The Oldest Tree on Earth: The Curse of Methuselah
by Roger McGough
Once you had garden of Eden,
Now you have this. Vegas.
A playpen in the desert. Bliss.
Here, 5,000 years of Civilization
Can be experienced in an instant.
Have a nice day. Enjoy.
For in a flash it could all be over.
Kings, emperors, deities
Craven images cast in plaster, neon lit.
Look on my works,
Ye mighty, and despair.
The smell of money in the air
A tawdry son-et-lumière
(A one-way street going nowhere.)
Your immortals are mortal, they were once flesh and blood.
Escape the delusion, the noise and pollution,
The true immortals are made out of wood.
They call us Bristlecone Pines.
They call me Methuselah.
Methuselah, Methuselah, this human
christens me, for he has counted
The candles on my cake... 4,600.
Am celebrity now and no mistake.
Am named. Am given voice.
The years, like necklaces bestow
a wisdom, humankind can never know.
Millennia, they come and go.
Have no eyes, but have seen it all
Ancient civilizations that you can
Only read about, Methuselah has sensed.
Am not part of history... No,
History is parts of me.
Unlike words, tree-rings never lie.
One year was freezing cold and dark
The sun was hidden in the sky
I tasted brimstone and it left its mark
Like a noose tightening, like a charred wreath.
What is this thing, I thought, called death?
You can read me like a book
Open me up and take a look:
History laid bare, a garland here
a crown there. Plain as a pikestaff
for all to see. Each year jotted down by me.
The state of the nation, an annual report
in ever decreasing circles. The wheels
of fortune, the cycles of despair.
If I had lungs I would be coughing
A throat, I would be parched
If I had eyes they would be stinging
Flesh, it would be scorched.
Sulfur, smoke and cinders
enfold me like a shroud
There is no silver lining
only poison in this cloud.
Water, water everywhere and not a drop...
To think that down there, battery trees
Like plumped up turkeys stand proud and vain.
Bloated and unaware that they are but a switch's
throw away from death.
Water, water not forever...
For twenty-four hours a day, fountains play,
Spraying graffiti that mocks a desert kept at bay.
But nature has a way of saying "Enough."
After the pride there comes the fall
After the boom, the bust.
Remember man that thou art dust,
And unto dust...
Men drop to the earth like leaves
Lives as brief as footprints in snow.
Bristlecones enthroned on top of the world
Watch civilizations come and go.
They seek our secret, immortality,
But search in vain, for it is vanity.
If truth be known I would rather
be a flower, or a leaf that lives
and breathes with brief intensity.
My life is as thin as the wind
And I am done with counting stars.
On the side of this mountain
I might live forever,
Could you imagine anything worse?
My name is Methuselah and this is my curse.
Roger McGough is one of Britain's most celebrated poets. The author of more
than 50 books of poetry, McGough is a regular contributor on BBC Radio's
"Poetry Please" and the World Service. McGough won a Tony award for his lyrics
in the Broadway production of The Wind in the Willows and was nominated
for an Emmy for his lyrics in the film version of The Wind in the
Willows. He co-authored the script for the 1968 movie Yellow
Submarine. McGough received the Order of the British Empire in 1997. He
lives in London.