by Arthur Mortensen
A diplomat to pain, disaster’s doctor,
he soothed with elegance and rhetoric
the wounded pride of leaders who’d disgraced
the civilizing aim of multitudes.
They’d sworn allegiance to now bloody flags
and, trembling in the aftershock of bombs,
waited with sleepless, hollow eyes for words.
“Such faith in syllables,” the old man muttered,
bowing to show respect with none deserved,
a hollow gesture, some might say, a hat
turned in as if a dove might flutter out,
the grinning trickster reaching deep with hands
whose fingers never pulled a trigger, signed
a declaration starting war, or pointed
a prisoner along a path to death.
The old man took some comfort from the fact
that peace talks often failed. If they did not,
what use would human beings have for him,
the showman who could veil his sneered contempt
for either side in phraseology,
a table’s shape, a false but well-placed wish
for ruins made another week to be
rebuilt, bent steel re-smelted, broken brick
Demolished into dust to feed the oven
Which cooked new blocks to fit a builder’s plan?
“I wonder how real innocence comes back,
an empty faith reborn, a hope for peace?”
he asked. Silent, he took an outstretched hand,
trembling with new and wretched hope. It clasped,
its fingers knit with his, its owner not
remembering that the mirrors at Versailles
had not reflected anything but lies.