The Afterlife

by Neetha Kunaratnam

After every war
someone has to clean up. Things won’t
straighten themselves, after all.

– Szymborska, The End and the Beginning

And someone will have to clean up,
But this is no job for ordinary Joes,
Only specialists padded in moon boots,
Facemasks, and white chemical suits,
 
So someone will have to write out a cheque
For the foreign input, the expertise
And expensive equipment:
The mine detectors and nerve sensors,
 
Somebody will need to order them
From the front of the catalogue, ignore
The solar-powered, GPS models, plump
For the standard, remote-controlled breed,
 
As faithful and expendable as someone else,
Sought to cordon off the area, skirt the perimeters
On tiptoe, and mark out the dimensions
Of the operation with only sniffer dogs in tow.
 
Someone will need to believe the aggrieved can
Make a difference, pray in numbers, and petition
Our leaders to subsidize the farmers, who can no
Longer reap lest they’re blown into thin air…
 
Someone will have to locate then collect
Any bright packages dropped in the interim,
Since the bombers droned off into the night.
Their black boxes still replaying screams,
 
And someone sort out the dried food
From the prosthetic limbs, filter out the notes
Of explanation, and decipher a rationale
From the mistakes made in translation.
 
Someone will have to point out
That mustard leaves might not survive the blasts,
And checking they’ve turned red might set off
A barrage of blinding and a cluster of regrets,
 
Somebody will have to teach the children
That these M&Ms aren’t filled with peanuts
But pack a mighty punch. Explain that
A bomb as small as a battery can turn a sheep into a cloud