21st c. enlightenment blues
Rattling through the low hills
in the darkness and the endless endless rain
the train is overcrowded
because the train is overcrowded
because the train is always overcrowded
and the conductor’s now a manager
a voice we never see
mumbling something through the tannoy
about weather and delays.
We used to have seats
now we stand
and this is progress.
the airwaves are full beyond bursting
with reports of death death death
of young men gorged on bitterness and bullets
who want a world in their own image
who take Kalashnikovs to café bars
and spew their hatred into headlines.
The numbers mount
twenty, forty, eighty
one hundred and twenty-nine
and journalists run to keep up
as our disbelief stumbles beside them
barely able to count
deafened by the online chatter
lost in the conviction of our powerlessness
to do anything that matters
while the 24-hour news channels
send you numb with repetition
driving home the horror
till you scream at them to
before you too view your neighbour
through the sour veil of suspicion.
You know we trust people less now
than we did twenty years ago
and this is progress.
We’ve more than enough hate to go round.
Anyone has access to a keypad and a cause
and it’s easy to believe that our future
is Paris, Beirut, Baghdad, Nairobi
that hope is so last century
now it’s all about circling the wagons
and building the walls
higher higher higher
like the prophets of doom
have always wanted.
They see the end of days in everything.
Here, barbarians at the gate;
there, immorality, apostates.
They go to war over oil
or the meaning of texts
written by desert tribes
trying to make sense of the senseless
forgetting we’re idiot monkeys
running over a small blue planet
reliant on rain and the heat of a star
for pretty much everything.
Arguing about skin colour
and nationality like it matters
filling cyberspace with ignorance
and white-hot indignation
judging a child’s laughter
a mother’s hope
or a girl’s dreams
by which side of a border they live on
or the god they follow
while the rest of us scramble
to put food on the table
look after the ones we love
wait for the rain to ease off
or the rains to come
and pray our kids will have a better life
that they’ll see progress.
And the voice of the train manager
announces our arrival at a station
mutters an apology for overcrowding
due to breakdowns, floods,
inadequate investment, cancellations
asks us to take all our belongings with us
to take care when disembarking
thanks us for choosing to travel with etc.
He sounds tired and beaten-down
but when he wishes us a safe onward journey
and says he hopes he sees us soon
this evening, for once
I decide to believe him.