This is the news –
Not to be confused with reality,
But rather some sci-fi blockbuster or nightmare flick
Before the hero puts it all to rights,
Two dreadful flights into two uprights,
Pillars of Mammon, alters for the dead to die on.
A coffin, shaped with wings,
Crashed into an office where the receptionist was instantly vapourised,
And the fireball that took off her eyelashes before peeling away her face
Was part of a giant conspiracy to start World War Three,
Or maybe direct attention from a failing economy,
Or perhaps put a pipeline across Afghanistan with the sole purpose of pumping out liquid gold.
Still, conspiracies as they go are never as strange as real life,
And whilst we mock those waiting for the Truth to emerge we quite forget that our Truth,
Though in front of our noses,
Will never be seen, usually because it’s terribly obscene –
There: let’s say it, that 2000 gone is nothing compared to millions dead
Snuffed out by wars, disease and starvation,
Whose sole monuments to life will be patchy graves in the middle of desolation,
Whose only hopes lay in a cynical world’s exploitation of them either as sweat-shop labour
Or as the recipient of that ultimate degradation,
Let’s say it again, now, blazon it on high, that the price for all our wealth
And our rich world’s grief
Are millions who anonymously die,
And that we, who beat our chests and cry know NOTHING of the real end of dreams,
Because at least our dreams have a beginning –
Whilst those who live in permanent grey
Can only see the world from day to day
As one drab scene through which they trudge,
At the bottom end of the feeding chain,
The life of the eternal drudge …
Of course, we’ve tried! – but tried what ?
Tried to be shot of nagging guilt, with monuments we have built to our generosity
Revealed as shams,
A World Bank, a United Nations,
Gravy train meetings at frequent stations
Of the already portly
Caught on camera and shortly to be shown on Crime Watch U.K (if only),
Their cover blown,
A criminal fraternity spending eternity going from table to table
Discussing the problems of the poor
Whilst the poor scream of death at the door.
This, you see, is the flaw – that no one actually really CARES
(Until two aeroplanes catch us unawares).
Poverty, then, is just a fleeting camera shot,
A gasp of despair,
Caught and turned in empty mid-air
That fill our high-res screens
For a moment – no more –
Before we switch to something important,
Snow on the line,
The price of beer,
The style of some celebrity’s hair.
Really, you couldn’t make it up, it’s so unfair –
The giant maw of the West devours all that’s best
And spews out lies
How it’s ‘Market forces’ and ‘All have choices’,
‘Capitalism works’, ‘Equal voices’,
And all have a chance to be Big Bosses
(Privatised gains, socialised losses),
And if your nation’s on its knees
It’s all YOUR fault (if you please!)
For somehow failing to play the game
In a market regulated (so insane)
By those with power but no morality,
Stealing your wealth, returning charity.
No connection, then, between the burning towers
And the lives and hopes that the West devours.
None at all.
Democracies undermined, dictators supported,
Lives impoverished, wealth exported:
How can cause lead to deadly effect,
Religion the tool by which power is checked?
‘Hatred!’ we scream, closing our eyes,
Not seeing that OUR hatred has caused this surprise.
The answer’s simple:
We start to love,
As I’m sure a God above
Compassion beats bombs any day –
As does a willingness to pray.
God, give us wisdom and insight,
And help us head towards the light.
Written shortly after 9/11
What caused 9/11? Beyond the actions of a few determined men (and how many of us would die for our beliefs?) what were the real root causes? Poverty? Warped Western foreign policies that supported dictatorships for short-term power and resource gains?
I’ve been asked a couple of times about the context of this poem.
Here in the UK there’s been deep anti-American sentiment for a long time. We were once an empire and now we’re seeing a reflection of all the mistakes that we made (and are still making). Americans as individuals are nice but their foreign policies and attitudes towards the world are as messed-up as ours.
When the towers went down it seemed that every website on the planet focussed on the grief of the few thousand who died, ignoring the ongoing tragedies of millions of lives screwed up by Western policies – one-sided trade agreements, undermining of democracies that we disapproved of (South America), support for dictatorships and puppet governments that served OUR ends (Saddam Hussein, Saudi Arabia, Syria – search for lists on the internet) and the sucking out of resources (oil, minerals, lumber) leaving destruction and chaos behind.
There were also plenty of maudlin, self-pitying poems extolling this viewpoint. Since pointing out the brutal reality of cause and effect simply wasn’t possible at the time (there was essentially mob-rule or group-think on the internet) I wrote my own poem and put it on the web a year or two later. It was roundly ignored for many, many years.
Now a few people think that it says something.
You might like to know that this was written in the style of Simon Armitage. 🙂 Quite a nice style to try to copy.