The Sirens of September


I first saw her the week the war began.
She appeared before me as a dream made flesh
like the calm at the heart of a hurricane.
When our eyes met I was kissed by a ghost.
I’ve been haunted ever since, and so lucky.
Others were sent out who’d seen their friends
split into pieces in the line of fire –
a subservient and bolstered soldiery
answering tyranny with tyranny,
coerced into battles not their own;
the villages of innocent civilians
who died in vain. All too easy to forget
that they were real people, people like us,
with dreams like ours and families like our own.

Our newspapers and television screens
became the manipulated media
of fabricated facts, which only goes to show
our history is defined by what we’re told.
Beneath a rhetorical smokescreen, between
discretion and tact, there originated
a shifting political lexicon in which
we ‘crusaded’ against the ‘axis of evil’;
in which ‘liberation’ meant invasion
and ‘collateral damage’ – dead civilians.
Words themselves suffered in that war.
And then
amid proclamations of righteous warfare
she appeared: her sandy hair gathered back,
the white blouse unbuttoned at the throat, the keen
and vital eyes; that honed and supple skin
like elegant ivory undefiled.
In my mind her appearance somehow pacified
the sandblasts and advancing tanks, the ripped flags
and smashed statues. What anodyne?
What composure of incomprehensible cries?

I whimsically, foolishly believed
that by embracing we could embrace the world,
that we could bridge the rift in creeds and nations
in the faithful communion of a kiss.
But we never properly met, and I don’t know where
to find her. I think of her now almost
as a mathematical problem whose
solution eludes me.

The war went on,
despite huge public protest. Democracy, then,
is a lie – an abstract freedom of speech
futile amid the smoke of explosions,
as helpless to negate an act of evil
as to secure the balms of earthly peace;
but we ruthlessly instilled its sterile dream
into cultures older than our own, that
never held it part of their tradition.

As for me, I continued to think of her
as immune to indoctrinated enmity.
My unsuspecting heart made its dumb prayer
that went heavenward but didn’t find her there,
and so returned to earth to place in me
this deep regret, this wound that has no scar.
The war was real; our freedom and our love
both illusions. But then, the best things are.