Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Waiting for the Barbarians—21st Century Update

NOTE: This is not an original work by me, but it is an homage to the work of the modern Greek poet C.P. Cavafy. This monumental poem of his is about society and politics. Current events called this poem to my mind, and made me reconsider it in a new light. If you exchange the word terrorist for the original word barbarian, there is almost a direct parallel. I have made further tweaks, to make the poem modern--the opposite of Cavafy’s, which was set to reflect an ancient time. The word fear does not show up in the original or in this refiguring, but fear is the undercurrent that rocks this poem.


                                           Waiting for the Terrorists

What are we waiting for, glued to our iPhones,
                       Twitter feeds and social media?

      The terrorists are due here today.

Why isn’t anything going on in the senate?
Why are the senators sitting there not legislating?

      Because the terrorists are coming today.
      What’s the point of senators making laws now?
      Once the terrorists are here, things will be too chaotic to legislate.

Why did our president get up so early,
and why is he sitting in the oval office,
ready to make a statement?

      Because the terrorists are supposed to be coming
      and the president has been waiting to receive their leader.
      He’s even got a document to give him,
      loaded with criminal charges.

Why have our generals come out today
Wearing their uniforms and armed with loaded guns?

      Because the terrorists are coming today.
      [The order is “shoot to kill”;
                 there will be no trial.]

Why isn’t anyone telling us what is going on?
Where are the reporters of the news media?

      The terrorists are coming today!

Why this sudden triumphant joy, this confusion?
(How joyful people’s faces have become!)
Why are the streets and squares filling so rapidly,
With everyone going home chanting slogans and yelling epithets?

      Because night has fallen and the terrorists have been murdered by our military.
      And some of our men just in from the farthest borders claim,
      Along with the government, that there are no terrorists any longer.

Now what’s going to happen to us without terrorists?
For our government, terrorists were a kind of solution.


Source of the original version of this poem:
C.P. Cavafy: Collected Poems 
Translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard Translation Copyright © 1975, 1992 by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard (Princeton University Press, 1975)

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