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Divide and Rule

Divide and Rule

by Walid Bitar

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"The empire's missing links are found deep in this poet's ever-astonishing states of multiple consciousness—astutely attuned to the pressured, violent, mass conformities forced upon us—brilliantly formed into poems as ambitious and achieved as any written in the English language today."—Lawrence Joseph

In these dramatic monologues, Walid Bitar


"The empire's missing links are found deep in this poet's ever-astonishing states of multiple consciousness—astutely attuned to the pressured, violent, mass conformities forced upon us—brilliantly formed into poems as ambitious and achieved as any written in the English language today."—Lawrence Joseph

In these dramatic monologues, Walid Bitar delivers variations on the theme of power: in politics, in the subjugation and abuse of other cultures, and in our divided selves. Using satire, parody, koan, and riddle, Divide and Rule struggles with the mendacity of language and identity.

They have no maps. Ours, I'll redraw.
Isn't itself, their neck of the woods,
needs a rest—something more than a nap,
and less than death, though death wouldn't hurt.

Walid Bitar's poetry collections include 2 Guys on Holy Land, Bastardi Puri, and The Empire's Missing Links. He was born in Beirut and lives in Toronto, Ontario.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

'Daring, unique, passionate, challenging — everything much of contemporary poetry is not ... Bitar's poems read like final communications from a dying vaudevillian, Morse code tap-danced on the coffin's lid.' — Campbell McGrath

'Bitar's poetry jolts us into a new awareness of the world in which we live, and the poetry we read and write. It is new, both beautiful and ugly, and highly successful.' — Indiana Review

Product Details

Coach House Books
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
11.40(w) x 7.80(h) x 0.30(d)

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Read an Excerpt


We blew decades playing cloak and dagger
in a colony whose dress code was nudist.
I promised we’d meet the natives halfway
while making myself completely at home,

standing lean and tall, a fifth column
they’re still cordially invited to join.
If there weren’t persons inside me I wasn’t,
who’d suffer terror I’m busy enjoying?

Suppress a laugh. How quickly he’s grown,
the ex-comedian now ensconced in power.
I became somebody writing his jokes,
can vouch for pains he took memorizing.

We throw his weight around, unconcerned
he’s looking askance at us; we’re aesthetes,
prefer our pure forms to their content served
up as live game, after all, not raw meat,

pray plots of prayers past aren’t foiled,
then blow Charon’s boat out of the water,
Cerberus down to a last head—he knows
when he’s needed anywhere, we walk him,

share with a first tribe a second’s illusions
about assorted assets it may claim
for its encampment from the universe,
then wait. They’ll squabble over our telescopes.


The stratagems of the enemy,
subject of pre-war conversation,
wiped smiles off his and our faces
when reality became unspeakable.

I loved him once, may he rest assured
in a grave I spent the morning digging.
I awoke feeling misunderstood,
thus decided I’d make myself clear,

carve in stone the maxims I’d threatened
when I was in a better position
to mutter something, mean nothing by it.
Now I’m forced to act after I speak

in our circle of mandarins,
some opining they need a bit extra
to distinguish them from their closest friends
on whom they turn, barbarism feigned.

How did we lose the shared sense of humour
claimed later by each as his own?
There are various versions of events,
the solution conflating them all

before they multiply, the gossip
in both my ears, and out both others.
The good reason: I hired a double
experience shows helps a man grow,

grasping though I am for ideals
formerly held at a lesser distance.
Almost as easy wrestling free
as raising arms high in surrender,

regaling audiences, their feet of clay
not the kind that would ever model,
so I must sculpt them. Rather painful—
mission accomplished with an iron fist.


Heavily censored, how tunnellers live—
as we please around here, an elite,
in the majority individuals
cultivating their rices and beans,

ours a profession about which no one
awake speaks on the record. Asleep,
eloquence might reveal my unconscious states resemble an anarchist’s.

Clam up, or else jump out of the way
before a backlash middle-class lectors
consider a right: holding the noble man’s
feet to fire he carelessly sets,

fire my eldest shall study abroad.
Rather than institutions of higher
learning, I chose water muddied
by my dirty shoes, peered into depths,

and started digging a hole, first step
toward destabilizing the planet,
its orbit difficult to disturb,
its hot core solid, or I’d fan the flames.


Publically, you claim you’re an ocean
I am surviving in as marine life,
without risking the mob’s anger since
its main body is on a beach frying,

predictable before the sun descends
to an underworld we’re above at war.
I’d rather fight the living than the dead
who’ve had too much time mulling things over,

argue their questions precede statements
I issue, turning my words into answers,
though I speak first—there’s no respect
for simple chronology from the bastards,

their balls busted, and ours renamed
drums by the counter-revolution,
our ex-employer preaching from the choir,
singing never one of his strengths,

glorious, though, compared to splashes
through swamps whose sprites mistook us for ephemera
they’d carelessly created with snaps
of fingers they later realized we’d fractured,

divine punishment a lower sound barrier,
our speech’s value incalculable
as oxygen’s, because regular users
are sometimes the rich, sometimes the poor,

these beasts of burden driving me wild
till I’m so comfortable in my skin
I fall back on memories I shouldn’t trust,
and don’t expect they’ll break my fall.


How, I wonder, will you react tomorrow
when you’re shaken well, and remember
me in your dreams, interpreting for you
as you slept—will you tender thanks?

