The Sideshow Annex


In rec.arts.sf.fandom, in a thread titled "now the CIA", Lucy Kemnitzer wrote:
I'm frightened: I think of my country's actions and positions in the world, and I wonder how long the rest of the world will put up with it. I do not want to be Carthage.
Ken MacLeod responded:

Two windows light the curtained room;
thro' one the summer air
infiltrates; thro' one we look
and see small portions of th' external world
in single vision multiplied, and we
who do not believe the lie, still
lie still and watch:
lie still and watch:'The chancellor today held urgent talks on the current crisis
with the patrician and plebian leaders
and owners of latifundia'
and owners of latifundia(one of whom
the other day had an insolent slave
hacked up and fed to ornamental carp).

'In the metropolis there is growing concern
as yet another outpost of empire falls
to the barbarians'
to the barbarians'(who learned their national epic
from photocopies of the ancient manuscripts,
and quote its lines as slogans on the broken walls
while the defenders of civilization must move their lips
to read the words in their comic-strips).

They who were with me in the gunships at Mylae
know there is a fate worse than death: decay.

As solar heat is focussed by a lens
your after-image burns on my retinae.
How long have we got until the world ends?
You answer me in lunar months
unlucky fractions of years.

Conscripting this unborn draft-evader
to the defence of an order worse
than the worst disorder
is loyalty misplaced.
You fell on that sword
for an earlier Republic. On the telescreen
the veteran senator concludes his speech:
'Delenda est Carthago'. In the round
black mirror in the middle of your eye
only my troubled face reflects, as from
the remembered fishponds of a previous death.

Lucy Kemnitzer added:
There is no comfort here.
I read of the deeds of honorable men and women
whose tribes were foul, and the good that they did
while retaining allegiance to their tribes.
There is no comfort there.

A ruined city of stone lies -- within the teeming city,
its arenas the destination of schoolchildren: or
stepped on the steps of the mountain, the home
of insects and weeds.

This stone was calcinated and slaked and mixed
and spread over stone, smooth, shining, white
and gaudy colors. On one continent, and the others,
and bones, too, calcinated, to the glory of some nation
or another, now asunder, and the words to their songs
sung only as an exercise. But it's not the passing
that's frightening me. It's the passage.

Death is the given: decay is our birthright. We
all become compost.
Or not: some of us become ash, we become vapor,
we become as never were, and we feed no worms
and we feed no penetrating roots.

Roads built, and the slaves that built them, to carry
armies out and their bodies and their booty in, the roads last
beyond the armies that oversaw their building. From satellites
you can see them, green scars in the green, in the rainforest.
There is no comfort there.

Under here there are skulls.
Here is a man whose job it is to count
and measure them. He reads these bones.
Another, who reads the stones, and the plaster,
the calcinated stone and bone, that lies on them thick and white.
They tell me stories of what happened here.
There is no comfort there.

On this white wall there is written a name,
in glyphs unreadable except by the iniated.
"Remember my name and your name will be remembered."
On that other dark wall there are carved names of thousands
who died to defend, to defend, to defend,
I cannot say it, it reads "Freedom," and I cannot say it
because there is no comfort in lies.

Nor, here and now, is there comfort in truth.
Comfort is gone: it vaporized, it vanished, it
dissolved as all hallucinations do.

Where in all history is there an empire
gently turning away from conquest, kindly turning
its reins to wreaths, laying itself down in the dust,
freeing its slaves and its prisoners of its own accord?
And accordingly its freedmen gently taking their freedom,
kindly covering themselves with wreaths of olive and laurel,
sweetly tilling the dust of their dead, and in accord
living out their lives, free and whole
and leaving all cruelty behind?

That's where I long to go, to that spot, where the belly of the
beast is not ripped and torn from within and without only
to give rough birth to only another beast.

But there is no comfort.
History is a terrible thing.

Niall McAuley followed:
I stand on a mound of bones.

The bones of soldiers, of butchered civilians,
the bones of slavers and slaves,
A scree of conquerors and conquered,
back to the time people first walked here.

But I am not any of them,
and I look upwards, to the stars.

And Lucy said:
I have one last word or so:

No elegant despair here,
but common terror:

I find no comfort
but here and there, a scrap, a scrap
of battered hope.

June 10-12 2002

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