(Uttered from above a post-Apocalyptic ‘capital’)
It was the last can of Double-Dragon in the Universe,
and I sipped it only slowly so that I could savour
each and every drop – each single, golden, godly drop –
perched high upon the blackened carcass of the Stadium,
where below the rows of seats lay scorched, and the sacred turf
where winged feet had sped in generations gone was now bare earth
upthrusted to the sun, laid out down there as prehistoric fields were laid
in narrow strips, and tended by old men. They toiled laboriously below,
so many ants, watering with love their cabbages and beans.
The sticks lay broken and aslant, like long-forgotten monoliths,
athwart a much-crossed line no longer there.
Two of the four great pylons sagged their necks into the depths,
one day to collapse; a third lay dead across the shattered rows.
High up astride the fourth I looked upon it all, emotionless.
For it was nothing, now, nor had it truly been back in its day –
a glory-ridden, futile gesture in lieu of the missing spirit
of a ransacked people, trampled by their own lassitude and by
usurping locusts from the plain. My last libation – I held it up before me –
gleamed red and green in the fading shafts of sun.
They smiled sardonically, I thought, those beasts, as they beheld,
in all the four directions, the decay and spread of that once-lauded,
over-vaunted hub that was a capital to serve none other than itself,
its unused streets for miles and miles marked out anew by criss-cross,
intersecting lines of overgrowth. The trees were king at last.
Yet it was not all like this. From afar had trickled news that the death-rattle
had not sounded – that in the utmost west and in the central uplands
and the mountains of the north the beacons had been lit;
that the flame was still alive.
Defiantly, I stood. I hurled my two embracing beasts into the pit below.
The vessel sailed and clanged and ricochetted, and as it went it sang out
in a song that surged and fell and surged again like many thousand voices
echoing some lost but imperishable anthem that thrilled the air and caused
the labouring ants below to pause in their tasks and raise their heads,
as though, in syllables faintly known to them, they had heard this song before,
and strove to recover from its failing notes what it once had said to them.
And then – enough. I looked into the dying glow that was the west,
and to the boiling cloud-banks of the north. There I would go.
From ‘Journeys in Time”