Masks and Madness
By Tolu Ogunlesi
Far out in the world, men learn
The miracle of walking planes on leashes,
Testicles burning with artificial fire,
Striding into gangling towers
Innocent as placard-carrying activists.
Far out in another world, Hitler and Mao
Compare notes, ruing the slow evolution
Of human imagination. “I’d have built airports,
Not Auschwitz; sent Israel to Canaan
On Economy,” Hitler says, in a rare interview.
Mao nods absentmindedly, he spends his days
Building Boeings from the pages of the red
Book. In New York, men settled for suicide,
Hurtled down burning towers, voices willed
To answering machines that reproduce
Every nuance of terror, and leak the smells
Of burning words, burning goodbyes, burning
Skins, burning everything. The journey
Of a thousand stories ends with one step
Into dust, into ash, into the salt from many eyes,
Civilisation toppling at the sound of God’s name.
And as for you who wear masks and madness, and chant
God’s name in vain: Pack all the fear you can, into
The aisles of a million jets, and watch them explode
Prematurely with a heroism that is not yours — and never will be.
(A version of this poem originally appeared in The Vocabula Review and 3 Quarks Daily in 2007)