To those who follow in our wake – continued (A homage to Bertolt Brecht)

By Olivia Lipsky

1

Truly, I live in dark times
Everybody speaks but nobody listens
A smooth forehead suggests insensitivity
The person who laughs has simply not
yet
grasped the severity


What kind of times are these, when to talk about trees is almost a crime?
Because it implies silence about so many horrors

What kind of times are these, when a poor mother buying a present for her son
Is responsible for another child’s enslavement?


It’s true that I still eat my daily bread
But, believe me, that’s only an accident
Nothing I do gives me the right to eat my fill
By chance I have been spared


They say to me: Eat and drink! Be glad you have it!
But how can I eat if
I pulled the food from a dying forest?
And how can I drink if my bottle of water was given to me by goliath
Who stole it from the innocent?
And yet I eat and drink

A good citizen doesn’t compromise the law
And a good human doesn’t compromise their integrity
I can never be both then
Because the laws weren’t written for me

2

I came to the cities in a time of pretension
Money reigned disguised as self-fulfilment
We drowned our sorrows in exotic whims
Like peacocks we showed them off
almost convinced that this was happiness


We built our homes in places that made us forget our roots
We ate our sisters’ children as a sign of how little we cared
Truly, what kind of times were these,
when to show compassion was confused with weakness?
So passed our time given to us on earth

Then revenge came
But it was too late
We had already forgotten how to listen
And the screams of mother earth were left unanswered


There was little I could do
But those in power sat safer without me: that was my hope
So passed my time
given to me on earth


We took the truth from nameless faces
It often made little sense
But what else was there to trust?
When stories were sold to the highest bidder

Our forces were slight. Our goal laid far in the distance
And with each passing day, defeat came closer
Until we accepted that greed and blindness had triumphed,
although they themselves didn’t know it yet

3

You who will emerge from the flood
In which we have gone under
Bring to mind when you speak of our failings
Bring to mind also the dark times that you have escaped


We went through deceit and manipulation,
Despairing when there was only injustice, no outrage
And yet we realized: Hatred,
even as a blanket of fear
Contorts the features

Anger, even against injustice
Makes the voice hoarse
O, we who wanted to prepare the ground for friendship
Could not be friendly ourselves


But you, when the time comes at last
When humans are helpers to nature
When harmony on earth is restored
Think of us, with forbearance

This is a very critical piece that talks about the reasons for this pandemic: the destruction of nature and the human misuse of animals and natural ecosystems. I see this pandemic as a symptom of a broken world where people have forgotten how to live along nature without destroying it. Future zoonotic diseases are likely to emerge if we continue living this way and exploiting endangered animals for economic reasons.  

I want to “apologize” to future generations for not being able to provide a world that is healthier and fairer. I therefore build on the already existing poem by Bertolt Brecht (To those who follow in our wake) written in 1939 where the author apologizes for not being able to fight the Nazis. I saw many parallels between that case and the current world where we are trying to fight global change (but losing). I kept certain parts of the original poem (they are written in italics) and added new parts myself. So, in a sense it is not a completely new poem but a continuation of Brecht’s work adapted to the year 2020.  I hope that publishing the poem will comfort people, who like me, are feeling very desperate and at the same time trigger people who are not taking this pandemic seriously enough.

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