Fragments of history
Put together out of memories
Acquired from other people, to create
A potent empire with a wealth of words
From which, perhaps, we can start to understand
The present; and ease the birthpangs of the future....


In the beginning, water
Flowed in and out, above all and below all
Moving through our bodies like a draught
And we existed there, noiseless

And at last we found the land
Perilous, making us heavy, dry and dangerous
Admitting of no quick escape

And we mastered it
Agilely striding
We grew to great size
We were extended, we flew up to trees

And then we changed again
Out of the mole, out of the depths of the ground
We wormed, quickly thinking, feeling warmly
Furry bodies, aware of smells

Until again our ancestors stalked the earth
Trumpeting proudly, trunks carried high
But we were in the trees, considering them
And we threw a coconut to each other
And idly discussed the gossip of the trees
And then we came down

On the unfamiliar ground
Slow, unsteady, sight obscured by obstacles
Smelt and unsmelling, life was hard
Until at last we became men
And now we have killed all the others.


Dark are the signs of it, the land that was.
A few stones here, a few bones, a psychosis
In a sterilised room: but it is there
Underneath the paraphenalia and paralysis
Of how we live, it remains: the life that was.
And somewhere in our minds, we still go on living
The life we lived for nearly a million years
Before a strange social mutation struck us
And sent us scampering headlong into the present.


I remember the beginning of the kingdom
When the first of us stumbled on the valley
And realized what we had found
A natural fortress, fertile and protected
From enemies and harsh winds: here we settled
And the corn grew deep on our new ground
And our families expanded: I remember how
We poured down out of the valley in the night
And took possession of our neighbours' wives
And made their children till the fathers' ground
For us, and our children; I remember how we waged
War successfully on the proud and unbeaten
Monarch of the whole neighbouring plain
And suddenly, power and riches were in our hands
How we ruled wisely and peacefully
Despite poison and bloodshed among ourselves
And our temple grew higher and higher
Each storey devoted to a new victory
And our god absorbed the blood of countless sacrifices
And our sons enjoyed the duties and pleasures of kingship

I have been among our streets at night
And heard the traders from many different countries
And the sound of an ox-wagon, and the curse of a slave
We shall not always have this glory
It will be broken when the invaders come over the hill
And they will set our palaces and towers on fire, and carry off our women
And swear that another city shall never stand on the spot
Which when we first came, seemed so new and green....


When men first lived in cities
Piling up the unfamiliar baked clay pieces
Or stone, into a vault, a pyramid
Or a cloister, they were haunted perpetually
By the fear that what had come would be taken away
And each night the priests watched the stars
Wondering if another day would be allowed.

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