We were surprised to hear the aliens tell us that they did not write poetry, that they had no poets amongst their kind. Standing beneath their aquamarine sky (purpling as the three suns set), on the shore of an electric blue ocean, I found this hard to believe. with landscapes like this the great rule of thumb is that if there is language, there is sure to be poetry. Indeed, one might argue that first there is poetry, and then the rest of language follows. This was certainly the case with my species, but now we learnt the great wisdom of all that is wrong and bad and needs to be disavowed.
I smiled, and continued the discussion waiting for the slips and gaps in their speech which would expose the lie, and also show through their very words and idioms, poetry at work somewhere. Later I would hear them describe the exchange as an “interrogation”. “But why are you so interested in whether there are poets, do you not take our word for it?” I explained that I found it hard to believe that they did not have poetry, and not a single poet, and that we would have to determine the veracity of this for ourselves. I was about to add, with brutal frankness, that our interest in poets did not go beyond wishing to hunt them. Needing to exterminate them all. Every single one. I was about to put this into simple words when one of my somewhat overzealous officers burst out, “They must all die, must be eradicated: they are a scourge, a plague, an abomination, they corrupt without shame the very words….” He did not get further; I quickly took my sidearm from its holster and blew a huge hole through his head. This because I hated being interrupted. It was a pity we were in the open, actually, because I would have loved to see the spatter pattern on a wall rather than on the clothing and uniforms of those gathered on the shore. It might have intrigued me.
Nevertheless, a point had been made and they could see how much I hated being interrupted. And how much we meant business.
Eventually, as always seems to be the case, they saw reason, and began to assist us. They did not seem unduly surprised to discover that they did have a poet, and that it had not taken us all that long to find him. As is my custom, I dismissed my men in order to be alone with their poet. I call it routine questioning, and no one seems to doubt that this is in fact taking place.
He was a slender being, even for a species that is noticeably slender, but seemed more circumspect and intense than those I had had the pleasure of encountering as part of this exercise. I am absolutely convinced that is crucially important to the poet’s final words before I administer the coup de grace. He looked me direct in the eye and told me that our galactic crusade against poetry, apart from being a denial of everything important about my own species, everything that connected us to the entire Universe, and apart from it being unjust and immoral to execute someone for a practice that was deeply enshrined in their very nature, which they felt an absolute compulsion to pursue, that it was also something that could not be more self-defeating, and thus doomed to ultimate failure . It was dark by now and the Stars he gestured towards, though so different from those in the Earth’s night sky (both as regards the Northern and the Southern Hemisphere) twinkled in a familiar way. “So this is the beauty, the mystery, the terror you wish to kill?” he asked. “There will always be beauty in words, in your language and in mine, there will always be something in them that disturbs you because it escapes you. They will always have a power to transform, and there will always be the poet to reflect the Universe, to speak all its many tongues as he or she gives it meaning, speaks it back to itself. One is enough… a single poet, the last poet…”. I cut him short. That was enough “always” for one day, thank you very much. I smiled cryptically (or so I imagine the smile felt to him) and replied, my eyes focusing as I spoke upon the tiny, quite exquisite medallion hanging around his neck. “Yes, you are right. Sadly, beautifully, there will always be a poet, a last poet. This entire enterprise is a waste. My task, as you say, is doomed.”
My men were probably getting impatient by now because this was indeed taking a bit longer than usual. Eventually they heard the shot: I could not disappoint them.
When I rejoined my party not one of them noticed (or if they did notice, failed to comment on) the medallion now hanging around my neck. It did not take us long to say au revoir to our hosts, and set our course to the next world where again we might just get lucky. In the past people might have kept journals to record an experience such as this. I thought about this for a while, wondering about the strange look the poet gave me at the moment of death. I imagine it must have been a bit like the character of Thomas in the mythical fable — who, if I remember the story correctly, stuck his fingers into the imposter standing before him, only to realize, to his total shock that this man was exactly who he said he was.