The Enemy

We waited for the enemy.

In our homes of earth and loose brick, we waited.  We took it in turns to trample through the powdery dust, to push ourselves against the wall and peer out of our city.  What we saw was clearly divided between flat plain earth and clear blue sky.  No room for enemies.  But still we waited; our friends and our women and our sons and our daughters waited.  Children who were too young to understand could still understand waiting.  We did not know how long we would have to wait.  We did not know when the enemy would arrive.  And so while we waited we prepared for his arrival.

When I was a boy, I watched the pastor dig graves.  He dug the graves himself because there was no gravedigger.  The gravedigger was dead.  We had a gravedigger when the enemy was coming, but still our neighbours dug and our friends dug and our children dug and I dug.  We weren’t digging graves.  Trenches, places to hide, although when we lay in the earth the steam coming from our breaths would surely give us away.  Only the dead hide underground.

And we moved.  The enemy moved us.

A great tide of people, we swept through the city.  Collecting things as we went.  Prams.  Telephones.  Books loaded onto a horse-drawn cart.  Bedding materials.  An armchair.  Thousands of people and items, mothers and babies and young girls.  A man carrying a cello.  We flowed in a single direction.  Somebody told us that the train station would be safe.  The long building that had once echoed with the mechanical, throbbing sound of trains became a people place.  A safe place, people thought, and their thoughts made it safe.  When every dusty corner was filled, when there was no room to stand or sit, when our women and our children had forgotten the comfort of their homes, only the men remained in the city.  And the city became hollow.

With no light, our city stopped being a city.  It was a cluster of shapes, a scattering of buildings barely rising up to prick the moon in the night sky.  We ceased to be citizens.  We slept outside our homes, with the night sky as our only roof, too afraid to light a fire and watch the darkness scurry away.  Like nomads, tribes in the desert or the hills, we lived outside our city.  And when we took the night watch we became rats, darting and scuttling over the cold stones on which we had lived out our lives.

Echoing voices stopped me and turned me around and cocked the gun in my hand and placed by eye at the sight.  Silence made me human again.  We worked without a sound.  Women had filled our work with song, children with laughter and now, without them, we were mechanical hands and feet.  We placed sandbags like corpses and turned our paddock fences into barricades.  We trembled as we walked, with one eye kept steadily on the boundary.  Waiting for the enemy.

We waited at night, we waited in the afternoon, while we ate our meals, while we slept.  In no action of ours was the waiting absent.  When we visited our families at the train station they asked us if we had seen the enemy yet.  They were waiting, too.

We never took our busy hands for granted.  We hammered and strengthened and bolted and nailed and hid and slept in places where no-one could find us.  Until there was nothing left to do but sleep.  And wait.

The war came from far away.  Drum beats and choruses of men awoke us from our sleep.  But when we woke, we realised that they were not drum beats, but bullets, not choruses, but shouted orders.  We peered out at the flat plain earth in front of us and there was no emptiness.  The earth was full, its horizon interrupted, a sack full of rice about to burst at the seams.  The people crawled like ants, the tanks like cockroaches.  And we lay pressed into the ground, waiting for them as they made their way slowly towards us.  We listened to the noise they made, and we were silent.  Our women and children were silent.  No sound existed in our city.  We barely existed.

We watched the enemy come.  They came slowly.  Great silver airplanes flew above them and dropped their loads on the tanks, on the people, like fiery seeds falling from a farmer’s hand.  Our enemy’s enemy was surely our friend, we thought.  But we could not be sure.  At night, from the battlefield, wolf-whistle sirens called like children caught in a nightmare.  We dreamed to this symphony of sirens and shots.  We imagined them burning our churches and our children, the snap of gunfire in our alleyways, the rivers of smoke and the shadows in streets.  When we woke we watched the fire consume everything, great bombs exploding, their flames unfolding like petals on a rose.  We watched and we watched and still they came but they did not arrive.  We were ready, our weapons in our hands, our shelters built, our barricades impenetrable, our nerves set. We waited until we thought the enemy would never come.

But one day he was there.  That day, the battlefield was silent, no children cried, no gunfire broke, no whispers, no words.  We looked about at one another wondering if the world still existed.  No words came from our mouths.  Nobody dared break the glass stillness, as if a broken surface would unleash a torrent to wash us away.

