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The Martian Sociologists

This is a 1979 poem by Craig Raine:


Caxtons are mechanical birds with many wings

and some are treasured for their markings —

they cause the eyes to melt

or the body to shriek without pain.

I have never seen one fly, but

sometimes they perch on the hand.

Mist is when the sky is tired of flight

and rests its soft machine on ground:

then the world is dim and bookish

like engravings under tissue paper.

Rain is when the earth is television.

It has the property of making colours darker.

Model T is a room with the lock inside —

a key is turned to free the world

for movement, so quick there is a film

to watch for anything missed.

But time is tied to the wrist

or kept in a box, ticking with impatience.

In homes, a haunted apparatus sleeps,

that snores when you pick it up.

If the ghost cries, they carry it

to their lips and soothe it to sleep

with sounds. And yet they wake it up

deliberately, by tickling with a finger.

Only the young are allowed to suffer

openly. Adults go to a punishment room

with water but nothing to eat.

They lock the door and suffer the noises

alone. No one is exempt

and everyone’s pain has a different smell.

At night when all the colours die,

they hide in pairs

and read about themselves —

in colour, with their eyelids shut.


People refer to the school of poetry he initiated as the Martian school of poetry because of the way they look at familiar things and make them strange.

I read the blogs about the bailout a lot lately, and there are two extreme camps.

The conservative group wants to restore the status ante quo, and thinks almost anything that can get us there will be good for us. Fairness be damned.

The radical/disgusted group looks at the bailout as aimed at the undeserving rich people and rich institutions who always ran the world and cannot conceive that they shouldn’t continue to do so. Some of them claim that now, with big institutions, Russian oligarchs and bankers who are trying to sell their estates on the ropes, is a good time to change the way the world works.

What would a Martian sociologist who wasn’t familiar with our system say about current goings-on, I wonder?

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