Stuck in the ruts
Wheels grinding as they flatten
To and fro everyday
And every hour strikes the same
Where they go they all know
Following, herded, led
They see the same sights
Think and do in time
To the great hoard of non-civic life
Maybe the ones who lie in leisure see unlike the rest
Maybe they think slow
With nothing in their brains pounding
Forcing them to go
Sticks are beaten and whips are cracked
Sweat pools and blood drips
Salty tears cradle young eyes
From sights not meant to be seen
Blind to the tearing ties of fading family
But the stone burns feet and the sun burns backs
Harsh cries, staccato with jailors’ wise cracks
And each pulley moves as muscles pull taut
Lungs wheezing and chests heaving
Dust crawling inside them and upon them, driving in
Birds perch on the frameworks
Aloft in halos of smog and steam
Their faeces cooling when it hits scorched skin
Their eyes sharp, knowing but doubtful
They don’t believe a peoples’ work will last
That it could outlive a dynasty
The noon haze glistens on the sand
And eyes strain to see beyond its glare
The people look and the people listen
But their world falls silent
For they cannot see the future beyond their grave
“You got your papers?”
“Yeah, sure.” He dug for them hastily in this overcoat pocket. The guard flicked through them, his eyes hard in earnest.
“You may proceed. Do not lose these documents. You will not be readmitted without them. You will be of the quarantine zone.”
He walked past the outpost and into the wastes of the north, a combination of abandonment and war. He’d see no one for miles.
The idea had always been that the further north you went the safer you were. It hadn’t seemed the case when the bombs dropped. They’d not seen it coming; they hadn’t even known what bombs were until they exploded. They’d thought separate meant safe, but it meant only alone.
Once known the threat could be defended against but the community was slow to see the dangers and remained always a fatal step behind.
One man made the truce, with clever rhetoric and adequate funds. Instead of enemies they became the afflicted. Instead of hostile they became diseased, unable to control themselves. Animals instead of monsters. The bombs stopped. The medics went in and for a while they tried to fix the problem of existence but the DNA showed nothing. It never would. For what makes the northmen differ lives outside the skin.
They left; they forgot what to fear, only that there should be fear lingered. The northmen learned and rebuilt in solitude and readied themselves for the moment when the others remembered them. They all knew it could not be long.
He kicked at the rubble with his walking stick. Not safe yet. He waited until the trees grew tall before feeling around in his jacket for the old, rusty key; he’d be home soon.