Maxine Beneba Clarke
Contradictio in adjecto

most of us,

    it seems ridiculous now,

were there to save all life


                      from hostes humani generis


which we’d learnt,

      way back in week two of class

meant the enemies of mankind



twenty years on,

   more than some have faltered


and others weary of the fight


but the conventions,

                           and declarations,


   they still stand


in corpus juris gentium:

                                            international law



      leave all civilians untouched, medical

workers should be allowed to do their

jobs, the sick or wounded have the right

to be cared for, and there should, of course,

             be no torture



the geneva conventions


they turned platinum, this week

seventy years enshrined in law



we called them

                   contradictio in adjecto:

the humanitarian rules of war



      moulded from a moment

the world pulled together

                  of common heart, and saw


how animal, unchecked, we are:


our barbarity,

                                   ever portent



it really seems ridiculous now,

        but we thought we’d save the world


    from hostes humani generis:


                                     the enemies

                                                      of us all

Maxine Beneba Clarke is the author of The Hate Race and Foreign Soil. She is a winner of the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Poetry.

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