All The Members Of My Tribe Are Liars

Think of a self-effacing missionary
Tending the vices of a problem tribe.
He knows the quickest cure for beri-beri
And how to take a bribe.

And so the mind will never say it’s beaten
By primitive disturbance of the liver;
Its logic will prevent its being eaten,
Get it across the river.

But faced with this assured inconsequence
That damns the very method that is used,
It leaves the heart unproselytised and hence
Admits that it’s confused.

I know I’m acting, but I still must act.
I melt to foolishness, and want it ended.
Why it continues is this simple fact:
I’d hate to end it.

For now the jungle moods assert their terms
And there’s no way to check them if they lie:
The mind attempts to solve the thing, but squirms
And knows exactly why.

The world is everything that is the case.
You cannot see it if you are inside it.
That’s why the tortoise always wins the race:
the very terms decide it.

I cannot help it if I am contented
With being discontented that I falter:
That’s why psychology was first invented
So that we needn’t alter.

It is a strange position to be in.
It would be different if I didn’t know
Why the unlikely animal should win,
Which cannibal should row.

You’d think there’d be a way of cutting out
Those self-destructive layers of introspection.
To reach the truth at last without a doubt
Of making the connection.

That’s why the missionary, on his guard,
Is wondering why the cannibal’s so merry,
And why it is so very very hard
To be a missionary.


“All the Members of My Tribe Are Liars” from Collected Poems, published by Chatto & Windus.

by John Fuller

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