Progress and poverty

William Loader

I was invited.
No one told me what to expect, except that there was hope.
My eyes peered from beneath the shawl;
I could see the bags of dry food,
the child on my arm almost dangling with poverty,
its loose limp limbs awaiting the rigour of death.

Would they let me pass?
They were marching, row on row,
carrying their weapons,
shouting their war cries,
endless marching, a moving wall of humanity
pursuing a just cause.

I needed to cross to the other side.
First I must descend through the explanations,
tangled by the side of the road,
the undiscarded slogans which explained,
explained the poor, explained me,
explained the pain, explained God.

The road was wet with human exertion.
As I stepped out, I knew I had to break through,
find a gap in the marching,
the endless motoring of what had to be,
the onward movement progressing to better things,
dressed in white, in gleaming efficiency,
leaving me to walk barefoot on its greasy slicks.

I pushed forward relentless,
desperate to survive, to find my way to promised food.
I stepped into the marching
and like the current of a fast flowing river
it pulled me forward in its progress;
I was being swept away,
carried forward in a tumult of marching.

My body vibrated to the marching feet,
the songs and shouts filled my ears,
the ecstasy of oneness lifted me in its passion
beyond the hurting, beyond the pain,
beyond the cries of my child.
The hymns drowned out the voice of God,
trampled in the marching throng.

I asked, ‘Where are you going?’
‘The celestial city,’ they replied and hurried on.
I turned to see.
The bags of dried food were strewn beside the road,
mingled with the blood of God,
a beaten mass beneath the hooves of humanity.

In my dream I could not stop the pilgrims
in their onward flight of progress.
Death was riding on dark horses,
machines of men ground on
and no one listened to the birds
or saw the dove alight.

My only escape was wakeful reality.
I remembered my conversation
with the colleague from Ghana
and prayed for jubilee.

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