I hear them gearing up for battle –
old war-horses brought back
to drill us with intemperate speech.
Mothers and fathers, wives and children
urged on to crowd the roadsides and cheer.
We’re here again, but this time,
mourning. Our cries break amid the traffic,
warn raw recruits to question their orders,
ask them to consider where they’re going.
‘We joined young when our numbers came up.
We man the frontier wherever that might be.
And now the old men are sending us out again.
You will soon be tying yellow ribbons on trees.
We’re either in their jails or at their wars
Leaving everything to our women.’
Imperial dreams are revived in secret
while weeds grow in the centre of the city
and basic needs of many remain unmet.
We ask for security in our own country
but the young are sent to foreign lands
where blood disappears in the sand.
Reporters ask us gently
if we’ve recovered from the storm.
Have we repossessed our own houses?
Have our neighbours returned?
What do immigrant households face
when clerks are free to discriminate?
None of our friends evaded taxes;
but none of them are allowed to vote.
Bodies drowned on desperate journeys
lie unclaimed along the shores of nearby seas.
Under grey skies we join the voices of hungry ghosts.
based on Tu Fu’s Song of the War-Carts