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Satire: Stone Peter, Craggy Colin and The White Man

How Humanity Stole The Power Of Saying Awful Things And Then Acting All Wronged When People Get Shocked By Them From The Gods

Satire by Lyndon Hood

Hear the song of my people.

FRAGMENT ONE

Every worker in employment
All the economic agents
Those involved in agriculture
Those rebuilding earthquake houses
Those involved in post-production
Looked up from their dairy cattle
From their hammers and their ledgers
Looked up from their tenuous contracts
When they heard it, heard it spoken,
Colin meant to steal the thunder,
Steal the thunder of Stone Peter.*
Those dispensing social welfare
Paused their grinding of poor faces
(Grinding provides strong incentives)
Paused to marvel and to wonder
At news that Craggy Colin
Aimed to steal Stone Peter's thunder.
All the people of the nation
Hunkered down a little lower
Thought that this might be a good time
To turn off the news.

* Legendary troll king. Stone Peter was supposedly responsible of the thunderous, noisome storms of vapours seen in the land on a three-yearly cycles even during modern times (until the weather stopped being predictable for some reason). Also called 'The Kingmaker'. Stone Peter was a favorite among the elders of the tribe, which leads us to speculate he was used to scare children.

Even in his cloud-topped tower
News of Colin reached the one there —
Called, after his tower, The White Man,
His white tower built of bones.
Or maybe it was built of tusks:
Built of the tusks of elephants —
Probably white elephants;
Made of that and not of bones.
But anyway, a tower.

White Man thought that he would like to
Have the power of Peter's thunder
He would like to be King-Maker.
Also he had got to thinking
There was not much air up so high:
If he was to keep his kingdom
He would need some oxygen.

White Man came down from his tower:
He came down to reach our level —
Descended there, or slightly lower
And he followed, silent, stealthy,
Colin on his quest for thunder,
Followed Colin on his journey —
Followed Colin to the shaman;
Heard as shaman spoke to Colin
Of Peter’s thunder.

Peter’s thunder, said the shaman,
Isn’t just a noise he’s making
Not just noise from his own body.
When you make noise from your body
And the people say it over —
Repeat it to one another —
This is how you make the thunder
Echo all around.

Stone Peter knows how to do this:
Secretly he take the tsicar*;
Openly he does not take it,
Will deny that he does take it
Yet I see him use its power
In his thundering.

* We have the name of the tsicar but little is known of the nature of this apparently magical antediluvian herb, which - as viewed by these backwards people - seemed a sure source of power in an emergency. No modern vegetable matches the available descriptions. Or at least, none will admit to it. Traditionally, drinking a potion of the root was said to confer ignorance of good and evil; of evil in particular.

Tsicar will teach powerful policy:
Policy that some will cleave to;
Policy that all will speak of —
Echoes through the land like thunder —
Maybe about immigration
Or some other thing that’s foreign;
Or domestic race relations:
Maybe to decry the privilege
Of the underprivileged races
Or throw out the careful solving
Of their ancient wrong and grievance;
Or the status of their culture.
Colin said, oh hey, that last one
Sounds like just my thing.

Be warned ere you take your journey
(Said the shaman to Crag Colin):
Strongest leaders use no tsicar
Wiser leaders shun the tsicar.
They do sometimes have a try at
Economic nationalism:
Not the same as xenophobia.
Those things are completely different;
Two things that have no relation;
Not the same in any fashion.
People who support the one thing
Maybe would support the other –
That does not make them the same thing.
How dare (he said, not to Colin —
Maybe to the air, not Colin)
You imply otherwise?*

* Modern readers may be bewildered by the moral code expressed in this passage. While the distinctions are clearly critical to any understanding of the whole poem, even scholars remain divided on whether the distinction here is one of degree (some control on immigration and foreign control of land and tribal goods was ubiquitous at the time yet debates about how much apparently became quite impolite), one of emphasis (whether one couched one's arguments in terms of race, of the goodness/badness or the tribe/forgeiners or in some other more technical language) or one of effect (exactly what kind of foreigner your supporters are assumed to be thinking of).

If you wish to use the tsicar
If you wish to weild its power,
Take from me a certain warning.
You must drink it with precautions:
Weave a fog of deniability
Wear a thick cloak of excuses
Or those who see you take the tsicar
Will attack you in your weakness.
If you wear a fog and your cloak
Their weapons will not catch.

