Not much danger of that, she observed,
Unless you've made plans to rhyme with max
In near future, before I lose the sound.
As bad as those poets may be, parrot,
At least they own the grace to strive for heights,
And not, like some, look down bent beaks
On heaven's vast division, now stretched thin,
Just to croak out more useless abuse.
I made my way along the city streets,
Sidestepping the broken hypodermics,
Old cesspools, minefields, toxic dumps,
Engine parts, fallen wires, plastic cups,
Dismantled toy trains and dead pack mules.
Yes, you watched your footing in this city.
It would be so easy to slip and fall
On all the loose, spent ammunition
Or pools of motor oil and antifreeze
Or slick fig pits racoons shit out.
Seeds, said Marguerite. A fig has seeds.
These were Iraqi figs, a special strain
That figures mainly in raccon diet.
Iraqi racoons, I should pause to note,
Have grown ever bolder in recent years
And spend the nights roaming the city streets
To gather up garbage that humans leave,
Or toss aside or strew around in rage,
Out of some accidental compassion,
A solidarity with those who scavenge
That operates too deep beneath dream
For better informed wills to bring to heel.
Litter exists as a gift to raccons
Despite daylight law that wants them gone.
You see them all night long around here,
Dragging along filth-smeared plastic bags
To midnight banquets by River Tigris.
Their bands are not yet numerous enough
To qualify, like the locusts, as plague
And stir exterminators to take note,
To strap on tanks and go gas their burrows.
They're still just one minor nuisance,
Just one more symptom of worsened times,
Just one more sign of growing neglect.
This city's destruction is underway,
An ongoing doom that darkens your lights
Not by pulling the plug on entire grids,
But slowly, by spreading shade in increments.
It screws a few bulbs out of their sockets,
Waits a week, then unscrews a few more.
Godhead's work here already proceeds,
In customary fashion, day by day.
He plays his chess a hundred moves ahead,
A touch here, a well-placed kick there,
Destroying mighty Nineveh piecemeal.
I stopped here and there to address people,
But none could hear, because of all the noise
And because none were inclined to pay heed
And take attention away from tasks at hand
To hear compelling words from passing tramps.
They'd veer off sidewalks and step in mud
To make detour around the place I stood.
Not one stopped, and most hurried away
As if I were, indeed, apparition.
None saw need for any intercourse
With broken strangers who loom from doorways,
Omit small talk and just launch their pitch.
No Ninevite even met my eyes
Until I approached the Tigris embankment.
I know the place, she said. It's a real dump.
It's where the homeless camp out all night.
A gaunt and haggard figure garbed in rags
Approached me there and asked for spare change.
Ordinarily I would not have even paused;
The cash flow of the professional beggar,
In my experience, will exceed my own.
I stopped, however, struck by the demeanour,
The dignity and poise of the panhandler.
Or it may have been the twenty or so apes
That trailed behind him and bounced up and down
And gnawed on fruit that had seen better days.
Liber Jonae Contents