Sometimes, through no fault of its own, a neighbourhood picks up a bad reputation. If you happen to visit it on a singularly uneventful day, you will find it roofed with a blue sky, and dark-green pines and bamboo stooping to kiss its dusty road. And although it is true that love was made in all its wintry houses and its dead have been buried in its unruffled graveyard, you would never guess how it earned such a vague hatred from outsiders. Perhaps one night, acting on a tip-off, a party of nervous paramilitary men shot a couple of teenage militants to rags at the gate of one of its unfortunate houses. What is truly ironic is the fact that the revolutionaries do not hail from this neighbourhood, they merely happened to be there during an ill-timed party. It is also entirely possible that a few men and women desperate to find witches and warlocks in an increasingly faithless age, forged themselves into medieval instruments and burnt down a house, which looked a little eerie in the moonlight, and killed a strange old man and his wife.
It has been called names–a hideout, for instance. They say the scars on its walls are bullet marks really. You would be advised not to court its women because the area grows dangerous after sunset. But such neighbourhoods continue to grow as if nurtured by misgiving.
First came the scream of the dying
in a bad dream, then the radio report,
and a newspaper: six shot dead, twenty-five
houses razed, sixteen beheaded with hands tied
behind their backs inside a church…
As the days crumbled, and the victors
and their victims grew in number,
I hardened inside my thickening hide,
until I lost my tenuous humanity.
I ceased thinking
of abandoned children inside blazing huts
still waiting for their parents.
If they remembered their grandmother’s tales
of many winter hearths at the hour
of sleeping death, I didn’t want to know,
if they ever learnt the magic of letters.
And the women heavy with seed,
their soft bodies mowed down
like grain stalk during their lyric harvests;
if they wore wildflowers in their hair
while they waited for their men,
I didn’t care anymore.
I burnt my truth with them,
and buried uneasy manhood with them.
I did mutter, on some far-off day:
‘There are limits,’ but when the days
absolved the butchers, I continue to live
as if nothing happened.
No more telltale signs of the war’s touch
on these forests of October,
the gouged earth manicured into gardens.
I’m thinking the rescue of your hands,
the brown leaf of your eyes
covering the wounded ground.
Elsewhere, abandoning bereft lovers
heroes are marching off
to history’s drumbeats.