Poems

Catastrophe

The mat on which life lies is hard.
Beware: each day we stumble.
The one who’s unaware doesn’t know
what door a decision will open
nor the anguish which can follow.
 
Hunger leads a person by the chin,
then grubby greed rides it, so again
beware: good sense is harnessed
to blame, to guilt and shame
and all their rot.
 
The spear of death doesn’t miss its target,
or linger for a blink of an eye.
No shield repels it, no one
outlasts their life, so I
am certain of one thing: death.
 
From crawling baby to bearded man
bad news disturbed me
loaded with disaster.
I felt for the strong ones lost,
I groaned with grief for the young,
those who had no milk,
I sickened for them and wept.
 
Inflamed by the scab of resentment,
I chased the scourge
with blood on its hands.
Was I deranged by the memories?
I stood on the coast and threatened,
accused the booming ocean.
 
Sea! You didn’t prevent
the slaughter of the weak.
It’s criminal the way you treated
the people shielded by law.
By God, you’ve sunk low.
The reparation you owe is clear.
Admit it! Don’t stay silent.
 
God will send you to the fires of hell!
It’s you who tore at my people,
the fine women and men injured
in a desolate place.
 
Be drained each day, be empty,
may you dry up drop by drop,
become a drought-ridden
open desert that in the evening
the nomads will walk over.
 
I had spoken.
 
The sea roared and rumbled,
it rolled its waves and churned
its foam, then said: Your poem
is a travesty. I don’t deserve
the guilt you hurl, the curse you cast,
Is this my due? Just hold on!
 
Your leaders are lacking, your country
grows weak. Your patience is lost,
your smiles fade. Your understanding
sleeps, that would have tackled
the despair that seeps inside you
and steers the journey
to the hour of your death.
 
A wave crept up towards
the girls as they were trafficked
in darkness; it tore them apart,
they had no tree to cling to
and predators revelled when
no friend was there to save them.
 
All those the Sahara cut off,
good men proclaimed as heroes,
how many were left wretched in jail?
How many virtuous women
failed to reach their potential?
Vultures cawed over the carrion
of each corpse; wild beasts clawed
the offspring given you by God.
 
When the boat was overturned,
the young were scattered along
the shore. Did the fish in anguish
not weep tears of festering anger?
Are you unaware of your dead
amassed from coast to coast?
Just look!
 
The slaughtering migration,
the massacre and ugly death,
the mothers draped in mourning cloth
for a blunder which comes around again,
what binds you to it all?
 
When the bustard calls out from the bush
to warn of the heavy spring showers,
the gales and afternoon downpours,
are you not grown-up enough
to know to tighten the roof-mat
on the frame of your hut?
 
Doesn’t common sense tell you
to leave at dawn the place
where the jaws of your cattle
and camels have nothing to chew,
where ticks and carnivores threaten?
 
If you’ve sold your goods and your house,
if all your children are gone,
if you stagger at the brink
after hearing terrible news
and offer your final shilling
to death, who you make your neighbour,
if all your wealth has bought only
that which humans despise,
why lament the fate of loved-ones?
It’s what you deserve!
 
It had spoken and I replied:
 
Sea! I hear you.
I admit, I’ve gone too far.
Accept my apology.
 
To the people I say:
Prosperity should not have vanished.
The young should not have perished,
not thrown themselves on the ocean.
 
Duty didn’t burn in the spirit
of him you handed it to.
He had no plan for the future,
didn’t uphold the justice
you were expecting. He slept.
He didn’t speak out each day
as he should to inspire the camel-trek,
to the destination you gathered for.
 
Menace surrounds you, your children die,
all their dreams are crushed.
Colonial powers wrote in books
that you wouldn’t reach the place
to which humanity aspires.
A skin now covers hope,
truth has been cut away
and you’re told you’re worthless.
All this overwhelms you
and splits apart your sinking confidence.
 
You are people who can build a home.
You are people in your own right.
Leave behind the false
hunger and look to your success,
you’re not any less by even
a spear-tip than your peers elsewhere.
Your intellect is strong.
Your future is bright.
Your people need you.
Your country has not cut you off.
Western Europe hasn’t called you.
The Greeks don’t need you.
Where is your self-respect?
Your place is here. Life
got out of hand but look
to what’s ahead of you,
take in what’s by your side,
turn round and see the children
clumped together in the cold,
sleeping by the walls.
Only your effort can help them.
A shattered world surrounds you
that no one has yet made whole.
The responsibility rests on you
more pressing than cut and run.

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