“The Spanish Inquisition” by Mike Alexander

Mike Alexander


You know the sketch. A sitting
room circa nineteen twelve,
an English Lady knitting,
a deferential knock.
The BBC would shelve
such footage under Stock.
A messenger arrives
to speak his single line,
a message from the lives
of working men who’d kill
for a decor so fine—
There’s trouble at the mill.
A page from D.H. Lawrence:
Each player chastely eyes
the other with abhorrence,
knowing that under clothing,
bared arms, quivering thighs,
there lies a deeper loathing.
Dame doesn’t understand
the world in this respect.
The working man, unmanned
by her stiff deposition,
blurts, I did NOT expect
the Spanish Inquisition!
The door bursts open. Three
goons dressed in scarlet satin!
Maniacal with glee,
one roars (the script neglects
to put it in Church Latin,
but …) NOBODY expects …
The humor here, our chief
amusement, is surprise,
absurdist disbelief—
but then the leading goon
begins to itemize
his weaponry, & soon,
surprise is followed by
a litany of fears,
the too-big-to-fail lie,
the flubs & the excuses,
the wars that run for years,
the tar brushes, the nooses …
We want the comfy chair,
the pillows lined in silk,
pajamas, & a pair
of slippers, (we confess!)
a nice warm cup of milk,
a little tenderness.
We don’t want prisoners
in jumpsuits, bodies piled
in mass graves, his & hers,
the images that keep
rerunning, unreconciled,
to taunt us, as we sleep.
Some nightmares, though, are true.
When Spain abruptly cleared
out Saracen & Jew,
the rest, to stay, converted,
but Torquemada feared
the pure would be perverted.
Over a span of weeks
his team of experts used
his patented techniques,
long interactive sessions
to question the accused
(discovery, digressions …).
The recusant, at first
suspended by an arm
behind his back, at worst
would get a dislocated
shoulder—no further harm
would be anticipated,
unless he still persisted
that he was never damned,
as if no Sin existed,
why, then a wad of cloth
would forcibly be jammed
into the prisoner’s mouth
& water would be poured
into his face, until
confession was secured …
that he’d abstained from pork,
writ sigils on his sill,
& done the devil’s work.
Still obstinate, the wretch
was tethered to a rack;
inquisitors would stretch
the truth out of his lies,
before they put him back
into his cell. Surprise,
surprise & fear, fear &
surprise, & the Armada
sails westward to defend
the Faith, while penitents,
burned for Torquemada,
still plead their innocence.
There’s trouble at the mill.
Don Tomas genuflects,
& we are chuckling still
at the manic repetition,
& nobody expects
the Spanish Inquisition.

from Rattle #54, Winter 2016

[download audio]


Mike Alexander: “I like how a poem percolates inside. I like how words tie us to the world, our legacies of problem-solving, our litanies of failure, our (c)odes of desire. I can find this in free verse and in traditional forms alike, but I liken the intricacies of rhyme and meter to mandalas, sacred space, the playground.”

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