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The Cancer Chronicles

Damien Hirst 2003

Poetry by the artist.

‘Black Sun’, detail (2004). Photographed by Prudence Cuming Associates © Damien Hirst and Science Ltd. All rights reserved, DACS 2012

Flies: The Martyrdom of Saint James the Greater

Take your place
in the mountain of meat,
in the history of men.
Left out to rot – sun high, in the heat
of the war to end all wars.
The continuous war.
This riot – the foolishness of war
is the end of the line for all.
Poetic creatures, soft-boiled eggs
seek solace in romance,
in a time of war.
Death, martyrdom, suicide,ascension,
timid heroes rise and fall
in the sphere of shadow and death.
Theology, philosophy, medicine, justice, 
the four pillars of the ancient earth
long ago collapsed under the weight
of our stillborn charity.
No time left for romantic change.
This is the age of war.
It is war that surrounds us.
Complete destruction, treason
and entropic certainty.
The collapse of the gingerbread house.
In his infinite wisdom
the fool left the lights on
with no witness left to witness
the triumph of death.
Black shadow on perfect landscape.
A minor blemish on
an otherwise perfect day.
The holy trinity replaced
by the Three Stooges.
Boiled alive.
Burnt to death.
Born dead.

Knives: The Martyrdom of Saint Bartholomew

I look at you – you blind me.
No way to square this circle.
I woke up in India without a passport.
Blood and guns and knives and
Women dead
and men.
All there is to look forward to,
humiliation and death.
It's inside me,
inside you.
Our new love.
The shadow.
The big C.
The end of the world.
Have you ever really looked at the sun?
I mean really looked?
Fear becomes you.
Frozen. Immaculate.
Standing alone at the precipice
and overlooking the arctic wastelands
of pure terror.
Stilled by dread,
drugs quiet.
And then finally – deafened by
the sharpening of knives.
How could you?
It's me.

Sickness: The Martyrdom of Saint Jude

The sickness comes again,
another wave.
My belongings plundered.
A refuse sack ruptured on an early grave.
I'll pick up the toys now.
Don't want to go to bed – not tired yet.
I need another oncologist to take a fresher look.
I will clean my teeth now,
comb my hair,
will tidy my room,
it's not fair,
please leave the TV on,
I'll go to bed soon.
Hell bent for leather,
horsemen are inside now, they'll
destroy the room.
The panic is rising.
Breaking open the head.
Heavy hooves clatter on china cups and plates.
Panic – sickness – dread.
Why did I let go of the balloon?
My most uncomfortable moments so far.
As I faced the mushroom.
As it ransacked the library.

Decision: The Martyrdom of Saint Simon

Once you decide to die
it takes three days,
boom — war — depression.
There's a rumour they found a tumour.
I don't not like it man,
it's a crap shoot.
beautiful little babies turn into bloated walruses of hate.
It's about time you faced the truth.
Checked your balance.
Made a trip to the bank.
This war's nearly over soldier,
there's not enough time
left to operate.
You left it too long,
it's too far gone.
Got a foothold, unfortunately.
Rot's set in
god knows why.
The return on your sins.
lights are going out.
The ships coming in.
Night falls fast.
you've said goodbye to your future
and partied with the past.
This party's over, soldier
time to give back the present.

Dreams: The Martyrdom of Saint Andrew

All the dear loved ones murdered today.
No respite from the killing,
save for the existence of nothing;
kills time
on rainy days.
A time for loving long gone sour,
slipped down the gap between the wars.
Between the sexes.
I remember loving in the world of desire.
Before the age of romance.
A love now crushed in the vice-like grip of truth.
Today dead eyes see more clearly.
Beyond the soapy inexperience of youth.
All the dreams torn from the fragile hearts of god's children.
Cruel death resembling peace during war.
We hammered on door after door.
Neighbour murdered neighbour.
Crushed the skulls of infants in your name.
And fell in awe
at the floundering truth,
the big lie,
like a fish out of water.
The rot's set in good now.
Oncology rules okay.
As I turn
to face
the gates of hell.

The Key: The Suicide of Judas

Withered by truth
and faced with your death.
I stand alone at your flyblown corpse
and wonder where the fuck does everyone go?
I want to go swimmin’ with wimmin
one to one, always, forever, now.
I want to fuck everything that moves.
Hunt the cunt down and kill it.
I'm sick to death of this war,
the relentless piling and grinding of corpses.
Love blinds me, a momentary weakness.
Sun burnt pigs on polluted beaches
dream of passable reflections grasping far-flung truths. 
Cancer, invisible and splendid surrounds us.
Nothing to hold on to from one day to the next.
I am high, I am mighty.
I rat up a cunt.
The gears of progress grind me to nothing special,
with worse to come.
Saviours running without paying the bill.
The putrefaction of others comforts me.
I no longer have time to kill.
I never had a romantic bone in my body.
In truth.
I was used.
Like a key.

