There seems to be a taste out there for melodramatic eschatology. The faithful aren’t alone in awaiting the grand comeuppance. Environmentalists, too, and those who fancy revolution as a cleansing fire rather than another instance of Gibbon’s understanding of history as “the register of crimes, follies, and misfortunes of mankind.” An apocalypse is more entertaining, the X-rated version of the world’s end, with all the special effects – disease, fire, celebratory criminality in the streets and, most recently, “weather events.”


In Houston, we dodged Hurricane Laura last month. On Tuesday, Beta slipped quietly from storm to depression, the secondary status its name suggests. Ten inches of rain fell in some neighborhoods. Bayous overflowed. Here, it drizzled. There wasn’t enough wind and rain to keep away the hummingbirds. Everything drips – and rots, slowly. In one of my favorite poems in the language, “A Description of a City Shower,” Swift caricatures a commonplace event for comic effect:


“Now from all parts the swelling kennels flow,

And bear their trophies with them as they go:

Filth of all hues and odors seem to tell

What street they sailed from, by their sight and smell.

They, as each torrent drives with rapid force,

From Smithfield or St. Pulchre’s shape their course,

And in huge confluence joined at Snow Hill ridge,

Fall from the conduit prone to Holborn Bridge.

Sweepings from butchers’ stalls, dung, guts, and blood,

Drowned puppies, stinking sprats, all drenched in mud,

Dead cats, and turnip tops, come tumbling down the flood.”

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