Colonialists know the game:
you must pull the temple down.
To break the people’s will,
to break the country’s heart,
it is memory you must kill.
You must leave no wayward spark
loose among the tinder
of suffering and defeat.
Forbid them to remember,
and the conquest is complete.
So pitch tents on the holy hill,
and smash the altar stone.
So drain the Sybil’s well,
scatter the ancestral bones.
So burn the feathered crown
and quench the sacred flame.
Smash the tablets, burn the scrolls,
use their gods to prop your feet:
leave no text or vessel whole,
deface, displace, erase, rename.
If memory persists,
declare the past unclean.
This is how you make slaves,
this is how you win:
outlaw the old songs,
desecrate the graves.
And this is what colonialists know.
They can recite the rules in their sleep.
If you are playing to win,
you must seize and burn the past.
This is how you begin
if you expect the game to last.
If you are playing for keeps,
there are certain things you must do.
And they are always playing for keeps:
this is what colonialists know.
[in commemoration of the sacking and looting of the
Iraqi National Museum and Library in April 2003]
© 2003 D A Clarke