By Alex Williams
This month’s theme – World Without Borders – has inspired me to reflect on the origin and legitimacy of the different boundary lines that govern our lives. You can never truly measure the length of a coastline, because each decision to approximate a length could be made more accurate and therefore longer by including that extra bend of a rock or twist of a cove. In the same way, national borders are debated and redrawn, but rather than as a consequence of physical features of the landscape, it's often because of the psycho-geographic beliefs passed down through generations in the stories we tell ourselves. It’s wonderful when such stories allow us to live peacefully beside one another, but desperately sad when they provoke violence and war.
World Without Borders
As humanists we aim to question faith
Aware that holy texts can turn to traps
Yet rarely stop to take a closer look
At the stack of sacred papers we call maps.
Some markings are mere records of terrain,
Of hills and mountains, rivers, lakes and leas,
Of gradients and outcrops, cliffs and crags,
Of barren plots and woods of fecund trees;
But once upon a time, where mystery lay
Cartographers imagined what might lurk
Beyond the measured edges of their chart,
By adding dreams and dragons to their work.
Latterly we lean toward the same
With maps that plot a future yet unborn,
Towns with roads that do not yet exist,
Cities with houses yet to greet a dawn.
But the greatest fiction pulled from human minds
And drawn on maps with ink both black and bold
Are the lines that mark one country from another,
The lines on which the stories of nations are told.
Sometimes the natural and political lines
Collide: a nation bound by mountain range,
Or river path, or vast expanse of sea.
Such boundaries to me do not seem strange.
But when I see a line that’s arrow straight,
As in Africa and in the Middle East,
I wonder: whose hand held that magic pen
And whose the ruler, that made these lands exist?
Which Europeans carved up all this earth,
Negotiated plots to take and give,
Creating imaginary lines of property
In which real people had to fight and live?
We march our murky borderlines like guards
As the stories of our past become a maze
And homelands bloom in heads as well as hearts:
Some fight to keep the lines, some to erase.
Ink labyrinths of happiness and joy
Ink puzzlements of anger and of fear.
But when the final human breathes their last
This ink in the sand will simply disappear.
Alexander Williams is a writer, teacher and singer from Watford. His collection of poems Secular Verses is now published and available on Amazon. Click the link to help support his work. More details of his books and singing events can be found at http://www.thedialup.blogspot.com