You would have been more acerbic
in your salad years,
convinced as you were back then
that our somnolent dominion of the north
had missed a historical beat or two,
holding on for dear life to the apron-strings
of two empires in rapid succession,
our leaders always reaching for the middle,
no clear goals to lift the spirits
or excite the imagination.
Now that you’re a senior
and Canada’s even more so,
your former disdain has given way
to a spirit of reconciliation.
It isn’t easy managing a country
with awkward platelets that see themselves as distinct nations,
with far-flung regions
and a macédoine of peoples
which elsewhere might incite internecine hatreds.
We have fended off the worst traits
of the giant to the south,
while coexisting reasonably amicably beside it.
Our social compass resembles that of Europe,
and our vision of the world order
combines a Boy Scout’s earnestness for alliances
with peacekeeping missions and UN-sanctioned conventions.
We have had our share of failings
– the excessive influence of corporations, foreign and domestic,
politicians on the take,
policies which haven’t really helped to integrate First Nations,
closed doors to refugees fleeing Europe in the ’30s,
wartime deportation of innocent Japanese-Canadian civilians –
but in the larger scheme of things
we haven’t screwed up too badly,
neither plumbing the depths of failed or fragile states
nor suffering under despotic rulers,
though we’ve sometimes come quite close,
with autocratic Premiers and nepotistic tribal chiefs.
Still, you don’t feel out of place
lifting a glass to Canada’s sesquicentenary,
much as you might wish there was a bit more drama
to a country which has learned to live in peace.
On a passage in Kant
The starry heavens above me and the moral law within me.
The stars with their pointillistic luminescence
dot the night sky over Damoukhari
underlying our glaring insignificance
in the cosmic scheme.
But what about the moral law within
which Kant extolled,
has it fared any better
in the two centuries that have elapsed
since he walked Königsberg’s tree-lined streets?
One contemplates the Anthropocene,
the deep inequities that continue to creep in,
a ruthless quest for ends over means,
a population bomb rivalling the ballistic ones,
our sapping the finite resources of Mother Earth,
and one wishes the stars above
would somehow wipe our muddied escutcheon clean.
You came to visit these royal tombs,
most probably those of Philip II of Macedon
and his consort,
and the wrought gold jewellery and silver vessels
are truly regal,
as are the size and scale of the portico
and columns where they lay buried.
Yet something rankles
in this glorification of Macedon,
of Philip and of Alexander
and of the Hellenistic age which was to follow.
No mention of the king’s archfoe, Demosthenes,
who had rightly seen in him the undoing of the polis,
and of the freedom which Athens had enjoyed
in the two centuries when the civilization
which we so venerate had flowered.
Instead, it is the force of arms,
the lust for power,
the perks and privileges of rulers,
that in this underground museum/mausoleum
are given the celebratory status
The demos can be so fickle,
excoriating the first honest politician they’ve ever seen
– an Alfonsin in Argentina,
a Gorbachev in the ex-USSR –
because economically times were tough,
or a rotten old regime had finally bitten the dust,
embracing the most loathsome and corrupt
– a Berlusconi or a Trump –
who know how to traffic notoriety and pilfered wealth
for naked power.
It makes one almost despair
of the larger creed we Westerners so earnestly profess,
forgetting how democracy among the ancients
had its share of assemblies easily swayed
by demagogues and knaves
for every Pericles or Demosthenes that came along.