Invaders

I

 

They left that old land

hoping the sea spray

would wash away its gray memory

and its hatreds.

 

But the worst was to come,

deep in the dripping caverns

of those ships full of England’s castaways,

who coughed up cholera

and dead infants,

offal for the

green wastes of the sea.

 

And those interminable months

in the thick, wet air of that womb

waiting to be born,

what could they do?

Learn to read, learn to write,

a name, a catechism,

learn how to build cities?

 

Dreams could expand like lice

in those holes,

honey from the new land

would ooze in their ears.

While the dying poured into buckets,

their dreams grew hard and dark

in the stomach,

fanatics multiplied, intoned,

it is an empty land,

a promised land.

 

II

 

When at last

the choked exiles arrived,

disappointment fell like an anchor,

the ship was a gangway

aimed at a land

as untaught as the sea,

a slow lizard

dripping its own grayness,

 

and the settlers could only

huddle and dig sodden gardens

and starve through wet years

while the forests constantly leaked

and the rivers fell from their beds,

drowning their delusions.

 

But they had their hard dreams,

their grim books

that afflicted them like dropsy,

and with blunt tools

they built new Shropshires,

poorer ones that often caved in,

they grafted familiar

sounds and scents

onto the alien soil.

 

And at night they cowered

in their wattle kingdom,

clutching useless muskets,

as the native land closed in

brandishing its own weapons,

carrying its own unbreakable treaty.

 

III

 

By the time the first children

grew up, they were already strangers,

arrogant, rough, more certain,

 

the new land plundered everything

the parents poured into it

and returned nothing familiar.

Some dreamed of reverse journeys,

of second exiles.

 

And when it came time

for the vigorous, young colony

to celebrate its aged pioneers

it was hard to know

who these foreigners were,

the relics of a defeated, grey country,

who seemed, to the youngsters,

like strange invaders.

 

Copyright Ricky Barrow 2014

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