The Presidential Dreams
The presidential dreams are mixed.
Some nights it is a landscape only,
mountain scree and icy passes,
poppy fields in bloom.
More often it’s his antecedents,
the golden Macedonian
who left a name in Kandahar,
won some battles thereabouts
and died in seven years elsewhere,
his satraps murdered later.
All night, and restless in his sheets,
the president in Washington
rehearses all that shove-and-push
the warlords and the village big-men,
the parricidal khans.
He’s seen, too, Lady Butler’s painting
of Elphinstone’s Retreat,
one man left of 16,000,
his hair stark white and straight on end;
then the Russians, in their turn,
their private Vietnam,
a steady, ten-year bleed
with, afterwards, their man castrated,
drying on a post.
At times the dreams improve a little:
asphalt roads and cheerful plumbing,
happy shrieks of girls at recess
running in a yard;
an honest clerk or two in Kabul
waving back a note
though images like these will soon
slip back to something else:
a government of sons-and-uncles
transports at the airport
lifting off with cash;
warlords in the tent for now
but looking for their chance,
young girls sold at menstruation;
an army never fully trained,
whose loyalties may prove complex,
whose smiles may prove sincere.
‘Friendly fire’ is not good either;
cowboys in a gunship —
or ‘genuine’ mistakes.
The Taliban, of course, are worse:
the memories of firing squads
circling the squares,
acid splashed in schoolgirls’ faces,
an eight-year-old who’s hanged for ‘spying’;
then, finally, as dawn arrives,
the caskets from C-17s
sliding down the ramps,
the fallen in their standard shades,
Old Glory wrapped around them,
the ones who wished to climb a little
but only got so far.
Sometimes, too, the scene is larger,
two countries with a caliph and
an A-bomb in his vest.
And so each morning in the shower
the presidential dreams
dissolve into the day ahead
but do not wash away.
Geoff Page is a Canberra-based poet who has published eighteen collections of poetry as well as two novels, four verse novels and several other works including anthologies, translations and a biography of the jazz musician, Bernie McGann. He has also read his work and talked on Australian poetry throughout Europe as well as in India, Singapore, China, Korea, the United States and New Zealand.
Among his more recent works are: Agnostic Skies (Five Islands Press 2006); Lawrie & Shirley:The Final Cadenza (Pandanus Books 2007); 60 Classic Australian Poems (UNSW Press 2009); Coda for Shirley (Interactive Press 2011); A Sudden Sentence in the Air: Jazz Poems (Extempore 2011) as well as the CD Coffee with Miles (River Road Press 2009)