Posts tagged poetry.
“A Poem” by Robert Hass
“You would think God would relent,” the American poet Richard
Eberhardt wrote during World War II, “listening to the fury of
aerial bombardment.” Of course, God is not the cause of aerial
bombardment. During the Vietnam War, the United States hired the
RAND Corporation to conduct a study of the effects in the peasant
villages of Vietnam of their policy of saturation bombing of the
countryside. That policy had at least two purposes: to defoliate the
tropical forests as a way of locating the enemy and to kill the enemy if
he happened to be in the way of the concussion bombs or the napalm
or the firebombs. The RAND Corporation sent a young scholar named
Leon Goure to Vietnam. His study was rushed by the Air Force which
was impatient for results, but he was able to conduct interviews
through interpreters with farmers in the Mekong Delta and the
mountainous hillside farm regions around Hue. He concluded that the
incidental damage to civilian lives was very considerable and that the
villagers were angry and afraid, but he also found that they blamed the
Viet Cong—the insurrectionist army the U.S. was fighting—and not
the United States for their troubles, because they thought of the Viet
Cong as their legitimate government and felt it wasn’t protecting them.
Seeing that the bombing was alienating the peasantry from the enemy
Vietnamese, Robert McNamara, the secretary of defense, General
William Westmoreland, the commander in charge of prosecuting the
war, and Lyndon Johnson, the president of the United States, ordered
an intensification of the bombing. In the end, there were more bombs
dropped on the villages and forests of South Vietnam than were
dropped in all of World War II. The estimated Vietnamese casualties
during the war is two million. It was a war whose principal strategy
was terror. More Iraqi citizens have now been incidental casualties of
the conduct of the war in Iraq than were killed by Arab terrorists in
the destruction of the World Trade Center. In the first twenty years
of the twentieth century 90 percent of war deaths were the deaths of
combatants. In the last twenty years of the twentieth century 90 percent
of war deaths were deaths of civilians. There are imaginable responses
to these facts. The nations of the world could stop setting an example
for suicide bombers. They could abolish the use of land mines. They
could abolish the use of aerial bombardment in warfare. You would
think men would relent.
we’ve outworn the seams of our skin
The future quivers
liquid over the cusp.
It is not given to us
whether water spills
or remains contained –
to dip our heads
Waking at Night by Jack Gilbert
The blue river is grey at morning
and evening. There is twilight
at dawn and dusk. I lie in the dark
wondering if this quiet in me now
is a beginning or an end.
Midlife by Julie Cadwallader-Staub
This is as far as the light
of my understanding
has carried me:
an October morning
a canoe built by hand
a quiet current
above me the trees arc
green and golden
against a cloudy sky
below me the river responds
with perfect reflection
a hundred feet deep
a hundred feet high.
To take a cup of this river
to drink its purple and gray
its golden and green
a bend in the river up ahead
From Kingdom Animalia by Aracelis Girmay
Oh, body, be held now by whom you love. Whole years will be spent, underneath these impossible stars, when dirt's the only animal who will sleep with you & touch you with its mouth.
In a Station of the Metro by Ezra Pound
The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.
I take your fingers in mine and between
us we’re clasping your soul so tightly
it begins to bleed. You say, look how I hurt.
I say, yes, but dear, most wisdom stems from pain.
— from Laala Kashef Alghata, “Kiss My Knuckles While I Hold Your Sou
From War of the Foxes by Richard Siken
Let me tell you a story about war:
A boy spills a glass of milk and his father picks him up by the back of the shirt and throws him
against the wall. You killed my wife and you can’t even keep a glass on the table. The wife had died of sadness,
by her own hand. The father walks out of the room and the room is almost empty.
The road outside the house lies flat on the ground. The ground surrenders.
The father works late. The dead wife’s hand makes fishsticks while the boy sits in the corner where
he fell. The fish in the fishsticks think to themselves This is not what we meant to be.
Its roots in the ground and its branches in the air, a tree is pulled in two directions.
The wife has a dead hand. This is earlier. She is living and her dead hand feeds her pills that don’t
work. The boy sleeps on the roof or falls out of trees. The father works late. The wife looks out the
window and thinks Not this.
The boy is a bird, bad bird. He falls out of trees.