When noise came, every person heard it.  Scrabbling, like paws on ice, like boots on loose earth.  A man climbed our walls, our impenetrable barricade.  His hands grasped the ledge and we knew he was real.  He lifted himself up on shuddering arms and for the first time we saw the blood-streaked and dust-choked face of our enemy.  He did not look at us, but looked behind us and through us at something we could not perceive.  He reached up and stood tall, stood tall on top of our barricade.  And a long sound rolled off his tongue in a language foreign to us.  Then he advanced.  The enemy crouched and we readied our guns, he jumped down and our eyes found the sights, his boots hit the loose earth and we shot him down.  His corpse hit the wall and fell, bent and twisted, to the ground.  A bloody patchwork, a poorly-made human.  And we lowered our guns and stood, our weapons at our feet.  We stood for a very long time.  We waited and the enemy did not move again.  We left him there and we took our women and our children and we left that place.  We left the city and the battleground where grounded tanks festered like flies on a windowsill and orphans played in the empty skeletons of aircraft.  We left and found another place.  A new place, an impenetrable city where there was no waiting to be done.  A city that was full and alive with sound and people.  A living city to replace the dead one left behind.

BELOW: inspiration for this piece came from watching a documentary in history class a year ago about the Battle of Stalingrad.  Then it changed completely.  Feast your eyes.


The Search

A poem I wrote for my English creative assignment.  Had to be 500-600 words, so it’s pretty long.

I

This place of birth, of origin safe

Of blanket arms and dark,

Breathing embrace,

Is torn apart.

The roof is ripped off,

The foundations ablaze,

The timbers fall and crash.

It is gone.

 

This land was once

A haven warmed by the sun

But now it is a furnace.

Escape is not

A choice,

But a necessity.

 

Go now,

Do not look back.

Push through the hordes of people

That cry and stink and consume,

Stumble through the maze of stony plains

And run past the bullets,

Seeking swiftly their target.

 

Do not be daunted by the mountain tall,

The valley deep,

The clouds that scowl a warning.

Disregard fatigue and pain and mortality,

For they are not important.

 

Go now,

Do not allow borders to detain you.

And if you see what you cannot find

Here and now,

You will eventually find

Safety.

 

II

Stay now, for a while,

In this country vibrant and

Full of life.

This is a place of chamge,

You will find,

With different gods and tongues and

Where weapons are mercifully scarce.

Though they will stare,

As all men do,

If you lower your eyes to the ground,

Soon you will be invisible.

 

But do not permit yourself

Infatuation

Nor too much comfort.

In this place still,

Children cry like

Baby birds with open mouths

To catch a wriggling worm.

 

Sadness can still be found

Within the spiced air

Of this nation.

 

Do not settle

But move on.

 

III

Stop here,

But for a while –

Although the streets reek

And the red flag snaps taught

On the flagpole.

Where the crowds swarm

And bite and scratch

They will not find you

Yet.

 

Where the wind current

Whips at your face and

Tears at your hair,

Where the birds fly up

In tumultuous panic,

Where the walls have

Eyes and ears.

You may look but never stay.

 

Where the eerie music

And the rhythmic movement

Moves you deep within your chest,

Where the pungent food meets your lips –

This, surely, is safe.

You smile.

 

But someone

(A sentinel)

Watches with a frown.

 

You must know now

That this place is not

Safety.

There is something hidden

In these walled cities,

And only when the right questions are asked

Will it bare its teeth.

 

Behind this border,

We have stopped now

But not arrived.

 

IV

Stop here for a while.

Rest your calloused feet

On this bed of steamy jungle.

The frogs sing their songs all the same,

They are not disturbed by you.

The tiger slinks by –

A moving shape of

Disembodied stripes –

It is only curious and shall not harm.

 

But even this jungle has eyes.

 

And soon you will not see

Its greenery,

Smell the damp, mossy scent,

And the limber trunks will be

Replaced by bars.

 

It is all too clear now –

Only the animals will

Welcome you here.

 

V

Go now,

Cast your eyes upon this

Old, ancient map.

There are places many,

Space for every person to live.

 

But you are different.

 

To be a person,

Must you have a home?

If so,

Then you are not a person.

You must travel

With your house upon your back,

And the weighty burden that comes

With having no country.

 

Statesmen will frown and

Shake their heads,

Men will

Turn their backs,

But only you will know the

Weight of that burden you bear.

 

This place of hostility,

This world of competition

Is no place for a human being.

 

I wrote this based on refugees.  Tell me what you think of the style.