It began with the belief

                                      (foolishly misguided)

that the slaves hadn’t learned how to talk,

that they didn’t know,

                                     couldn’t know,

that what they longed for

                                          (as all of us)

was the cold satisfaction

                                       of assembling,

building, collecting,

just for the chance to tear apart.

                              It was election day.

We were electing

                               our replacements. A voice

from the mob

shouted “Here they come!”

                and then “The soldiers! The soldiers!”

We all put down our ballots

                                              and applauded,

tearfully thinking of the distant battles,

                                        the dusty mountains,

                                    how the beginning of war

is always a myth, just as its end,

how even the present is unrecognizable

                                                        as it leaves you.

One of the men

                         waved a twisted branch

that stuck from his cuff

                                       in place of a hand;

another, as a gesture

                                 of generosity,

gaped his impossibly empty mouth,

                                                    which was a cave,

so all of us

                   and our children too

could hear our voices

                                   inside of him: hesitant,

sorrowful, diminishing.