Science fiction tropes were well established in the 50s and 60s, and this poem begins with them. The “anthrax-ray” is funny. Whether this scene arises from a dream or not isn’t clear, but it seems likely. The only complicating thing in the first half of the poem is that the speaker’s pencils are sharp. This might be a take on “the pen[-cil] is mightier than the sword”, or the pen is mightier than the anthrax-ray. I doubt the sharpened pencil functions as a weapon itself, which would be silly out at the edge of the galaxy. They’re a means of prosecuting the fight, though. Perhaps the pencils are for recording dreams? When a student in poetry workshops way back when, I used to keep a pen and notebook by my bed to record my dreams. I never got too much usable material from them, but it was interesting to wake up and see the notes recorded in half-sleep about dreams I had already forgotten. Surrealist artists in all sorts of mediums draw on this realm of the imagination.
The admonishment of Mr. Bones’s conscience reminds Henry that there’s a green world right here in front of us, both the artistic renditions of it and the “greennesses” of ours, which are real enough. One could extrapolate: Dreams of an intergalactic sentry are symbolic of Henry’s disemplaced anxieties. Bring it back down to Earth, son, is what he’s told. The waters here are so full of living substance that they need some attending to. No “pleasing ladies” around to do any pleasing if the greennesses aren’t nurtured and the spring waters aren’t kept flowing.
So, do extended cultural anxieties, which emanate from the collective wounded psyches of everyone, cause us to turn from the green world, our home? Sure they do. And we’ll nuke it to smithereens too, or burn it up, if we think some other wounded psyche gets something we would like to be ours. But more likely this poem is just about the neglect that arises from depression. Look—the battle may be waging all around, but when you’re shot in the belly, then you curl up and focus on your personal hurt. It’s understandable. Until that moment, we’re in the fight. The thing about Henry, as the voice tells him: “You is bad powers.” Not necessarily on the side of good and righteousness. So when it becomes clear you’re one of the bad guys, do you stop and repent? Rationalize? Or proceed in sneering acceptance of bad motives? Like—screw you, you’re the wrong color and I want your land, and when I get it I trust that fact will somehow justify my wanting it. If not, I’ll live with the hollowness of my plunder, but it’ll be my plunder, and by the way—screw you.
I’m riffing, extending thought-tendrils like an octopus. This poem would be an easy one to gloss over. In sum: Imagining a distant fight, Henry is admonished to look around, homeward. That’s enough, but Henry has some trouble with that kind of thing. His heart-gnawing is a subset of a broader problem Earth’s human species struggles with.
Out my window the sky is clear, bright blue, it’s about -10°F because the circumpolar jet stream is wobbling again, and the maple trees were running sap full bore last week, but now they’re surely frozen up again. No syrup likely again this year. Mid-February is when I typically go visit a conservatory, starved as I am for some green humidity, the smells of plants and earth, and a flower or two.