Back to Babylon


Illustration: Copy of the handwritten announcement of Henry V after defeating France. Not quite as Shakespeare imagined him.

The Poem
Back to Babylon

Accept and forget difference or desire that separates and leaves us longing or repelled. Why briefly return to play in broken places, to mock the ground, to collect infant shards, coins, fossils, or the familiar empty canisters and casings that glint from poisoned roots in the blackened dust? We make bad ghosts, and are last to know or believe we too will fade, just as our acrid smoke and those strange flakes of skin and strands of hair will, into largely undocumented extinction. Lie down, lie down; sleep is the best thing for being awake. Do as we’ve always been told and done, no backward glances or second thoughts, leaving sad markers buried in the sand. Sleep now, dream of children with their heads still on, of grandmothers unburdening clotheslines at twilight, of full kettles slow-ticking over twig embers. Ignore boneless, nameless victims that venture out on bitter gravel to claim remains while we rest.

Pay at the window for re-heated, prejudiced incantations. Take them home and enjoy with wide-screen, half-digested, replayed previews of solemn national celebration. Then sleep, by all means; we’ll need all the energy we can muster for compiling this generation’s abridged anthology of official war stories, highlights of heedless slaughter, to burnish our long and proud imperial tradition. At some point, by virtue of accidentally seeing and listening, we may find ourselves participating in our own rendering. Few of our prey will be left alive enough to water the sun with their modest, time-rubbed repetitions, to rephrase their particular, unifying laws. Our version of events has already made its money back in foreign distribution and pre-sales; all victory deadlines must be met.

It can get so quiet, with or without the dead watching our constant deployments. From our tilted promontory we may see one last woman scuffle away across cracked parchment of dry wash beneath us, muttering to herself—or is she singing at us?—as she rounds the sheared granite face and disappears into a grove of spindly, trembling tamarisk shadows lining the main road. We’ll soon hear little other than our breathing, as shale cools and bats rise to feed, taking over from sated swallows. Night anywhere is home, darkness a cue for turning inward, quiet an invitation to review our expensive successes before morning extraction from the twin rivers of our common cradle.


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