Ed Shacklee: First Lines

I. L. P. Hartley, The Go-Between

The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there,
and often tourists goggle at the garb the locals wear –
the suits, both zoot and leisure, and the bunned or bouffant hair.
With ruts the careless fall into like insects trapped in amber
and staircases by Escher where we stumble and we clamber,

it’s a spider-haunted country where the chickens come to roost,
and funny stories stock the shelves, the prices much reduced.
A land where Fate has shown her cards and God Himself reads Proust,
where ghosts we thought we’d exorcised have more lives than a cat,
and follies folk revisit have put out the welcome mat;

where hindsight’s twenty-twenty and it’s commonplace to stare.
They catch the rain in kettles and each roof’s in disrepair,
but old flames aren’t extinguished and there’s something in the air.
The past is a foreign country where they speak an ancient tongue –
it’s just around the corner from the country of the young,

and no one ever leaves it, but they’re conquering the globe.
The past is a foreign country, and I’m a xenophobe.

II. Rose Macaulay, The Towers of Trebizond

“Take my camel, dear," said my aunt Dot:
"I think I'll take this ostrich for a trot.
Among the horsey set, they're highly sought –
so chic, and quick as thought; and when it rains,
perhaps I'll get an omelette for my pains."

III. Robert E. Howard, The Valley of the Worm

I will tell you of Niord and the Worm.
I will tell only you of the darkness and frost
on the Night of the Norns in the Land of the Lost,
of the oath that he swore at such terrible cost,
of gross horrors that slithered and squirmed.

I will tell you of Niord and the Worm
and the blade of the Lich King he notched on its hide,
of its decadent priests and the virginal bride.
As his comrades were cunningly ambushed and died,
his heroic resolve only firmed –

I will tell you of Niord and the Worm.
We will climb, you and I, through the Mountains of Mist,
and shiver at devils that slathered and hissed
in paperback novels of fang versus fist –
if, like me, you like trash, as it’s termed,
I will tell you of Niord and the Worm.