If one town goes down, we build again,
Raise another one in another place.
And when swarms set down on vacant lots
They make themselves the same nest each time,
The same chain outlets laid out the same
And stocked the same and even staffed the same.
They generate the same population,
The same drones that dream the same sad dreams
And drag behind the same greed-grinned grubs.
Rock idols, film stars and billionaires,
The same hero, the same comic book.
It's no wonder, having marked our habit,
That heaven so rarely varies its wrath.
But there's safety in numbers, said Marguerite.
It's better to mill around faceless in crowds
Than starve alone on some plot of your own,
The isolated farm your genes have staked.
Stacking bricks, you know, beats hoeing rows.
Most of the places I passed on that trip
No longer supported cultivation;
Despite the old fences, broken and slumped,
That still divided one farm from the next,
The waste had reclaimed Mesopotamia
And turned a fertile silt to salt desert,
A barren land stripped of once-lush growth.
And livestock too had grown scarce indeed,
Except for one scrawny, staggering goat
That eyed me like I might make it a meal,
The very way, in fact, I looked at it
Until I saw the froth that marked it mad,
And we both found excuse to back away,
I to go admire nice piles of rocks,
It to lie on its side, convulse, and nap.
Goat distemper, she said. Carried by mites.
I found some croplands as I drew near
To those areas where Assyrians dwelt,
A few scattered tracts of ancient tillage,
But even here the soil looked unhealthy.
All the irrigation ditches were dry,
And gusting winds threw up clouds of dust
To drift above idle threshing machines.
Nothing ever gladdened cornfields here,
Not anymore, not since God's drought
Had drained chlorophyll from this landscape.
The dutiful shoots had come up stunted,
Disconsolate, downcast, limp with thirst.
Billboards proclaimed products unobscured
By excess greenery or clumps of fruit;
All trees not yet fallen for firewood
Were bare, beetle-bitten and dry as bone.
Golf courses and subdivision lawns
Alone shone with any tint of colour
And gave any hint that Tigris water
Sill trickled through underground pipelines.
Horticulture was not my expertise,
But I'd guess this land had fallen victim
To God's supernatural handiwork
And needed that boost that a prophet brings
To make its way back from sickness to health.
You saw no locusts? asked Marguerite.
I've heard they'd eaten up the countryside.
Locusts? I saw lots, even caught one
With the thought that, shelled, it might make a meal.
I threw it back into its stubbled field
After I saw it lacked a hopping leg,
After it released a noxious green grease
That stained my hands, that stung, that stunk for weeks.
Maybe, she said, that locust was a sign.
Liber Jonae Contents