I was the lie that empire tells itself when times are easy,

      he the truth that Empire tells when harsh winds blow.

     --The Magistrate in Waiting for the Barbarians,    

                      J.M. Coetzee


…a greybeard sitting in the dark waiting for spirits from the byways of history to speak…

eliding the difference between allow and permit


There is nothing to link me with torturers

looking the other way, vacantly at all the vehemence


…but I might equally well tie her to a chair and beat her, it would be no less intimate

meaning cannot be forced on a subject


I have a sense of letting go, of being carried dangerously far by the words

the story arc disturbed


I have no idea what they stand for

only questions that can be multiplied


They can be read in many orders. Further, each single slip can be read in many ways.

deracinating truth from meaning and interpretation


…two black glassy insect eyes from which there comes no reciprocal gaze

knowledge is not self-mirroring


It is the barbarian character war but it has other senses too

truth an inversion of torture, pain


It can stand for vengeance, and if you turn it upside down… it can be made to read justice

the Magistrate’s reading unveils cruelty and oppression


Perhaps in my digging I have only scratched the surface

a moral vacuum, ubiquitous and irresponsible


Further, each single slip can be read in many ways

not a single meaning but not without meaning


…the cries of the dead which, like their writings, are open to many interpretations

language is not just a game


I would find the words to shame them

translations telling micro-stories


People are not interested in the history of the back of beyond

the magistrate cycling complicity and resistance            


I struggle on with the old story, hoping…it will reveal to me

not blaming, not accusing, but trying to understand


why it was I thought it worth the trouble

the magistrate still racked by doubt, despite mounting evidence


what do I stand against except the new science of degradation that kills people on their knees

making meaning, raising one’s voice, speaking with the body


How can you be a prisoner when we have no record of you?

knowing, dreaming, shouting, whatever comes into one’s head


jagged time of rise and fall, of beginning and end

the anticipated never arriving


DION FARQUHAR has recent poems in Birds Piled Loosely, Local Nomad, Columbia Poetry Review, Shampoo, moria, Shifter, BlazeVOX, etc. Her second poetry book Wonderful Terrible was published by Main Street Rag Publishing Company in 2013, her second chapbook Just Kidding is in press at Finishing Line Press, and her third chapbook Snap came out in September 2017 at Crisis Chronicles Press. She works as an exploited adjunct at two universities, teaching mostly composition, but still loves the classroom.