forbid them to remember,
and the conquest is complete.
so pitch tents on the holy hill,
and smash the altar stone.
so drain the Sybil's well,
scatter the ancestral bones.
so burn the feathered crown
and quench the sacred flame.
smash the tablets, burn the scrolls,
use their gods to prop your feet:
leave no text or vessel whole,
deface, displace, erase, rename.
and if it still persists,
declare the past unclean.
this is how you make slaves:
outlaw the old songs,
desecrate the graves.
teach them your own tongue,
teach them suitable lies.
you must own their truth.
thus the domineering brute
hectors the uppity wife:
"I will tell you what you were:
you were nothing before me.
You are what I say you are,
you exist only for me,
you mean what I say you mean,
I am all there is."
he nibbles at her memory:
"You never really had a life.
Now come tell me who's your Daddy.
Now come give your Daddy a kiss."
and this is what colonialists know.
they can recite the rules in their sleep.
if you are playing to win,
you must seize and burn the past.
this is how you begin
if you expect the game to last.
if you are playing for keeps,
there are certain things you must do.
and they are always playing for keeps:
this is what colonialists know.
[in commemoration of the sacking and looting of the
Iraqi National Museum and Library in April 2003]