“Never corner your enemy – he will fight back.
Always give him a chance to run, so you can slash his back open.”
They always came with the setting sun,
With the winds filling their turbaned masks,
Howling the herald of a troubled night,
For the travellers never meant good news.
People would fear’em,
Keep ten steps away from’em,
Pray when they were close,
And stay inside their doors,
For such were the powers that they held.
They could carve man out of wood
And when God’s light no longer shined,
Like God Himself, they breathed life
Into the carvings, till the shadows
Of these creatures, waking by the fire,
Danced, like they danced, to the desire of their Maker.
These wooden creatures, now alive,
Could wield the swords of kings
And adorned in crowns and rings,
They would play out new histories
Of how the old king is no more the sire.
By dawn, hooves would replace cymbals
Mists of dust would welcome a winter
Of towers broken and gates splintered,
As if rewriting the laws of nature there
With rising smoke from burned out fire.
They always came with the setting sun
With the poisons filling their water casks,
Broiling a scene of slaughtered sights
For the lives they breathed were no longer theirs.
The poem is inspired by the practice of sending in a troupe of puppeteers before raiders attacked a city. The puppets would play out how the city was to be liberated the next morning, returning the citizens to their rightful kings. The puppeteers never survived the morning’s assault, but their tales were retold in the court of the victorious king and were laid down in the histories alongside those of the martyrs.
Minakhi is an LSD alumnus. He is wrote this poem after having a dafuq moment during a talk by Jeanne-Marie Gescher about Chinese history at Tata Literature Live 2014, Mumbai.
The poem was originally posted at Minakhi’s blog.