Bacchus In Ruins

Phillip Hall

(As meals are made for laughter, so wine gives joy to life
but indiscretion sprouts wings. Ecclesiastes 10:19-20)

The Luftwaffe exposed
Bacchus beneath rubble, twice born of fire and nursed in rain
a liberated, fluid boundary, lounged in disarray
the grace of Bacchus is our release
into pleasure, where prayers 
to a fennel staff topped with a pinecone might 
adjust unshackled abandon      and

‘In drinking wine, we drink him’ wrote
Euripides in The Bacchae, but in this contest
to be the ‘one true vine’ I have drowned 
in fundamentalism rushing to rub myself out, to empty
cask and glass in the mirror
             of precepts: ‘to thine ownself be true’:

I am soursob weeded shit
sniffed on unwashed fingers, and I thirst
to gape camel-like at hubris and catastrophe
ah, I resent every day surrendered
to moderation, the guttural groaning
that celebrates order, a life denuded
       of ecstasy    and defeat:

I am fallen
not to revelry, but to self
hatred, lust
        for transcendence, and my appeal
for guilt free suicide   is the poured libation
                     of metastasis   with treatment denied:

     Nonetheless, I still love all those
suburban honeyeaters under clear
blue, spring rich skies, but
even in sunshine, my worth is shrouded
    and I’m stuck    self-medicating against  
                                                                     the blue.

Contextual Essay: Bombing during the London Blitz exposed a Roman temple that was originally dedicated to the Persian god, Mithras, but was rededicated sometime in the third or fourth century to the crowd favourite, Bacchus. The starting point for this poem was my discovery of the BBC documentary by Bettany Hughes, Bacchus Uncovered: Ancient God of Ecstasy, & Anne Carson’s verse translation of the Greek Tragedy by Euripides, The Bacchae. Bacchus was a boundary crosser, & was often pictured as a transgender idol – our inclusive/provocateur hero. I was also very lucky, during the planning of this poem, to discover the Yorkshire folk duo, Belinda O’Hooley & Heidi Tidow. They wrote the theme music to the gender-fluid/lesbian drama blockbuster, Gentleman Jack (set in nineteenth-century Yorkshire). O’Hooley & Tidow also wrote the hit single, ‘Summat’s Brewin’ (oh Good Ale)’ that celebrates the joy of grog. This song became my soundtrack while writing this poem. My mum, without ever being doctrinaire, is tea-total (having come from a long line of ‘problem drinkers & gamblers’) so I didn’t have my first drink until around the age of 21 or 22, and from the time of that baptism I unfortunately never looked back.

Phillip worked for many years as a teacher of outdoor education and sport throughout regional and remote Australia. He now resides in the Melbourne suburb of Sunshine where he is a passionate member of the Western Bulldogs Football Club. Phillip’s poetry, essays and reviews can be seen in such spaces as Best Australian Poems, The Blue Nib, Cordite Poetry Review & Plumwood Mountain while his poetry collections include Sweetened in Coals (Ginninderra Press), Borroloola Class (IPSI), Fume (UWAP) and (as editor) Diwurruwurru: Poetry from the Gulf of Carpentaria (Blank Rune Press).

He co-publishes the poetry e-journal, Burrow, at:

And his current collection is Cactus. This can be ordered at:



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