You call me a barbarian.
I call you master.

You don’t speak my language.
My words

noise in your ears; my poems
meaningless melodies.

Your poems
masterpieces of literature.
Your clothes

constitute fashion; your homes

My house
the hovel your tanks levelled;

my clothes
rags. My beliefs

crushed by your technology
because I’m a barbarian.

But I must understand
your language. O master, your words

are essential to my survival. I have to
put your goggles on my eyes

to see myself,
a dangerous alien with

incomprehensible language
and innate savagery

because you’re so civilised and meaningful.
You have the weapons

the tools for proving the logic
of your power. You wear clothes

that bolster your shoulders
and accentuate your height.

Me, I’m naked
and paraded as a prisoner

on your catwalks. I’ve been
defeated, dispossessed, and now

detained in the cages
of your metropolis. I can’t remember

if I ever had my own culture
because your powerful voice

has deafened my memories. Your logic
proves I’m a primitive

at the mercy of your civilisation.
Yes, I understand

your language. I’ve been learning
the lexicon of my inferiority

from behind the bars. I now know
how to spell and pronounce

the terms of my slavery. Your shackles
are called Security; your war

Operation Freedom; your cluster bombs
food parcels for my children. O master,

I understand
what you want your filthy slave to be. I am

your barbarian, your terrorist;
your monster.

Originally published in Eyes inTimes of War, by Salt Publishing.