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To Arnold Rattenbury

For his 80th Birthday

You see all you struggled for
so long, so hard recede.
Unbetraying still, but saddened yes,
you have made it to the millennium
but will not enter the promised land
you gazed on fresh in the sun below.

All March through
the sun hid its face for shame.
The diseased country is closed.
Weeping eyes are stung by smoke
from pyres of slaughtered animals
with helpless obtruding legs.

And still so many children poor.
TB increases in a rich nation
now too mean to ensure enough
serum to inoculate them all.
Passengers are killed on railways,
like so much else, falling apart.

England hosts a patent protection summit
while AIDS decimates Africa.
Bush reneges on Kyoto
defending the right of 'Americans'
to poison the sick Earth, on and on,
even to the death.

The Idol that rules the world,
manufactured of silver and gold,
insists on its daily diet of sacrifice.
It has no heart. Its hands don't feel.
Its ears don't hear. Its eyes can't see.
It does not cry from its throat.

This hobgoblin can daunt the spirit.
Is all heart lost? In 1936
the heart of the heartless world
was Spain, Cornford on the last mile
to Huesca cried, 'Remember
all the good you can.'

In 1979 Nicaragua reached
for the moon. 'The moon was the Earth
our bit of Earth and we got there.
And now Rugama,
it's beginning to belong to the poor,
the Earth is, with its moon.'

Rugama, like Cornford a poet
killed aged 20, was one of the 50,000
who died for that. And Borge's revenge
on his torturers was to give their children
schools, and them his hand they had ill-treated
with all its tenderness intact.

Now defeat follows defeat and the ever
more arrogant Ideology
claims it is unassailable.
But then again out of the remote
jungle of Lacandon
News from Somewhere and at hand.

This February I saw the Zapatistas
pour into San Cristóbal
at the start of their long march,
to the capital, Mexico City,
for living, indigenous, ordinary
people against the Idol.

These are the forgotten heart
who suddenly appear
and the heartless world can still
take heart from them. And you,
Arnold, are part of that cry
as a poet who can hear and see and say,

witness to what the Idol cannot do.
You are among the 144 thousand
who have not bent the knee.
You too have sown seeds
in the soil of language,
a crop for us from small immediate things.

You may feel your seeds and poems
have been a small part of the action
but they remain where the heart is,
belong with the best, where small
human beings battle against a Beast
so huge it respects nothing at all.

Dinah Livingstone
Easter 2001

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