i. The anthropologist
Their land was barren of all habitation,
their tribal structure hard to understand
and useless to the business of a nation.
He gasped and saw a dead thing in his hand.
He asked the natives what they called each creature.
Their gods refused to answer to a name,
but linguists said the language had a feature—
the words for different sex acts were the same.
The missionaries soon were past all caring
and fell to worship of a giant stone.
What chiefs remained were naked and despairing.
What did they want? Their wishes were unknown.
It could be said that they excelled in swearing
and like us wanted to be left alone.

ii. The malady
There was an emptiness of sea and sky,
a barren outlook from deserted peaks.
Call out a name, and there was no reply.
The letters had been postage-due for weeks.
Each family saw a cast of strangers there,
each marriage had grown stale with gelid lust.
The women wondered how to fix their hair,
the men pulled out their wallets and found rust.
Nothing was certain when the bill came due.
Even the tides did not run true to form.
When death had been delayed a year or two,
in their cold mirrors lovers found a norm.
Why would a people so entranced with looks
console themselves by burning all their books?

iii. The phony war
Some weeks had passed. The lust for war had faded.
Cows were now pastured beneath disputed oaks.
In dangerous woods, fresh-planted vines invaded
graves whose mere rumor was declared a hoax.
The politicians drank a dry champagne
from icy sideboards ruled by flocks of swans.
Perched on a soapbox, the veteran complained
about the crossing of the Rubicon.
A general beleaguered by his debts
ordered a new battalion on patrol.
The cold accountant in his rifle hole
counted out a store of cigarettes.
A dreaming cannon shifted in repose.
On the great bourse, the price of bellies rose.

 

This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 22 Number 5, on page 36
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