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Friday, February 28, 2014


by Richard O'Connell

                 after Cavafy's "Waiting for the Barbarians"

Why are we waiting, desperate for information?
Because the terrorists will strike today.

Why has Congress adjourned and gone into hiding
and set up a secret shadow government?

Because the terrorists are on their way,
muffled, dressed like cut-rate dervishes,
and they'll abolish speeches and elections.

Why did our president evaporate
on a jet, spirited to a distant site,     
enthroned in a lead vault deep under ground?

Because the terrorists will strike today
and the President and his advisers must
survive to issue proclamations and appeals
for public calm and broadcast patriotic hymns
surrounded by bright panoplies of banners.

Why are so many generals on television   
parading their medals, beating the drum
for prophylactic war with loud boasts about 
our unprecedented military might? 
Why is the press in bed with mad Procrustes?
Why is criticism greeted with derision? 

Because the terrorists will strike today
and one person's patriotism is another's prison.

Why have our moral leaders disappeared?
Why have our laws and civil rights been trashed?

Because the terrorists are on the way
and death's their only concept of due process.

Why do we see nightmare in every face
we encounter?  Why can't we sleep?  Why are our cities
impoverished for the sake of imperial projects?
Why do we hide in our homes afraid to speak?

Night falls and the terrorists are still not here.
Rumors abound that they have been destroyed
by a virus they were carrying to envenom us.

Now what will become of us without the terrorists?
Those people were some sort of a solution.

Richard O'Connell lives in Deerfield Beach, Florida. Collections of his poetry include RetroWorlds, Simulations, Voyages, and The Bright Tower, all published by the University of Salzburg Press (now Poetry Salzburg). His poems have appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, National Review, The Paris Review, Margie, Measure, Hampden-Sydney Poetry Review, The Formalist, etc.