Philip Foster, from issue No. 81

Teiresias on Burying the Dead

after The Antigone

Heads up. Pay attention when I speak.
Think of my words as medicine you need
for the pain of time, for these murder days.
You know what I do – I divine with birds
and take notice of the whispering trees.
It’s what wise men have been up to for years.
No trader launched their trireme without
input from someone like me – they need
to know what will be sunk in the angry sea,
they need to be told what’s turning turtle.
From the tripod in Thebes’ sanctuary
I heard crows and ravens at each other’s throats,
predator and prey, food and the feeder.
I turned to ignite the altar’s mantle
but it was having none of it – no light,
no spark – the flame choked off at source.
I sent a boy, my guide, to see what’s what.
It wasn’t hard. The streets were full of it.
Nobody can make an offering to the gods
because the faulty altars are manky
with guts and gizzards, eyeballs and shit.
Imagine what the gods will make of this.
It’s a plain fact, there are so many dead,
carrion scattered for everyone to see,
the birds crazy – they’ve got the taste for it.
And guess what, it’s not hard to understand,
this mess is down to a man. That’s Creon.
Don’t waste your time hunting for saboteurs
or terrorists, fifth columnists, lone wolves
or any of the crap his spokesmen spout.
In Thebes his crack troops are killing for fun,
leaving bodies decomposing on the street.
Anyone who stumbles in their path’s at risk –
non-combatants, school kids, nurses, mums.
So we’re clear who’s let these demons out.
His edict says A hero’s grave for patriots;
for traitors, the open street – let them rot.
Who thinks that’s clever? Who thinks it wise?
Not me, oh mighty king. You’ve lost the plot.
Think how this might be with one of your own,
how you’d feel if you lost Antigone.
It calls for compassion when children die.
I can see it though I have unseeing eyes.
So wind your neck in. Chill. Call it a day.
Stop cutting off noses to spite their faces.
Bury the dead with honour. Show respect.
Don’t think mercy’s something for the weak.
You should pay attention when I speak.