Us and them
This is no longer the place we thought it was. Nowadays the street is covered in a thin sheet of khaki water that slowly ripples when the wind comes. What is there is not what we thought. Our country was a constellation of mountains and streams with shallow coastal plains watered by magnificent spring rivers that became mere wallows in summer. Most of the territory to the north consisted of relatively high mountains, and this natural defence was reinforced by strong fortresses and fortified towns where attack was easiest. Valleys were difficult of access, a division which affected local customs. For example, we used lard from the pig, since in the colder north no olive tree could grow. We had fine bread. Everything was piled, one on another. Everything flowed, one into another. There was no difference. That came later. Certain signals were given, that certain of us understood. There was no worry, as such. You never had to say anything: what could there be to be said? If you started to say it, it would never be completed. One did not speak about the others – no need to mention it – it wasn’t done. Beyond these – it didn’t exist. On the whole, we were prosperous. Drinking parties were held on the river at night, or in a grove or flowery meadow either in the cool of the evening or at dawn. These celebrations were sonorous. Our music would pulse like the human heart. We preferred contemplating it at dawn. Voluptuous tendrils enveloped it. Nature provided the idyllic background. High fields were infested by moonlight with beautiful small rodents. These were idyllic walks through meadows with far reaching views available in the freshness of the early morning, and a myriad of wild flowers such as crested cow-wheat, green-winged and butterfly orchids, a host of pinks, bellflowers, daisies and clovers. Satellites clustered in the lee of the moon. Nobody could disturb the shadows. There were orchestras of strange hills, presaging nothingness. Cows plodded in tall grass. Deer glid by; the air was heavy with their breath. In the lakes, perch dimly gleamed and glid. Bears from the woods tore the children to pieces. Beyond these are the chasms. We shall never forget the words a melancholy monk spoke through a long vale, shivering amid the rubble. The immense mountains and forests of the north were commemorated by such sights and sounds, the villagers in bizarre and sometimes touching costumes and masks, trading delicacies and emblems. These were to be found in the meridian of our love. It was fascinating to all those who respect historical monuments and cultural heritage. Old women sat outside their gates coaxing coarse wool onto spindles. Deals were sealed with a handshake, a sip of home-made plum brandy and cash payments. Rare mountain horses roamed freely. Open-armed people nestled in clumps of beech, flawless in their history. We believe that we could glimpse the sea beyond all this. We have no knowledge of the so-called mass graves. Everywhere there was wood of the highest quality imaginable. Even our victims were filled with the scent of countless wild flowers. In numerous restaurants and taverns you should have been able to taste home-made specialties. Rolls of soured cabbage were freely offered. A substantial breakfast would be at your disposal. We remembered the creak of the train at night as it sped through the countryside. Towards the end, we saw the lights of our own little town from afar and we wept. But those others would not have understood any of this.
Our great capital city has prospered through the ages. Fine craftsmanship over many generations gave it its contemporary allure. Cafés, restaurants, shops and banks of many colours and styles were enjoyed by admiring visitors. One of its elegant streets, adorned by period lamp-posts, is named after an English general. We had no problem with the British in those days, we welcomed them in our bars, from their cities filled with fog, their icons such as Maggie Thatcher, Manchester United, and also Liverpool, The Beatles! It may be different now. Cultural products were built from 1926. On this, the last word has yet to be said. Our nice children were selected by us. Beautiful photography and rich prose were abundant. How sharp and with what definition the shadows! Modern parking lots were equipped for the richest minds of their generation. Businessmen walked arm in arm among the arcades and distinctive yellow luminaries, witnessing many cultural events. There was once a thriving Jewish community here, before the war. Racial ethnicity is of no importance. Slippers were worn by beautiful women. We should like to state that we never had anything against the Jews. The restored municipality was much admired for approaching beauty. The great river shone like the blade of a knife. There was statuary. The library was said to contain 400,000 books, all beautifully catalogued. Nobody has read them all. How could they? Our happy children propelled their tiny vehicles along clean cobblestones, safe from any predation. Amid the clamour of the street market, a man might be seen in a green T-shirt with the slogan NO TIME TO WASTE in English. There were looks of wonder. Bright lights and American donuts. Young ladies gazed at the indicative map. The men thronged the bars watching Manchester United. There was Virgin Megastore amid the splendid geraniums of our youth. Children respected the fine carpets. LA TERRE announced a poster suspended from one of the many fine lamp-posts. Glorious emblems were prized above the heritage. You could choose the Barcelona, you could choose the Milan, you could choose the Manchester, it was the right of the young men; they were allowed to sing, they were beginning to gain credibility, to gesture, to capture the midfield, to attack. The flow of capital led to this place of construction, peace, and sighs. The lovely skin of this was that which made it what it is, or rather, was. But it’s going to end badly. Each year turned on its axis, to the slow solstice and beyond, dipping into darkness from the festival of lights. We went into hibernation, knowing that this time we wouldn’t awaken. We were “hot in the mouth of snow”.
