Considerati si questo è un uomo / Che lavoro nel fango / Che non conosce pace /
Che lotta por mezzo pane / Che muore per un sì o per un no. – Primo Levi
Always with us, the one-way-my-way men
and those who live or die by yes or no.
Always with us, the banal legions who dance
with the jailer in victim-complicit rituals,
crack a whip, stalk, stake, and stoke,
while Spartacus, Primo Levi, Madiba, Ghandi,
bore pain as a habit.
Sometimes with us, the grey zone hiding place –
where ambiguity, equivocation, apathy lie;
honour, duty, empathy lie low –
a brave retreat for the powerless, for the time being
holding on in circles, whose circles move, regrouping,
silent seeking where the victors forgot;
knowing that knowing is not enough.
Fleeing the city to sup with past heroes
is not enough, for that place has been rezoned.
Praying to be spared is not enough. Proof is not enough
to halt the endless line of chameleon leaders,
who make maps not territories,
are too few to hold all women
within their diktats, all men to follow.
Secret recitations by the Anna Akhmatovas,
the small histories of the Rosa Parks, subvert
the chaos of victors, lictors and victims with infinite play;
not zoning out, not playing at, always putting into play to keep playing,
in a place that has been banished. For the time being
a tactic of retreat, but indifference to the dead heart of power
makes poetry and citizens where the lictors and victors forgot.