Why the barbarians kept us waiting

Peter Porter

They knew they were some kind of a solution
But wouldn’t risk their legendary horses,
Battle wagons: they’d read about pollution,
High-rise slums and poisoned watercourses.

To keep their army healthy they ran races
On plains and let our cameramen record them –
Nightly the same professional drained faces
Fronted clips on TV and deplored them.

Their Great Khan broadcast from his tented city
His moderate ambitions while Supremos
Wrote for Sunday Papers and the witty
Juniors at the FO shredded memos.

This westward surge while seeming so dramatic
Required another horde pressing behind them.
Perhaps therefore our fear was automatic,
The need for devils showed us where to find them.

The Stock Exchange, the markets and the churches
Couldn’t resist an ‘Après moi’ prediction,
The think-tanks called for cross-the-board researches
And sad colloquiums defined our fiction.

Time might insist each was the other’s Other,
The building-up and running-down of power,
But brother’s empathy can offer brother
Only the fact of death and not its hour.