Published in Aphelion: Webzine of Science Fiction and Fantasy, issue 174, vol. 18, June 2013. URL link: read at Aphelion.
At night can we see those who remain,
The last of the tribes that have eluded us.
Their campfires gleam and flare
In the forested hills far above.
Bright and beady and silent.
They give away their positions,
And we efficiently chart them.
Although in the morning we find nothing.
Sometimes the fires seem to burn the wrong colour,
A deep and queerly glimmering crimson.
Those captured and enslaved
Tell us nothing of their people’s movements or rituals.
We could mobilise when we see the fires.
Steal and hack through the undergrowth,
Creep up on their chants and murmurs.
Ring forged steel so much louder
Against their skulls.
Rape those worth raping;
Cut down their hags.
Throw their brats on the fire.
Instead we fortify the perimeter.
Whip the captured harder.
Reduce their skin to welts, bruises, striations.
Write woe on their faces.
Draw from them whimpers as primitive as those
of stray dogs starving at a city’s edge.
All under the wretched gaze
Of those wrong-coloured fires.
Each one winking death
Like a bad star.