Anything can happen, yet our days
pass in such a predictable manner
the few paid take an interest in—
there is the difference between us and them.

I’ve seen my share, nevertheless confuse
the whole for the sum of parts it doesn’t have.
A holy man learns, deflects attention
away from himself by worshipping it.

A lesser trickster, I pen the odd proverb,
warn my victims, this chivalrous streak
among the most surprising finds
when I split my personality,

a pleasure you appear happy without,
but I have no choice, must continue using
power I, of all people, inherited,
and by which I feel persecuted,

prizing, far more than the collective
weight of an army busting my scales,
the ability of a single detective
I hire to hand me the exact change.


In your last fight to the death, you discovered
it was for death you were willing to die,
a more logical cause than the others,
because you’d grown very tired of life,

free will a poor choice. You decided
on a necessary course of action,
planted your flag in torrential rain,
then slipped through cracks in drying mud.

Until this storm, artificially lit,
the studios behind your every move,
you did no wrong that wasn’t set right
by the time you rose in the morning,

my punches thrown years before they landed.
While waiting, I put food on the table
in minimum wage cameos counting raindrops
instead of clouds, which are much easier,

though I forgive everything today—
thanks for the memories worth less than toys,
and more than candles blown out, not the wish,
my big secret since I’m birthday boy,

overexcited, forgetting criteria
checked off before balance is regained,
too far down a road back to chaos
out of which my touch of class was created,

as were your silences under torture,
until the tuning fork did its work.
Occasionally, our modest powers
that be demand a little night music.


It was during my penultimate escape
attempt I reasoned I was a prisoner
of no beliefs, denied a fair trial,
since I could play either victim or thug,

each working wonders out of his failure
to do the right thing—there’s always the wrong.
Child of the Enlightenment, I let off steam
after checking the air’s cold enough,

your loudest disciple, hearing voices,
none yours—the dozens you’ve heard
weren’t either. The proof I’m loyal:
I can’t trace where mine come from,

except on rare occasions singers
whose graves we rob return in styles
approximating some associated
with them when they were lionized,

paid precious metals. Sell their stones.
Hail virtuosity we’d put behind us.
Let’s hoist human remains on our shoulders
for this last stage of the decaying process.


If you deliver belief in a saviour,
you’ll receive my life savings, a sum
almost equal to its margin of error,
price of a holiday in the sun,

where the rich disappear, suffer less
than us voyeurs left behind in limbo,
name we give an introspection
we are constitutionally unfit for,

shuttering windows when tempted to shake
their transparent surfaces for the hell
whose views I’m certain a crash wouldn’t change,
plus we’d be left bandaging hands,

vastly preferring the luck of a draw
to either the winners or the losers
sharing our primary character flaws,
why we try outsmarting one another,

help with the dirty work, learn to love
watching ourselves wipe mirrors, such romance
irresistible since we’re so ugly
on the inside we can’t look half as bad,

desires burning with few objects in sight.
I advise blaming an arsonist,
and wouldn’t bother feigning surprise
should it emerge you were him all along.


Authenticity you believed
a heaven on Earth possibly was
the first decade or two, mission creep
setting in soon after the shooting started,

fog our climate’s, not war’s. Voices lift,
and my senescent choir interprets
tea leaves imported from the subcontinent.
Room you badly need my fresh foster child

crawls through—this angel isn’t walking yet.
Wrapping his mind round family business,
up and running, might slow it down.
Flames it shouldn’t ever burst into

we masters sit around telling fairytales,
sick of you as you are of us,
patients concealing serious symptoms.
The sun behind you you could eclipse,

if you were the moon. Words often fail
at the last minute that arrives too early.
Since you’re currently at a loss for them,
here they are. Listen how? Carefully,

hunger striker. Sing for my supper,
and you prove the whatchamacallit
would never land on our broad shoulders,
as if it were a parakeet—bolt of lightning,

more like, though that isn’t it either.
I’m at a standstill, not up to scratch,
dependent as pawns are on chessboards,
rooks, kings, queens, the grandmaster’s

spring offensive possibly launched
because the winter drove us crazier
than our neighbours. We live farther north—
some frozen model prisoners crack,

your unoriginal sanity straight
from a horse’s mouth. The jockey’s tip:
if the obvious isn’t made obvious,
there’s no telling what it may become.


We despise the colour of your skin,
although it’s roughly the same as ours.
Man isn’t rational, boy—boys are,
and, lucky for you, an eternal youth’s

our final offer. You’ll owe, in return,
shrugs of the shoulders. Won’t teach you manners
I’ve never quite gotten the hang of,
torn from the womb mature, aging badly,

not raised like you were, or as you,
stating the obvious rarely worthwhile,
a second front opening in the war
I’ve been waging against a false friend,

a correct one knocking at the door,
convinced, when tanked up, years spent researching
the forgettable weren’t a waste—he discovered
peasants in our medieval cathedrals

for the first time channelled shock and awe
more fluently than either good or evil.
Born near a zoo, he scratched and clawed
half-brothers, half-sisters, became their keeper.

Meet the Author

Walid Bitar was born in Beirut in 1961. He immigrated to Canada in 1969. His previous poetry collections are Maps with Moving Parts (Brick, 1988), 2 Guys on Holy Land (Wesleyan University Press, 1993), Bastardi Puri (The Porcupine's Quill, 2005) and The Empire's Missing Links (Signal Editions/Vehicule, 2008). He was born in Beirut, Lebanon, and lives in Toronto.

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