By Christopher Bernard
“Who needs atheists?” he said. “ ‘We
do not believe in God’? Well, I
don’t b’lieve in your blessed humanity.
The sooner humans are wiped out,
the sooner the rest of us can rot
I was intrigued, if startled. Cool,
he looked, rational, serene.
He smiled wanly. But it was no joke
to him, I could see. Nor did he preen
himself on his intellect or heart,
his courage to face the monstrous worst.
“We are, to put it bluntly,
the condign damnable Nazis of the earth,
her Kozentrationlagers’ kommandants,
her curse.” He looked grimly
around at the rumpled bustling street.
“And so you think we’ll have to go?”
I asked tentatively. “Oh yes,
there’s no other way.” “But who will be
our executioners?” “Alas,
there’s the rub: it can only be
us! We’ll do it soon enough,
Except we’ll take too much of life
along with us on the final ride,
like the last of the great Assyrian kings,
you know, Sardanapalus …
there’s a story about him. You know it? ” “Not
really, no.” “When he died,
he had all of his courtiers killed
and buried with him. He didn’t want
to go alone. His tomb was filled
with shrieking concubines, his dogs,
his favorites.” He heaved a sigh.
“We’re doing something very like. We were
one hell of an evolutionary mistake!
Nature is cursing the monkey for,
in a tryst of thoughtless simian dalliance,
mutating into Homo sapiens sapiens!”
He snorted a dry laugh. I stopped listening.
The rain had started. The bus shelter filled
with little shoppers. Their black umbrellas were glistening.
The faces were worn, worried, blank,
irritated. Just getting through Monday
without disaster – a roof, nice dinner,
a kiss, a hug, a warm bed – was enough for one day.
An old lady hobbled by. A middle-aged man
stared hard into the drizzle. A young mother
dandled a puzzled-looking baby. A teen
made a selfie and posted it immediately on Facebook.
These were the predators of the earth,
these were the conquistadors
of nature, mass murderers, barbarians.
I shook my head. The rain fell steadily.
My brain was tickled by an old jingle
as we all waited for the Geary bus
(he had stopped talking; the rain
ran down his ageing face
like ignored tears)
to take us home before the night
got too cold and wet and dark:
“In their frailty is their power,
in their power is their woe,
if they but knew, if they would know.
Created in a passing hour,
lightly press the world beneath you
like a dance, then lightly go.”
The bus grunted to a stop, the doors fell open.
Christopher Bernard is author of The Rose Shipwreck: Poems and Photographs and is co-editor and poetry editor of Caveat Lector. His poems can be read online at The Bog of St. Philinte.