Roads

Some people can see the path laid out, smooth,
paved with marble lobbies and licorice sex.
Even better if someone has already laid it out for them.

Me, sometimes I only see streets
with well-manicured flowerbed roundabouts,
and those same self-satisfied birds that wait at the verge
for the man with the fabulous toupee to come,
throw them scraps of stale bread.

I’ve heard that there are radiant highways
that lead away from the sea,
that immense end to all our conversations.
Turn your back on it, go up,

up toward the smiling towers, the places with lawns
where there are no more thought terrorists,
where corn on the cob aprons smother impotent fear,
where there’s a pill for every night-intruder.

I’ve heard that in those places nothing can blow your mind.
If that’s the case, I’ll take the next exit south, back to the beach.
There, the foam is taking pains,
is deconstructing parades of plastic animals,
and paring flawless wives to their bones.

There, the sea, with a single thunder of salt,
carries off the porcelain and the closets and the perfected hedges,
and I watch them all sailing by in pools with grey-green kelp
and bright little crabs that think of nothing at all.
And I feel calm and collected,
and I know where all the roads eventually lead.

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Gallipoli 2015

Three thousand dead on the fingertip of a dry old empire,
and they were just a drop of blood for the larger conflagration,
in which they now lie embalmed.
If it was a senseless war, universally agreed,
the bloom of Europe snuffed by a red frost,
then how much more indefensible
the loss of these young lives of a young world
ten thousand miles away?

What did they die for?
Tell me the return on their fields of flesh.
A doomed and arrogant empire, a generation without death?
Or was it simply war for war’s sake?
Very modern,
that love for a colonial boy’s adventure,
and uniforms for smitten girls, and the brotherhood of mud,
and the arousal of violence, let’s not forget that.
So, was it just one big glorified blood sport?
The World Cup on steroids and ten storey high guns,
a way of sorting out the wusses from the men.

Except, the men and the wusses all lie in the same stiff holes.
How can you tell the one from the other now?
What have we learned after going two rounds
in that bloody century of our brave new world?
As we remember one hundred years on, lest we forget,
a sickly tone of glory sneaks home.

We paint the glorious dead larger than life
in both their virtues and their sins,
colossus that now looms over our fraught tomorrow.
Imposing monuments, the blare of trumpets,
the fanfare and parades of the shell-shocked dead
hide a more prosaic truth;
we really don’t know why they went,
but we cannot tell them that.

I fear the nightmares of the past
still lurk in the cupboards of all nations,
dusty empires still stalk the crowded continents,
and there’s still a quick buck to be had in the cynical grab
for the spoils of the afflicted masses.
Everybody jostling on a shrinking stage,
lighting powder kegs for hot Julys.

And if it does blow up in our faces once more,
will we go off happily to other people’s wars as we did then,
bristling for the good fight, as loud in our certainty
that it will all turn out for the best?

At the exhibition on “our boys” at Gallipoli,
fathers point to the soldier mannequins,
all with faces like star rugby players, unreal athletes of a great game,
that any Sanitarium kid could one day hope to play.