Prophecy of the Four Horsemen
Victoria Else, 2006
It’s as if I’m missing something, as if
something important is passing me by,
as if there were something I should say, if
there were someone who would listen to it.
Excited by groomed anchormen, graphic effects
portentous soundtracks, I could almost believe
that history is defined a moment after, or even
before actual events.
No! history happens bit by bit;
it’s doubtful we will live to read our own—
anxiety-provoking and just …provoking,
because things don’t seem right, feel right.
So I will try to prophesy. Here’s the trick:
humans tend to repeat themselves; so prophecy
is just history with a little myth thrown in
to let us hedge on the specifics. Please forgive
this metaphor—four horsemen, formerly plague,
famine, war, and death—reduced to things perhaps
mundane, perhaps also easier to understand,
and change. Change not history, but something
crucial: change what happens now, here, today.
The First Horseman: Corrupt Leaders
TV-sized windup soldiers in blue and grey suits
stick their chins out boldly at the press corps
strut bravely toward the microphones
never flinching as cameras whir and flash;
play the part like good soldiers, good old boys.
Who turns their key? Who winds them up
to bound the stairs to a jet, and fly away,
to hold their wife’s hand, and smile showing
just the right amount of perfect teeth?
Who taught them that non-threatening cooing tone,
choirboy tilt of the head, wide eyed, no personal agenda?
We are meant to believe they run for office
because people like them, so they might as well.
It would be easier if they grew moustaches,
wore ugly clothes, made threats, waved guns–
Then you could rise up and overthrow them,
hoping that something would change.
We are pretty sure that nothing will change
if we vote in or out the next toy soldier.
They are the first horseman, polished vessels
of corrupted power, embodiments of great lies.
I prophesy that the accelerating slide
of our once civic structures into debasement
will continue unabated and unchanged
as long as our leaders govern in miniature
safely scripted and sanitized, behind cameras
acting a fantasy of leadership, men and women
rotten to the core of their minds and careers
but beautifully presented on glowing TV screens.
The Second Horseman: Weapons Fired At Great Distance
How will you like it when some fresh-faced kid
from …Jordan, say, or Lebanon, turns a key
and twenty minutes later, a Predator drone
firebombs your neighborhood, hoping to kill
your next door neighbor, an overblown
Christian orator with shadowy connections?
That Jordanian or Lebanese kid, whose name
you would pronounce wrong, will never know
your name, or see your house, or wonder if you
or your wife or dog were home when the fire
fell, crisping the azaleas, frying your asphalt roof,
bubbling the blue paint on your car, or hear the screams
of the missiles, the screams of your neighbors
some of whom were very underage to be counted
“enemy combatants”. When JNN or LNN
explains things later on the hospital TV,
you’ll wonder less about your shady neighbor,
than why nobody checked to see if he was home
before they changed your pretty suburban street
into a reeking mess of wreckage, wrecked lives.
This is the second horseman, death at great distance,
wrought by teenagers. I prophesy that these systems
paid for in their billions by your taxes
will someday be turned against us by someone
with a name we can’t pronounce, in a war we do not choose.
The Third Horseman: Alienation
If someone from somewhere else visited Earth
he/she/it or (in the case of a collective mind) they
would be very likely to observe that human beings
are—individually and in small groups—often,
usually!, perfectly charming, but in any quantity
this same race is absolutely appalling—loud,
biased, frequently cruel, often violent. Surely
he/she/it or (in the case of a collective mind) they
could be forgiven for this judgment since we locals,
for the most part, feel just the same way about us.
(How do you feel about others on the Thruway,
especially on Friday afternoons? Glad they exist?)
This general self-disgust of our species
is the third horseman. We are good at reproducing;
the more of us there are, the more selfish we become–
turned inward, less caring of anyone else
even the innocent among us, the creatures
we share Earth with, who have never done us harm.
We shut the door, watch the TV flicker,
needs met by material, obedient things.
I prophesy that alienation is our version
of the lead pipes in Ancient Rome,
making us dull-witted, stubborn and blind,
poisoning our ability to act together
against real threats, like plague, famine, and war.
The Fourth Horseman: Self-Righteousness
Alright! Guilty as charged. It’s hard to survey
the “big picture” without delusions of grandeur;
We’ve all felt godlike standing in high places,
admiring the view. Only of course this tendency,
this very petty self-delusion–that you know something
others don’t know, and, if they knew it, they would,
I don’t know, apologize or something, or at least
smack their foreheads and exclaim, “why didn’t I
see that?” –it may seem a slight failing, laughable,
but it is not small at all, it is pride, the father of lies
done up in righteous robes, and it is the seed of war:
that ringing tone of conviction, justified demands,
utter impatience, intolerance, absolutes— or, short of war,
the inability to feel compassion, even while doing
compassionate things. This is the fourth horseman,
the undoing of those who fear history, fear others,
fear not knowing, but forget to fear ourselves.
It’s very hard to prophesy about a fault I own,
but I must; this is a general error, the reason
that little is likely to change, as we plunge toward
whatever history is gathering, drop by acid drop
in the vast ocean of our fears, and our oblivion.
A precious steady few sail across without self-regard;
I cannot prophesy, I only pray they will suffice.