The Anabasis of Godspeed

Kent MacElwee (Flickr/kmacelwee)
Kent MacElwee (Flickr/kmacelwee)

Then proceeded to BAGHDAD and AMMAN. Godspeed was almost afraid of
butterflies. They sickened him during the breeding season when they
swarmed around any source of water in the viceregal district where he
was born. The day was hot and everything was green. He saw that the
puddles were moving and the cars were crushing butterflies and the
roads were moving too because the butterflies were slowly dying on the
roads. Everything moved around him. The leaves on the trees swayed
not from the wind but from butterflies. Butterflies were everywhere alive
on the blooming lilacs and dead on the roads. He ordered a hurricane to
wipe the roads clean and immediately disappeared into the shutting fan
of a shame-me-lady.

It was around this time two weeks before his 13th birthday the Antichrist Pope
John Paul II visited the island. With a stub of coal Godspeed drafted
new statutes for the Court of Star Chambers on the plyboard side of the
school’s latrine. He stepped back to admire his new minted theology.
“These are no competent judges of the doctrine of God in Christ but
must be overthrown” it declared. It also declared: “Vatican don’t instruct
I I instruct Vatican.”

The flags flashing. The wind cut Sunday. Sunday morning started to shell one
Sunday morning shelling Sunday morning. Shells coming man shells
coming shells shells coming. Eustace Phillips that was his name. Eustace
Phillips. So he was on the hilltop and he was just going into the bivouac
when he and the shell met together. Eustace Phillips dead. That’s right.
He and the shell met together in the bivouac. It was a Sunday
morning when the shells met him in the bivouac.

The strength of the battalion stood at 603 officers and 7130 other ranks.


The battalion proceeded to MILLO to fortify the old city walls. In the middle of
a marl road snaking between tall canes Godspeed met Pipecock Jackxon
wearing a necklace of two flattened Coca-Cola corks sweat stuck to his
chest. Urim and Thummim he called them. Seven john crows flagged
out of SOKHO when he strung the corks around the boy’s neck.

Then to the clashing silver green sound of the canes he said: “I Pipecock Jackxon
Jack Lightning Jesse the Hammer Lee Scratch Perry Daniel Dandelion
the Lion I am the flying fish. I boom Death and I boom debts and I bust
bets and I win bets and I sin Death and I kill Death with my fate lock.
Behold! I conquer Hell with my Merry Christmas bells. I am a walking
talking time boom. Dandelion the King of ZION.”


Cloudburst. The leap year was postponed when the Governor General Sir
Howard Felix Hanlan Cooke O.N. C.D. G.C.M.G.  G.C.V.O. K.St.J sent
lickey boom boom spies to Happy Grove with carton boxes of poppies.
Count Lasher walked slowly down rows in the chapel and tenderly
placed a foreign petal in each opened palm ignorant he had just sowed

Proceeded to GIBEAH where No. 1996 Pte O. Harris who carried sassafras twigs
mint leaves foxglove flowers and sheafs of tobacco in a sachet in his pocket
detonated into thousands and thousands of moths. And the curtains of
MIDIAN did tremble.


Dead night. He climbed into the foothills of the BLUE MOUNTAINS to see the
sons of Obadiah chanting down stars. They shook sparks out of their lion
manes flashing in the bonfire dark where Pipecock Jackxon hovered
licking Xs with the flame on to his scroll. Detachment at BOZRAH for
MAZAR ABD and ROMANI there No. 9011 Pte. A Taylor “C” boy died from
pneumonia. His soul flew to MIDIAN accordingly.

Godspeed was summoned to the gates of LIEGE to watch Pvt 8308 Colin
Morgan expelled for kissing or something worse Prudence O’Hara at the
back of the chapel. The Quaker ghosts ticked their bones and roused
their heads from their graves.


Foxes cobras sand snakes locusts eagles vultures desert hares desert mice
scarab beetles and men levitated in the mirage on the march to BASRA.
Under ‘comment’ on the boy’s final report card at Happy Grove Count
Lasher wrote ‘lacks aptitude.’ Godspeed tore up the card and scattered
the pieces in the orange quailing heat of the frangipani and then pressed
his rubber tree mask between pages of his Britannica. The mask will dry
to a tobacco brown. All in this bitch of an epoch. Confound the bitch.

“C” boy platoon proceeded to guard over war materiel captured at HUJ and
SIMSIN and NEJED and TUMRAH. Then the battalion less “B” boy
proceeded to SDUD by march route across country where the transport
had to be abandoned in the sand where they resembled melting spiritual


Moonlit rainbow on Christmas eve. The NILE was violet and the MOKATTAM
HILLS were rosy in colour. Micro-cocci ate away flesh down to the
bones and to the soul. The strength of the battalion stood at 645 officers
and 1700 other men proceeded to EMMAUS across the painful clearness
of the sand infinite as the sea.

Then they withdrew through barrage of fire along WADI SIHAN to WELL
FARM. By nightfall it was reported that both HERERIRA and TEL-EL-
SHERIA were in their hands and that GAZA itself was being evacuated
by hostile troops. Dub drunk Godspeed stumbled out of the Roof
Nightclub. He walked through the town strung with doused pepper
lights to the harbour following the foetid predawn December scent of
the swamp.


That night by his jam jar of resparked fireflies and to his grandmother’s
wheezing and with the Urim and Thummim and his Britannica he
deciphered Pipecock Jackxon’s parchment scroll: “The moon the stars
the sun the clouds the world the globe the universe the equator the
galaxy everything is in my eye. I kiss the Earth and thunder roll. This is
the truth and nothing but the truth so help me true and living God.
144000 Mosquito Angels sting with lightning pssssst! ‘Enjoy death’ say
the dead birds and ‘Enjoy death’ say the dead animals. Ha ha ha! We

The boy made a mitre of the scroll to guide his oncoming dreams.

Permission required for reprinting, reproducing, or other uses.

Ishion Hutchinson was born in Port Antonio, Jamaica and is the author of two poetry collections: Far District and House of Lords and Commons. He has received the National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and the Joseph Brodsky Rome Prize, among others.


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