Friday, April 15, 2022


Despite their later treaty,
A copy of which still hangs
In the United Nations

Complex in New York City—
World neither Rameses nor
The Hittites could imagine

At the time of that treaty—
And despite all the later
Treaties, as well, the Battle

Of Kadesh never ended—
That battle’s been going on
For thirty-three hundred years.

The Hittites kept encroaching
On Egypt’s northern frontier
For nearly a century,

But a young pharaoh ordered
Up masses of weapons and
Rearmed his military,

And rode north himself with them,
The greatest chariot force
Assembled in history,

Only to blunder into
An ambush outside Kadesh
Thanks to bad intelligence.

Routed, his forces regrouped.
He got help from his allies.
Hittites got help from their own.

Technologies were tested—
Three-wheeled chariots proved slow,
Easily overtaken—

Lighter chariots better.
Rameses survived and drove
The Hittite chariots back

Through the Orontes river,
Drowning some, back to their fort,
Their Citadel of Kadesh—

Itself on an ancient tell
Once defending someone else.
Then the pharaoh rode back home

And proclaimed his victory,
Carving it large to prove it.
He still rides on his stela,

Aiming his mighty arrow.
Hittites saw it differently.
They had defended Kadesh.

More than a decade after,
Border towns were still swapping
Occupying forces. Then,

Finally, the great treaty,
Now feted as the oldest
Example of such a text.

Near that Kadesh citadel,
A city now stands, named Homs.
Stands is maybe generous.

Homs has been gutted itself,
Most of its people slaughtered
In a very recent war

Not even declared ended,
Violence orchestrated
By large and little powers.

Some have lost, some just hang on,
But nobody’s really won—
While just north of what had been

The Hittites’ own northern forts,
Already fresh war’s begun,
Involving some of the same

Forces that demolished Homs—
Terrifying precedent
For the cities being bombed.

All the old cliches get asked
Whenever the great battle
Of Kadesh starts up again—

Has there ever been a street
Hasn’t run with human blood,
Once someone else wants that town?

Don’t weep too much. War is kind—
It will let peace creep back in.
No matter how this war ends,

Fresh treaties will be agreed.
Statutes will be passed and praised.
Statues will be razed and raised.

Historians will debate
Who really lost and who won,
And, after all’s said and done,

More history will begin.
True. Before too many years,
Kadesh starts over again.

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