The Scorched Earth Masquerade Ball

The chimney hails us with a slimmer plume.
Circumstances this year being diminished
our unseen hosts can only heat the ballroom. 
Thirty unseen chambers recede into disuse,
reeling outposts of an empire done and finished.
This is the Scorched Earth Masquerade Ball.
The doorman declines to greet and introduce
the guests, tosses lateral flow tests in the trash,
accrues and monetises data from our footfall,
smoothing down his Chemical Ali moustache.
We arrive just as the pinot noir is poured
onto the flames. We always have. The theft
we couldn't stop, the homes we can't afford,
the avocado narratives. It's all of our faults.
Nowhere left, we sing, there's nowhere left 
to go. The innovations of Tomorrow's World
bought and placed to moulder in the vaults
below the hall. Guests are spun and twirled 
Northern Soul-style round a long dancefloor 
powdered with detritus from the crumbling
balustrades, or moon rock. By a parallel door 
the Phantom of the Opera enumerates Apollo
astronauts still living. An heiress is stumbling
over her words and Theresa May kitten heels
as between clauses she pauses to swallow
prosecco and echo the room's big reveals
regarding the mother of all parties. The band
plays Blue Monday on a theremin and saw,
banjo and stand-up bass. Have you planned
your retirement? miaows the lead singer.
A flock of black doves flutter from her paw.
This is the Scorched Earth Masquerade Ball.
The servers of drinks are all a dead ringer
for Old Father Time or the Emir of Kuwait.
In the shadows around the far end of the hall
a flock of freelance watercolourists illustrate
a scene of brake lights through exhaust gas.
Our advances are plot spoilers and memes,
the motto of our team all things must pass
and our signature tune is the word already,
hit singles lost in disremembered dreams,
the final fade of Mr Blue Sky's robot voice, 
the boards below us brittle and unsteady.
As good as it got. All the ball guests know
in tired veins the last leaseholders' choice
to run the well to dry exhaustion and bestow
a grand inheritance of nowhere left to go,
Houston, there's nowhere left to go. We've 
heard the chimes at midnight on YouTube.
To mark the moment all the guests receive
the sacramental passing of a zinc hip flask
charged with crude oil and a calved-off cube
of Antarctic ice. Now to remove the mask
the guests throw gestures, synchronised. All
bear facial birthmarks shaped exactly like
the Persian Gulf. A grand embarrassed cough.
This is the Scorched Earth Masquerade Ball.
These are the zero hours. A massive airstrike
or a snap election will suffice to see us off.




Pete Green