~ by Stanley Kunitz
We are two countries girded for the war,
Whisking our scouts across the pricked frontier
To ravage in each other’s fields, cut lines
Along the lacework of strategic nerves,
Loot stores, while, here and there,
In ambushes that trace a valley’s curves,
Stark witness to the dangerous charge we bear,
A house ignites, a train’s derailed, a bridge
Blows up sky high, and water floods the mines.
Who first attacked? Who turned the other cheek?
Aggression perpetrated is as soon
Denied, and insult rubbed into the injury
By cunning agents trained in these affairs,
With whom it’s touch and go, don’t tread on me,
I dare you to, keep off, and double dare.
Tempers could sharpen knives and do. We live
In states provocative
Where frowning headlines scare the coffee cream
And doomsday is the eighth day of the week.
Our exit through the slammed and final door
Is twenty times rehearsed, but when we face
The imminence of cataclysmic rupture,
A lesser pride goes down upon its knees.
Two countries separated by desire!
Whose diplomats speed back and forth by plane,
Portmanteaus stuffed with fresh apologies
Outdated by events before they land.
Negotiations wear them out, they’re driven mad
Between the protocols of tears and rapture.
Locked in our fated and contiguous selves,
These worlds that too much agitate each other,
Interdependencies from hip to head,
Twin principalities both slave and free,
We coexist, proclaiming “Peace!” together.
Tell me no lies! We are divided nations
With malcontents by thousands in our streets,
These thousands torn by inbred revolutions.
A triumph is demanded, not moral victories
Deduced from small advances, small retreats.
Are the gods of our fathers not still daemonic?
On the steps of the Capitol
The outraged lion of our years roars panic,
And we suffer the guilty cowardice of the will,
Gathering its bankrupt slogans up for flight,
Like gold from ruined treasuries.
And yet, and yet, although the murmur rises,
We are what we are, and only life surprises.