To be invaded is a penetration. If not bodily, by blade or flesh, then mentally by a wiping of history, a corrosion of culture, a banishing of the familiar. Invasion takes more than it gives, aggravates the womb of home until even the things you did not know you had are gone, after which you are left feeling empty and strangely stretched. Implanted with the residue of some other landscape.
We do not talk about our invaders – we still cannot process it – but if you dream in the dark, in our last stone halls, you will wake to find a friend’s arms around you.
“I saw them, I saw what happened.”
“But it did happen.”
“Yes, I know. I think I saw it too.”
All of us returning to the same conscious pool, but unable to explain what we find there. I know. I think I saw it too.
Root and leaf, down from the plucked mountains and up from the narrow, dry valleys, the last of them came. They felled our houses and grew brittle in the places where we used to work, until humanity’s cogs were tangled up in weeds and ceased turning. We were left to our once-sacred places, clinging to each other in the dark as our weapons failed to break branch or stem. What is a bullet compared to a petal? A bomb to a seed, or a sword to a stamen? Who were we to stand against the fruits of renewing life with our earnest metal and cocky stone – when we knew all along the miracle of a soft fungus growing through concrete paving slabs?
Always history is written by the victors, but no one now among the legion above could raise a pen between twig and bark – and increasingly, I suspect that they did not fight for a footnote or a furlong in any case.
Some clever fool said I should write something instead, to preserve the passing lest it should fall away before chance commits it to memory. “Didn’t you used to write before?” It is no use to explain this history is a fiction I couldn’t have imagined.
I try. I struggle. A kernel of shame grows inside me, a question over whether our victors might have saved us from a darkness far greater than their wrath. Looking back, I think we cast the first stone, standing on the field of prehistory, building the first house and firing the first arrow. Smoke-stacks and plastic-wraps. Fighting a cold war with a wilful blind eye.
They sang as their roots came down on us, and their words come back to me over and again. It was not a refrain of conquest and glory, but of autumn sap rising, one last rebellion in the face of shadows: We are not the invaders. We are the rebellion. We are the many and you are the few.
Defeat came to us suddenly, at the height of our powers, delivered by the underdogs. How strange that in defeat we – the self-proclaimed idols of freedom – have been given a second chance to ally ourselves with something true and worthy. The invaders that infect us have none of our haste or passion, only the steady, creaking inevitability of wood, the soft sigh of a passing cloud. The violence of a blooming flower. They are quite unlike any empire in history, wanting for nothing but room to breathe.
In this encroaching clarity, I think perhaps our history should be but one note sang in a minor key, a tomb of apology, with “sorry-sorry” penned on every page.
o o o