Saturday, 5 July 2014


(to Hieronymus Bosch)

Oh this world is a waggon of hay
and everyone grabs what they can.
Be you Philip the Handsome or the rag and bone man,
you’ll sink like a toad in a vat of dismay.’

Jereon or Jheronimus,
Jerome or Hieronymus,
El Bosco or Bosch,
the crackle of your piercing laugh
crawls across this busybody city of your’s;
subverts the barrel organ’s clanking tunes
and the melancholic cackle of a demon priest.

This dark Carnival of frogs and trombones,
leaps from the graves of beggars and cripples;
this dualist fantasy,
this Oeteldonk nightmare,
where even the sewer rats dance
and the River Dieze drinks to high heaven.

I once saw a man who looked like you,
staring at me like a hag of a gargoyle
at the bar of the Bonte Palet.
He was a dribbling grotesque,
the kind you find among the monsters and workmen astride St. Jan’s.
A member, no doubt, of Our Lady’s Brotherhood,
he lived in a dream world,
a glutton for punishment,
ogling a lusty Brabant girl
with his popping, panting, eyes.
He was throwing genevers down his throbbing canal,
drinking at the confluence of Dommel and Aa;
he had brown paint on his hands so I knew it was you,
Master of Alla Prima.

The next time I dreamt I saw you smile,
I was floating in Venice in a boat of lost souls.
And your face shone from a passing cloud
as I lay back and drank in the scum and the sky.

Pray tell me, El Bosco,
what are these chambers of rhetoric for?
Why do the organ builders and bell founders scrape?
You with the heavens in your eyes,
was there a God between Aleyt Goyaertsvan den Meervenne’s thighs?

All this sin,
eternal damnation of lost souls;
in McDonald’s, I see scenes of horrendous torture,
galleries of carnal mutilations,
and, in the Market Square, there are stalls from Hell,
there are poets,
drunk in the sinister depths of imagination,
who should be eaten alive
by bureaucrats.

Oh paradox-riddled Jerome,
Master of the monstrous,
discoverer of the unconscious’,
I am sick with life,
scraping my shoes full of lice
along the dark slabs of Stoofstraat.
On my last night in ‘t-Hertogenbosch,
on my last fucking cockroach legs,
I slid my painter’s hand up a posh lady’s dress;
with musical demons
gabbling around us,
I plucked her devil’s fruit
like the strings of an evil lute.
And I prayed and I prayed and I prayed
to rid myself of the adders and dragons
that scorched like Hades
in my screaming heart.

Oh this world is a waggon of hay
and everyone grabs what they can.
Be you Philip the Handsome or the rag and bone man,
you’ll sink like a toad in a vat of dismay.’

Oh Jheronimus, Jheronimus please,
please take me to the Seeing Field.
I want my bones and my flesh to burn
to set this starving Spirit free
in the Hearing Forest.

Keith Armstrong


Look down Hieronymus:
the blonde kids dancing at your feet;
barrel organs churning songs out
against your deaf and cheesed-off ears.
Blink blind, stone eyes,
cobble cheeks,
dig the electric pleasure garden,
frame the nuclear canal
and sigh you weary statue you.

Chipped cloak,
cold painter’s
nose drips with rain.
Drunk, we piss on the past,
slash and splash against the dark canvas.

Bosch, we still play the games.
I catch an angel barmaid’s eye
and swallow the blueness of it
in my aching head.
Beauty lodges overnight in the skull.

Unlucky Hieronymus:
missiles haloing your frown of a brow;
clouds crashing over the market square.

They’re building the greatest nightmare ever around you,
but your hands have grown too stiff to paint.

Keith Armstrong

Den Bosch, The Netherlands

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