From War of the Foxes by Richard Siken
Let me tell you a story about war:
The fisherman’s son serves drinks to sailors. He stands behind the bar. He listens closely for news of
his dead brother. The sailors are thirsty. They drink rum. Tell me a story, says the fisherman’s son.
“There is nothing interesting about the sea. The water is flat, flat and calm, it seems a sheet of glass.
You look at it, the more you look at it the more you feel like you are looking into your own head,
which is a stranger’s head, empty. We listen to the sound with our equipment. I have learned to
understand this sound. When you look there is nothing, with the equipment there is sound. We sit in
rows and listen down the tunnels for the song. The song has red words in it. We write them down on
sheets of paper and pass them along. Sometimes there is noise and sometimes song and often there is
silence, the long tunnel, the sea like glass…
You are a translator, says the fisherman’s son.
Yes, says the sailor.
And the sound is the voice of the enemy.
Yes, yes it is.
It’s This Way by Nâzım Hikmet Ran
I stand in the advancing light,
my hands hungry, the world beautiful.
My eyes can’t get enough of the trees—
they’re so hopeful, so green.
A sunny road runs through the mulberries,
I’m at the window of the prison infirmary.
I can’t smell the medicines—
carnations must be blooming nearby.
It’s this way:
being captured is beside the point,
the point is not to surrender.
Trans. by Randy Blasing and Mutlu Konuk (1993)
“Nam Sibyllam quidem Cumis ego ipse oculis meis vidi in ampulla pendere, et cum illi pueri dicerent:Σιβυλλα τι θελεις; respondebat illa:αποθανειν θελω.”
Translation: I saw myself, with my own eyes, the Sibyl of Cumae hanging in a bottle; and when the boys asked her: “Sibyl, what do you want?” she responded: “I want to die.”
Wandering Around an Albuquerque Airport Terminal / Naomi Shihab Nye
After learning my flight was detained four hours,
I heard the announcement:
If anyone in the vicinity of gate 4-A understands any Arabic,
Please come to the gate immediately.
Well — one pauses these days. Gate 4-A was my own gate. I went there.
An older woman in full traditional Palestinian dress,
Just like my grandma wore, was crumpled to the floor, wailing loudly.
Help, said the flight service person. Talk to her. What is her
Problem? We told her the flight was going to be four hours late and she
I put my arm around her and spoke to her haltingly.
Shu dow-a, shu-biduck habibti, stani stani schway, min faduck,
Sho bit se-wee?
The minute she heard any words she knew — however poorly used —
She stopped crying.
She thought our flight had been cancelled entirely.
She needed to be in El Paso for some major medical treatment the
Following day. I said no, no, we’re fine, you’ll get there, just late,
Who is picking you up? Let’s call him and tell him.
We called her son and I spoke with him in English.
I told him I would stay with his mother till we got on the plane and
Would ride next to her — southwest.
She talked to him. Then we called her other sons just for the fun of it.
Then we called my dad and he and she spoke for a while in Arabic and
Found out of course they had ten shared friends.
Then I thought just for the heck of it why not call some Palestinian
Poets I know and let them chat with her. This all took up about two hours.
She was laughing a lot by then. Telling about her life. Answering
She had pulled a sack of homemade mamool cookies — little powdered
Sugar crumbly mounds stuffed with dates and nuts — out of her bag —
And was offering them to all the women at the gate.
To my amazement, not a single woman declined one. It was like a
Sacrament. The traveler from Argentina, the traveler from California,
The lovely woman from Laredo — we were all covered with the same
Powdered sugar. And smiling. There is no better cookie.
And then the airline broke out the free beverages from huge coolers —
Non-alcoholic — and the two little girls for our flight, one African
American, one Mexican American — ran around serving us all apple juice
And lemonade and they were covered with powdered sugar too.
And I noticed my new best friend — by now we were holding hands —
Had a potted plant poking out of her bag, some medicinal thing,
With green furry leaves. Such an old country traveling tradition. Always
Carry a plant. Always stay rooted somewhere.
And I looked around that gate of late and weary ones and thought,
This is the world I want to live in. The shared world.
Not a single person in this gate — once the crying of confusion stopped —
Has seemed apprehensive about any other person.
They took the cookies. I wanted to hug all those other women too.
This can still happen anywhere.
Not everything is lost.