All the Members of My Tribe Are Liars

By John Fuller b. 1937 John Fuller
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.

John Fuller, “All the Members of My Tribe Are Liars” from Collected Poems, published by Chatto & Windus. Used by permission of The Random House Group Limited,

Source: Collected Poems (1996)

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Poet John Fuller b. 1937


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 John  Fuller


A prolific poet, novelist, children’s writer, critic, and editor, John Fuller has written or edited nearly 50 books, including more than a dozen collections of poetry. Fuller was born in Kent, England, and his father was the poet Roy Fuller. John Fuller was mentored by W.H. Auden and also influenced by Eliot, Graves, and Stevens. His poetry displays a virtuosic ease within the constraints of formal, metered verse; it is a poetry . . .

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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