…or should it be for the Muslims of the UN “safe haven” of Srebrenica?
‘Song of Those Who Died in Vain’
by Primo Levi
Sit down and bargain
All you like, grizzled old foxes.
We’ll wall you up in a splendid palace
With food, wine, good beds and a good fire
Provided that you discuss, negotiate
For our and your children’s lives.
May all the wisdom of the universe
Converge to bless your minds
And guide you in the maze.
But outside in the cold we will be waiting for you,
The army of those who died in vain,
We of the Marne, of Montecassino,
Treblinka, Dresden and Hiroshima.
And with us will be
The leprous and the people with trachoma,
The Disappeared Ones of Buenos Aires,
Dead Cambodians and dying Ethiopians,
The Prague negotiators,
The bled-dry of Calcutta
The innocents slaughtered in Bologna.
Heaven help you if you come out disagreeing:
You’ll be clutched tight in our embrace.
We are invincible because we are the conquered,
Invulnerable because already dead;
We laugh at your missiles.
Sit down and bargain
Until your tongues are dry.
If the havoc and the shame continue
We’ll drown you in our putrefaction.
‘A Disused Shed in County Wexford’
by Derek Mahon
Let them not forget us, the weak souls among the asphodels
Seferis — ‘Mythistorema’
For J.G. Farrell
Even now there are places where a thought might grow —
Peruvian mines, worked out and abandoned
To a slow clock of condensation,
An echo trapped forever, and a flutter
Of wildflowers in the lift-shaft,
Indian compounds where the wind dances
And a door bangs with diminished confidence,
Lime crevices behind rippling rainbarrels,
Dog corners for bone burials;
And a disused shed in Co. Wexford,
Deep in the grounds of a burnt-out hotel,
Among the bathtubs and the washbasins
A thousand mushrooms crowd to a keyhole.
This is the one star in their firmament
Or frames a star within a star.
What should they do there but desire?
So many days beyond the rhododendrons
With the world waltzing in its bowl of cloud,
They have learnt patience and silence
Listening to the rooks querulous in the high wood.
They have been waiting for us in a foetor
Of vegetable sweat since civil war days,
Since the gravel-crunching, interminable departure
of the expropriated mycologist.
He never came back, and light since then
Is a keyhole rusting gently after rain.
Spiders have spun, flies dusted to mildew
And once a day, perhaps, they have heard something —
A trickle of masonry, a shout from the blue
Or a lorry changing gear at the end of the lane.
There have been deaths, the pale flesh flaking
Into the earth that nourished it;
And nightmares, born of these and the grim
Dominion of stale air and rank moisture.
Those nearest the door growing strong —
‘Elbow room! Elbow room!’
The rest, dim in a twilight of crumbling
Utensils and broken flower-pots, groaning
For their deliverance, have been so long
Expectant that there is left only the posture.
A half century, without visitors, in the dark —
Poor preparation for the cracking lock
And creak of hinges. Magi, moonmen,
Powdery prisoners of the old regime,
Web-throated, stalked like triffids, racked by drought
And insomnia, only the ghost of a scream
At the flashbulb firing squad we wake them with
Shows there is life yet in their feverish forms.
Grown beyond nature now, soft food for worms,
They lift frail heads in gravity and good faith.
They are begging us, you see, in their wordless way,
To do something, to speak on their behalf
Or at least not to close the door again.
Lost people of Treblinka and Pompeii!
‘Save us, save us,’ they seem to say,
‘Let the god not abandon us
Who have come so far in darkness and in pain.
We too had our lives to live.
You with your light meter and relaxed itinerary,
Let not our naive labours have been in vain!’