Poem

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 Saturday Paper’s poet laureate, and the author of The Hate Race and Foreign Soil. She is a winner of the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Poetry.