A Tour in the Garden of Earthly Delights by Damen O’Brien

after the painting by Hieronymus Bosch 

The man made of egg shells with tree trunks for legs was there and the man with a bird’s head was there and the man with ravens flying out of his bottom, he was there, there was fire of course and it burned terribly, but after the first century, everyone became used to the pain and the people from heaven were there, always complaining about the management, the self-promoters were there, networking furiously, people who owned more than 90% of humanity’s wealth were there, Jesus had got that right, but so were the ones that steal the remote control, reluctant voters were there, checking their watches, people who say, ‘it’s the principle of the thing’, who say, ‘it’s not personal, it’s business’, who say, ‘let the market decide’, or ‘trickle down economics’, they were there in droves pushing shopping trollies, Superman and Captain America were there, raising their flags, but not Batman, poets were there, counting syllables, stabbing each other with sharpened em-dashes, the balladeers were absent, close-talkers, they were there, the saliva bubbling on their lips, all the American presidents and all the president’s men, Trump was in there twice, there were skeletons of course, but they seemed to be enjoying themselves, method actors, really focusing on the next line, due mainly to an administrative error, petty bureaucrats were there, if there were rapists, murderers, child molesters, I never saw them, there were massage therapists and personal trainers, a whole troupe of musicians entertained us for days, the instruments coming out of awkward nooks and crannies, timeshare providers, holiday package offerors, the people who put discount labels on things, who upgrade phones, who buy premium wines, they were there in such profusion, I walked on their bodies, the bones cracking like lollies, I was there and you were there and the I that is not I and I that hides behind the I, they were all there, clamouring for attention, there was mostly sulphur, but also bleach, smoke, chlorofluorocarbons, mom’s apple pie, the man who introduced rabbits to Australia, the woman who invented disposable nappies, Nietzsche was there, a little surprised, ballroom dancers, people who buy and sell guns are fast-tracked there, provided machine guns and bandoliers, but no bullets, a huge strawberry is there – no one knows why, fish appear prominently, there is at least one person who is composed of legs, possibly a soccer player, people who don’t pay taxes and other people who are jealous of the people who don’t pay taxes, Dante passes me on the way out the door, wizards there muttering incantations, that red-haired girl from Stranger Things, it’s not that bad, it’s hell, but its not that bad, all the industrialists are there, all the denialists, people who give vouchers rather than picking out presents, they’re there, the military industrial complex is there, still finding ways to kill things for money, we’ve got the capitalist hell, full of levels depending upon what you did in life, other than the man with a mouth as big as a house and the fish with legs, it’s much like here, I pass the guy with a trident, I pass the three-headed dog, I pass the swarm of flies, I pass the comedians who still make racist jokes, I pass the crowd of white women who are scared of black women, if it’s hell, it’s the hell as it should be, not excoriatingly bad, not spiteful, not nasty, just a little bit different, like that holiday you will never take again when it turned out it was the off season and everything was closed for renovations and there was also a lot of gastro going around, the blackouts and the searchlights, the boredom and the pointlessness, the Stephen King paperbacks in the reception room of the hotel, the petty, petty, doom that comes for all.

Rusty Priske on “A Tour in the Garden of Earthly Delights”

This poem envelops you—not in a warm embrace but in a tornado of images, sounds, emotions. I find myself melting into the poem and simultaneously trying to find my way out while also luxuriating in the overwhelming of the senses. The ekphrastic nature comes through by conveying the same feeling the painting gives to anyone who gazes upon it, but with the poem the feeling is a more internal and more overtly psychological. This messes with your head in all the right ways.


(update provided in 2023) Damen O’Brien is a multi-award-winning Australian poet. Damen’s prizes include the Moth Poetry Prize, the Peter Porter Poetry Prize and the New Millennium Poetry Competition. His poems have been published in journals all over the world. Damen’s first book of poetry, Animals With Human Voices, is available through Recent Work Press.

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