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prisoner of peace | by Yrigoyen)
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prisoner of peace

vita brevis.


in a rotten nutshell, i grew up amid the barrenness and confusion

that lie in wait for anything that mistakes itself. among stoolies and spies,

i risked my neck on the empty parade ground, kept shtum in the silent masses,

a clown with seven tongues, a choirboy with an ear for cynical jokes.

unasked, i spoke as others might spit, out of the side of my mouth,

and masked my own shocking helplessness with black humour.

history was no use to me, all it showed was human failings anyway.

where i grew up, greatness was something you read about in saints’ lives.


imbibed with my reading was hypocrisy. in a few infantile etudes,

i played Doubting Thomas to the devout, Peter the Rock to heretics.

i saw the zero beribboned, and the colossus ground down by dwarves.

the born deserter: sooner die than take aim at the heart.

i puked out of tanks, cried myself to sleep in barracks.

shaved my skewed grin over a bucket, under canvas.

i did in my knee at football, but my soul fared much worse.

how often i would come home with the lie on my lips: ‘all right. nothing much.’

i stacked files to feed the shredder, applied green paint to trees,

fantasized about everything under the sun, and a few things that aren’t.

utopia, for instance... ever since Thomas More, those isles have been bleak.

in the concrete wastes, i embraced my first scrawny body.

for want of lilies, i sniffed the garbage on the breeze, guzzled the aromas

of canteen and abattoir, and the stench of overcrowded trains.

a palace in grey concrete was my Ecole des Beaux Arts,

where the classrooms chorussed: muse, excuse me if i lie...

i had all the time in the world for reflection, but there was nothing

to shake a stick at. the new bibles weren’t worth the paper

they were printed on, and the only lesson for living was: do without.


a prison reglement. it was all a long time ago, and lo, i’m still here.

where states melted away like sand castles, and illusion was at a premium,

it was second nature to me to turn the music up, and softly hum

the two or three lines that were sufficient to put the country

under water. as i embarked on my sentimental journey

through nettle fields and villages, the other way to the exodus,

the sergeant’s russian bawl: ‘dawai, dawai!’ was still ringing in my ear.

nostalgia’s falsetto recommended something exotic before you hand in

your dinner pail. what say the hawaiian beaches?


-durs grunbein

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Taken on September 1, 2005