Anxiety: The Martyrdom of St James the Lesser

Hey,
You think you can find some comfort.
Some comfort gained from the acceptance
of the inherent lies in everything.
You stand by and do nothing
as cloud dogs piss in the
bloodshot eyes of unborn children.
Don't fight me because you will lose.
It's kill or be killed.
Dog eat dog.
I want you because I can't have you.
In this the war to end all wars.
Do as I say, not as I do.
One after another the romantic fall,
domino on domino.
You get what you give,
what you came for.
Sick to the hind teeth.
And wracked with guilt
you will be made to pay –
through the nose.
I in 3 get Cancer
and the number is rising. 

Forsaken: Jesus on the Cross in Conversation with His Dad (god)

J. Are you fucking joking?

G. Don't swear.

J. Don't fucking swear? I'm nailed to a cross you cunt.

G. There are reasons for that.

J. No there aren't, no reason could possibly exist for what you're doing to me now.

G. One day you'll understand.

J. I understand now that you're a cunt,
    Oh my god it hurts. [screaming]

G. It hurts me more than it hurts you my boy.

J. Jesus Christ! well you get down here and get on this
    fucking cross,
    I'm your son for fuck's sake.

G. I feel your pain.

J. and I feel your arrogant stupidity.

G. It's for the sins of mankind.

J. The sins of mankind?
   You can stick mankind up your arse,
   you’re no father of mine,
   I hope you rot in hell… Aargh the pain.
   [Jesus passes out]

Remission: The Death of Saint John

They designed the drugs romantically,
the powers that be.
Hit and hope.
Years later, in the age of uncertainty,
they designed the drugs rationally –
to target key areas, bought every ticket in the lottery
and waited, confident,
for elimination to present the only winner,
the true winner,
they couldn't lose.

The chemo killed as it cured.
The patient's performance,
ability to resist - regenerate,
was clumsy and difficult.
Hit and miss.
A far cry from surgical precision.
As regiments of dead soldiers
(archaeology of another lost war)
down guns and dignity
amongst the swamp roots of dead trees.
lights gone out - transformation complete.
Brown bread, his numbers up, boats come in,
six foot under.
The grenade in the glove box again.
They found it in his lymph nodes,
still, he had a good innings,
he's out of the misery now, gone upstairs,
it's a relief really,
his lungs were turned black,
liver packed in,
it had gotten into his head.
He's been called up to join the big army in the sky.
It was all over when it spread to his skin,
bar the shouting.
His body was riddled,
the autopsy showed,
long before they'd cut out his tongue.

For years he had no taste,
no quality of life.
His lungs flooded.
He's happier where he is now,
I'll bet.
All I know is we'll meet again somewhere soon,
I hope.
He couldn't speak very well
because of the morphine,
towards the end.
No longer hurting,
I guess.
He tried to get up,
tried to fight the drugs.
In the end he grew sick of being ill.
He'd given up really, well before the chemo,
went through with it for the kids.
In the war to end all wars
- didn't even fight.
Put on a brave face
during the years of pain.
Christ Almighty couldn't win,
in the end.
The big lie
devoured by the big disease.
Too soon.

Contract: The Martyrdom of Saint Philip

From your vantage point
in the heavens
the Cancer looks controlled.
You can't smell the hectic stench.
Armies of the rotting dead and dying
trample the cold black hearts of men.
Your memory mostly gone.
Every scream as the columns break
falls silent on your cold dark soul.
Long ago you were beautiful,
using reason to frame truth.
A trillion dancing spandrels
of light surrounded you.
Slow motion, weightless.
Generous before the blight.
Soft rotted figs fell from the tree of life.
Your skull thoughtless in the dry river bed.
Exploring the infinite number
of ways to get to the same point.
It's why the houses fell down.
Why you ruled the world, once,
but not now. Let's drink
to you – your health.
No, No, No,
We’ll get these 
Put your shrapnel away.
You’ve done enough.
Apparently.

Seed: The Martyrdom of Saint Thomas

I cannot bring children into this world.
The good can’t be bothered yet the bad can.
Love rotted sterile, usurped, become dry dust.
As the last fragile cell wall ruptured,
another septic dream bubble burst.
More black than white,
a population more dead than alive.
Sick, how can I kill that which does not live?
The darkness enveloping
my tender memories.
All friends turned cunts.
Breathing difficult - wet,
once beautiful colours
now jarring on the eyes,
lid heavy.
Babies fingers once formed silently - beautiful
in the dark, now claws.
She didn’t die with dignity.
god
the true enemy
takes responsibility
for no-ne.
never did.
As the last red embers in the fire
die, turn black, then grey, then disappear,
you have no reflection
to fear.
The war is lost,
Your children are dead.
even if you didn’t have children

Siege: The Martyrdom of Saint Peter

I witnessed accidents on the road to truth.
Several accidents occurred on the road to truth.
I had faith in the search for this truth,
during the continuous war.
After your death in the age of reason.
I tasted romance in the continuous war.
The endless war.
My death in the age of romance
brought forth the technology of war.
The blind leading the blind saw
faith in a time of violence.
Wondering where’s god now?
Coming to terms with Cancer.
Blood on the road to truth.
The fragile hearts of men.
The end of the line for some.
Most,
All.