The World’s War

by Margaret Bradstock

It may be that this invasion…is not without its ultimate benefit for men;
it has robbed us of that supreme confidence in the future which is
the most fruitful source of decadence.                          −    H.G. Wells

It came as though from space
the new virus
orbitting like a star-ship, or a fireball
                                               strangely lovely
a harbinger of death
        depicted in political cartoons
                                  ubiquitously, with irony,
the excuse for everything.

Spiked like a colourful 
                          Christmas bauble, this invader
unseasonal guest, hangs out in every window                           
                                             at every gathering,
            bringing, not just fevers and contagion 
                                  from outside, 
but panic and paranoid watchfulness
                               isolation, the enemy within.

We wander, masked, in a world of shadows
             somewhere remote from time
                         as streets become silent, empty 
after lockdown, phantasms
                        in a dead city, asking ourselves
if this might be our own doing, 
             houses quiet and desolate
                                 buses and trains grounded.

Yet lockdown’s achieving more than we might 
                             have dreamed of, a lowering 
of greenhouse gases – factory shutdowns
                    no interstate visits, fewer planes –
while the World holds its breath.

H.G. Wells published his prophetic science fiction novel The War of the Worlds in 1898. He envisaged the invasion of planet Earth by creatures from Mars, and wrote a first-person account of the madness, death and destruction wrought by these aliens. Their takeover seemed unstoppable until they came up against human viruses, against which they had no immunity. The parallel I found most interesting was that, with human existence threatened and civilisation at a standstill, the narrator still foresaw an “ultimate benefit…the gifts to human science it has brought are enormous and it has done much to promote the conception of the commonweal of mankind.”

Margaret Bradstock has eight published collections of poetry, including The Pomelo Tree (winner of the Wesley Michel Wright Prize)and Barnacle Rock (winner of the Woollahra Festival Award, 2014). Editor of Antipodes (2011) and Caring for Country (2017), Margaret won the Banjo Paterson Poetry Award in 2014, 2015 and 2017. Her latest collection, from Puncher & Wattmann, is Brief Garden (2019).

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