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The Second Law of Thermodynamics

I have been told the past is another country.
We acknowledge the traditional custodians of this land
but that has passed, and we will decide
who comes to our country. We will determine
the circumstances in which they come.

Я расскажу вам, как Неруда, все известия.     (I’ll tell you, like Neruda,
    all the news.)

We were the rats from the sinking ship
and countless maps and atlases
crumbled at our heels. We fled
irretrievably. The plane was grey and everybody slept
except the child to whom it meant nothing
that the past is another country. We learned
to do things differently. Their bottomless supply of gadgets
seduced my father. My mother
mastered the language which is now my language,
my stepmother tongue, just well enough
to pass it on to still more rats
abandoning still more lurching wrecks of history.

Now in tall buildings my father’s mother
with the decisive manner of a soviet gynaecologist
dishes out advice and criticism and red soup
and a brown-skinned woman in a dented,
much-vandalised lift tells me about her dog.
A rescue staffy, “she’s my life.
If I didn’t have her I think I’d just
go mad.” An ex-runt, named for her big funny ears
in a language that’s cobbled together from scraps
by whoever survived the past in this country.

My mother’s hobbled mother speaks so little English
that I genuinely do not know if she’s aware
that our new country too, inescapably, inescapably our new country
is a child-stealer also (you know, in the past,
when it was definitely another sort of country).
Between any now and then is continuity enough for apology,
but not enough to give anyone’s life back
any more than the frozen steppe of Magadan
could return my great-grandmother’s teeth to her jaw
while she lived, unsling time’s arrow to undo that daughterless decade
or undisappear her husband. But that was in another country
and besides, the regime is dead.

They all are. What country? Time immemorial
we drew lines in blood and we redrew lines in blood,
like an indecisive tattoo artist
and my people were the needle
and my people were the ink, and so were yours.
When your ancestors lived somewhere everybody wanted a piece of –
and sooner or later that’s everywhere –
your ancestors are also the people who took their piece,
over and over again, back and back.
And you wonder why the rats claw at your door?
Rats are the natural state of humanity. Rats
know which way the wind is blowing
and it is blowing relentlessly out of the past
and into the future. But we live in a short-sighted country.
Our books begin just one short subjugation back
and our maps are crisp new liars.

And sometimes people hear me speak
and want to know where I’m from,
which is the same place they are from
because the past is another country.
And what used to be my country is now reassembling itself
like flecks of glass in a kaleidoscope,
and in the city of my birth
no one is quite sure what to do
about the feral dog problem bequeathed to them
by that power vacuum that nature so abhors, and that same red soup
is eaten by less-freckled children
whose language is almost but not quite intelligible
to me and my grandmothers.

About The Author:

Margarita Tenser is a poet and speculative fiction writer living in Sydney, Australia. They have been published in Meniscus, Liminality and Strange Horizons, among others, and blog at