Go, then, to the grove of tsicar.
Journey first over the mountains.
Journey then across the water:
Always wading, never swimming —
Don't swim in the river water.
Careful not to get the water
Flowing there onto your fingers:
If you get it on your fingers
It might get into your mouth.

Maybe a boat might be better:
See if you can find a boat.

Colin he prepared to travel
He had bought himself a vehicle
Wouldn't use anyone else's
No-one else's would do for him
Maybe no-one else would have him
It worked out the same.

White Man rode upon a wagon
Broken down and rusty wagon
Was the wagon of his fathers
One of them once vanquished Peter
Thought that he had killed Stone Peter
Made a prize-skin of Stone Peter*
But Stone Peter did not stay dead
Some say that his soul was hidden
Hidden in box of wine or
In an emerald-coloured parrot
Peter returned three years later
Stronger than before.

* Hence the name of the epic which relates that legend, 'The Hide Saga'. The hero of that story is slain, before the return of Stone Peter, by a tsicar-addicted lame duck. This just goes to show that the puishment for hubris (or being, as the saga puts it, "too brash") is a constant in world myth.

White Man sought the groves of tsicar,
Racing Colin to the tsicar
Wagon knew the way.

[...]

FRAGMENT TWO

White Man snatched the tsicar goblet —
Grabbed it opportunistically.
Colin said Hey I had that first.
White Man drank from tsicar goblet:
White Man did not heed the warning —
Had no fog of deniability,
His cloak of excuses threadbare —
Had not heard the shaman's warning
He had gotten bored by that point
He was more the principles type
Wasn't very good on detail
In practical applications.
When he drank from the tsicar cup
Didn't suit his constitution
After pure life in the tower:
Bitter drink for him to swallow,
When he drank from the tsicar cup
Everybody saw he'd done it
When he tried to thunder at them
He got burned.*

* It is recorded elsewhere that if someone who claims to be pure of heart partakes of the tsicar they will turn into a troll. If they weren't one already.

But White Man he did not die then
White Man called on his protector
Called the god of his ancestors
He drew forth the Cup of Epsom*
He drank from the magic vessel
And his god was heard to whisper
To his ever-faithful servant:
Even if I cannot save you
Know that under my protection
Comes your servant, known as David.
If you see this sunset or not,
He’ll See More.**

* Magic cup of tea capable of sustaining life in those who are otherwise sure to perish. Sometimes takes the form of a double-edged sword.

** Again, one might be uncertain about the morality at play here. None of the participants in the drama are sympathetic to a modern audience, and it is entirely unclear why The White Man, of any of them, should qualify for divine intervention. But it should be remembered that this is not a moral tale. Scholars disagree whether the story is intended to represent real events, or is an embellished version of some ritual the people of the tribe were put through every three years, or simply some kind of irrelevent slapstick sideshow with no effect on the main body of the mythology. Unfortunately, I consider the last option unlikely.

Then Stone Peter, steaming, growling,
Came upon the like rocks falling
Came upon them in his anger
Seeing they did steal his tsicar
Fearing they did waste the tsicar
For the goblet of the tsicar
Has, if drunk from by too many
Not the strength to bring to power
Even one of them.

Ground there was extremely crowded
Very crowded on the right side,
When they then began to battle
For the power of the tsicar.
Stone Peter revealed his true form
Shamelessly, his ugly true form;
Thundered with no cloak about him
Thundered with no fog around him,
His true troll-form, skin so stony
Would not feel another burning:
Showing then his godlike power:
Open wielding of the tsicar
Daring others to attack him
And then getting all upset when
Echoes say that is appalling —
Then doing it again.

White Man he was a quick learner:
First time that he made an echo —
Angry echo from his tsicar
He returned it even louder,
Even at the risk of shouting
At someone who didn’t matter
At someone who wasn’t party
To the present mystic battle.
But White Man felt maybe stronger,
So he shouted more.

But Stone Peter, old and wily,
Battled for that angry power,
Power from unfocused anger
Throughout the neglected nation
Tsicar draws that, makes it stronger:
Power of his thunder.

Colin he was not included:
Left out of climactic battle
So he swiftly called his lawyers
Lawyers that he had on speed dial:
Colin summoned an injuction
To join in the fray.

[...]

From the existing documents it’s not really possible to say how this battle ends. In the christianised version of the myth they all go to Hell, which seems a pretty satisfactory resolution to me.

********

You can follow Lyndon Hood on Twitter.

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