What were the details of our nostalgia? Nobody can say for certain. All this is gone now. What happened? The bestiality of terror came. It was not of our choosing. We heard the sounds of laughter in the dark, and it froze us momentarily. Our daughter pleaded with us, our son hardened his heart. Sights and sounds are still transmitted to us; but they are out of kilter. There’d been a time when it had been hoped that members of different faiths could be welded into a unity; but it was becoming clear that this was not possible. The manners of the people deteriorated day by day; certain agreements went into abeyance, and still the visitors grew in numbers, until it seemed as though there could be no solution as to where or how they might be accommodated. Each time a green-painted train comes to a halt before the end of the platform, we know the outcome, mass migration and heartache is caused. It’s always the same. The more ignorant among us start to imitate the incomers, as if this would give any social cachet! One drunkard in a dark suit holds a carrier bag with the name and logo of a legal outfitters. A woman struggles to retain a low bloodhound on a leash, her face tilted upwards in a characteristic gesture, but she is probably not blind. There is excessive arm-swinging while walking. A jovial man and his serious friend stagger under the weight of long cardboard boxes, some beginning to split; it is claimed they contain artists’ easels, but we know better. The visitors were not welcomed among us, partly because of their numbers but also because they are a polyglot community divided among themselves and unable to establish any sort of unity. Their envy consumed them. They were accustomed to live in the midst of government offices and barracks of their unruly soldiery. Most of them have gone now, actually. The worst act no better than Arabs, and the others though better behaved yet are unruly sometimes. They are not of our sort at all. They may claim to be proud descendants of Illyrians, but they act like ungrateful guests who walk into houses with shoes covered with cow dung. The air is heavy with their breath. They have no schooling as such. Their knowledge seems to them to be perfectly systematic, yet it is complete nonsense from start to finish. Their hygenic customs, their exhalations, of depleted methane, of distorted syllables: it is this that gets under the skin, as does their incomprehensible music, so-called, like the babbling of forty thieves or fifty lunatics. These people were given prestigious flats by our municipality, but they prefer to spend their time in the open, kindling their fires, trading their horses, playing electric guitars and rendering the common spaces into fields of mud. They possess scummed-up dogs who are mindless. Their dance is just a stagger. Their tongues are rough, like white butterflies skimmed across the cement factory; their manners are those of uncertain bears. Their colours are of a different stripe. They give great clouts to our ideals. Their young men explode themselves. For what? They make cheese from their dogs. How could we know what to do? We were saddened to see the monasteries vanish. Political thought, once solid as a shining lighthouse, was moving in its several directions. Our throbbing heart echoed our dreams and deepest aspirations. We had to do something about this. We do not want to live in tents or slums while the immigrants confiscate our land, water and even the air that we breathe! Battle came to us and we couldn’t wait. Civil strife was fostered by those foreign to our customs. Our hands shook. We can’t remember clearly. We knew our daughter was lost to us. One of her eyes was facing inwards. She has had portions of her tongue removed. The last thing she wrote, in a shaky hand, was “I love you all.” As for our boy, he would never now marry.
Throughout the tempest, one man stood as straight as an iron rod. Nothing could shake his clear determination to undertake his job fearlessly, without the blink of an eye. He was a lion among foxes and bears. He stood against the coming age of darkness, scornful of the intelligentsia who offered only counsels of despair. And he was a teacher. He found ways and means. But his name can’t now be spoken, for fear of reprisals. The forces that were ranged against him, incoherent as they might be, stole power day by day. Such things overwhelm thought. Hearts break. Hospitals burn. Melancholy hypocrites abscond and skim. They have escaped from the zoo. Our true friends fall. This is what has prompted us to write these pages. It has become a world where truth is shadowed by endless lies. We have the internet, it’s an infection, the babble of vox populi. But the ordinary people of this country are almost voiceless. The babble is of ignorant, conceited and stupid people who pass judgement on others without having any idea what is going on in the world. They are so stupid that they cannot fathom their own limitations and insignificance. Their sickness lies not so much in the fact that they are misinformed, but in their self-deception and hypocrisy that makes them feel confident despite their feeble-minded emotional reasoning. They report that the authorities are finding more and more mass graves every day. But where are they? They don’t say. We should like to state publicly that we have no knowledge of such things. We wish such illiterate individuals judging high political things would have refugees flood into their home town, claim independence and then their illiterate equals from all over the world accuse them of mass killings! They are she-wolves without a clue to reality. They are not to our taste. Our cities and towns are no longer our own, and even the villages are now threatened. Our nostalgia has been corroded. Long demolished goods yards have been turned into derelict car parks. Consider our great city. Trams no longer run here. The rails are rusted and overgrown with moss and other vegetation. No one has seen a doctor for 43 days. Wild vegetation grows in the streets leading to the Opera edifice built in the neo-Egyptian style towards the end of the twenties. Collapsed scaffolding forms a rusty cradle around which the vegetation is beginning to creep, barring entry to the once proud thoroughfare. Water damage is beginning to crumble the columns. Rolled steel blinds conceal the unimaginable. We believe that was once a pharmacy. Burnt to the ground, an apartment block presents a picture of dangling telephone cables, furred cornices and illegible signs; a tractor has penetrated one of its spaces, and around the next corner further movement is impossible because of a great wall made of rusting containers. The windows have all been blown out, rags hang from a line and a stray hubcap languishes in dust that was once street. On every street, a barricade. Walls of sandbags make further progress impossible. Men in fatigues patiently patrol the rubble. Creatures that were once children play in the shell of a burnt-out car. They prefer death to life. Plastic bags with unknown contents are scattered amid the rubble. Honey slides from the barricades and is lost. Amid the ruins of the municipality you can hear a recording of a boy’s voice. We want for the throbbing of life to be, but any hub so wounded would never regain such lustre. People with tree heads, in the garden of snipers and land mines, declare their allegiance to what doesn’t exist. They worship jungle creatures in lieu of the flag, dire progeny of the bomb. Fragrance fragments. Pictures conclude: show now distressed towers, desolate alleyways, existent rubble, naked schools, torn landmarks of destruction and oblivion, memories of civilisation that we long for, that we fear, that we never knew! Spires in flash. Alley catastrophes. World has abandoned us. We requested them not to, but it was to no avail. These are all lies. This wind will not come again. And the others, the original cause of all this desolation, increasingly seem unreal creatures even as they become more and more familiar. We imagine them to be so, and they for their part pass themselves off. They pretend to be ordinary people. They try to tell us who we are, to convince us how could we will to live, how could we even will to live without them? And yet they will kill us. They that pretend to be us: they lie. We can’t accept this, we can’t accept them, they change their story, sometimes they say they want to be us, then that we want to be them, but we don’t want to be them. It’s madness! We don’t even know where they came from. We’ve said nothing, we’ve done nothing, we want nothing to do with them, let there be an end to it. But we’re afraid. What are we afraid of? That there’ll be no end. There’ll be no end to this. Well, they will obliterate us in the end, and that will be the end. Everything comes to an end, after all, it’s natural. They tell us, no, they tell us nothing, they talk to the world’s media, about such and such graves, which they have no hesitation in inventing, for they are people of invention, they make up anything you like; but as for us, we’re afraid of nothing. Nothing. Signal drift, ghosts, a spiral into lamentable sand. See us glistening with quagmires. Skirt spires down. Detritus within the embrasures. Executive turmoil. Wire in the flesh. It’s all connected. There is nothing. We know nothing of it. It’s a shame and a scandal. How could there be mass graves? Where?
Copyright ©2009 by Ken Edwards
Born in Gibraltar in 1950, poet, editor, writer, and musician Ken Edwards has lived in England since 1968. His poetry was associated, with the "British Poetry Revival" includes Good Science and No Public Language: Selected Poems. He also has edited several books, including the journal Reality Studios; he currently edits the literary press Reality Street.