The United States, Mexico, and the Mexican-American
The Defense of the Alamo
By Joaquin Miller (1841-1913)
Santa Ana came storming, as a storm might come;
There was rumble of cannon; there was rattle of blade;
There was cavalry, infantry, bugle and drum—
Full seven thousand in pomp and parade.
The chivalry, flower of Mexico; 5
And a gaunt two hundred in the Alamo!
And thirty lay sick, and some were shot through;
For the siege had been bitter, and bloody, and long.
―Surrender, or die!‖ —―Men, what will you do?‖
And Travis, great Travis, drew sword, quick and strong; 10
Drew a line at his feet. . . . ―Will you come‖ Will you go?
I die with my wounded, in the Alamo.‖
Then Bowie gasped, ―Lead me over that line!‖
Then Crockett, one hand to the sick, one hand to his gun,
Crossed with him; then never a word or a sign 15
Till all, sick or well, all, all save but one,
One man. Then a woman stepped, praying, and slow
Across; to die at her post in the Alamo.
Then that one coward fled, in the night, in that night
When all men silently prayed and thought 20
Of home; of to-morrow; of God and the right,
Till dawn; and with dawn came Travis‘s cannon-shot,
In answer to insolent Mexico,
From the old bell-tower of the Alamo.
Then came Santa Ana; a crescent of flame! 25
Then the red escalade; then the fight hand to hand;
Such an unequal fight as never had name
Since the Persian hordes butchered that doomed Spartan band.
All day—all day and all night; and the morning? so slow,
Through the battle smoke mantling the Alamo. 30
Now silence! Such silence! Two thousand lay dead
In a crescent outside! And within? Not a breath
Save the gasp of a woman, with gory gashed head,
All alone, all alone there, waiting for death;
And she but a nurse. Yet when shall we know 35
Another like this of the Alamo?
Shout ―Victory, victory, victory ho!‖
I say ‘tis not always to the hosts that win!
I say that the victory, high or low,
Is given the hero who grapples with sin, 40
Or legion or single; just asking to know
When duty fronts death in his Alamo.
The Other Alamo
By Martín Espada
—San Antonio, Texas, 1990
In the Crockett Hotel dining room,
a chalk-faced man in medaled uniform
growls a prayer
at the head of the veterans' table.
Throughout the map of this saint-hungry city, 5
hands strain for the touch of shrines,
genuflection before cannon and memorial plaque,
grasping the talisman of Bowie knife replica
at the souvenir shop, visitors
in white Biblical quote T-shirts. 10
The stones in the walls are smaller
than the fists of Texas martyrs;
their cavernous mouths could drink the canal to mud.
The Daughters of the Republic
print brochures dancing with Mexican demons, 15
Santa Anna's leg still hopping
to conjunto accordions.
The lawyers who conquered farmland
by scratching on parchment in an oil lamp haze,
the cotton growers who kept the time 20
of Mexican peasant lives dangling from their watch chains,
the vigilantes hooded like blind angels
hunting with torches for men the color of night,
gathering at church, the capitol, or the porch
for a century all said this: Alamo. 25
In 1949, three boys
in Air Force dress khaki
ignored the whites-only sign
at the diner by the bus station:
A soldier from Baltimore, who heard nigger sung here 30
more often than his name, but would not glance away;
another blond and solemn as his Tennessee
of whitewashed spires;
another from distant Puerto Rico, cap tipped at an angle
in a country where brown skin 35
could be boiled for the leather of a vigilante's wallet.
The waitress squinted a glare and refused their contamination,
the manager lost his crewcut politeness
and blustered about local customs,
the police, with surrounding faces, 40
jeered about tacos and señoritas
on the Mexican side of town.
"We're not leaving," they said,
and hunched at their stools
till the manager ordered the cook, 45
sweat-burnished black man unable to hide his grin,
to slide cheeseburgers on plates
across the counter.
"We're not hungry," they said,
and left a week's pay for the cook. 50
One was my father; his word for fury
This afternoon, the heat clouds the air like bothered gnats.
The lunch counter was wrecked for the dump years ago. 55
In the newspapers, a report of vandals
scarring the wooden doors
of the Alamo
in black streaks of fire.
The Annexation of Texas
By John Greenleaf Whittier
Voice of New England
Up the hillside, down the glen,
Rouse the sleeping citizen;
Summon out the might of men!
Like a lion growling low,
Like a night-storm rising slow, 5
Like the tread of unseen foe;
It is coming, it is nigh!
Stand your homes and altars by;
On your own free thresholds die.
Clang the bells in all your spires; 10
On the gray hills of your sires
Fling to heaven your signal-fires.
From Wachuset, lone and bleak,
Unto Berkshire‘s tallest peak,
Let the flame-tongued heralds speak. 15
Oh, for God and duty stand,
Heart to heart and hand to hand,
Round the old graves of the land.
Whoso shrinks or falters now,
Whoso to the yoke would bow, 20
Brand the craven on his brow!
Freedom‘s soil hath only place
For a free and fearless race,
None for traitors false and base.
Perish party, perish clan; 25
Strike together while ye can,
Like the arm of one strong man.
Like that angel‘s voice sublime,
Heard above a world of crime,
Crying of the end of time; 30
With one heart and with one mouth,
Let the North unto the South
Speak the word befitting both.
―What though Issachar be strong
Ye may load his back with wrong 35
Overmuch and over long:
―Patience with her cup o‘errun,
With her weary thread outspun,
Murmurs that her work is done.
―Make our Union-bond a chain, 40
Weak as tow in Freedom‘s strain
Link by link shall snap in twain.
―Vainly shall your sand-wrought rope
Bind the starry cluster up,
Shattered over heaven‘s blue cope! 45
―Give us bright though broken rays,
Rather than eternal haze,
Clouding o‘er the full-orbed blaze.
―Take your land of sun and bloom;
Only leave to Freedom room 50
For her plough, and forge, and loom;
―Take your slavery-blackened vales;
Leave us but our own free gales,
Blowing on our thousand sails.
―Boldly, or with treacherous art, 55
Strike the blood-wrought chain apart;
Break the Union‘s mighty heart;
―Work the ruin, if ye will;
Pluck upon your heads an ill
Which shall grow and deepen still. 60
―With your bondman‘s right arm bare,
With his heart of black despair,
Stand alone, if stand ye dare!
―Onward with your fell design;
Dig the gulf and draw the line 65
Fire beneath your feet the mine!
―Deeply, when the wide abyss
Yawns between your land and this,
Shall ye feel your helplessness.
―By the hearth, and in the bed, 70
Shaken by a look or tread,
Ye shall own a guilty dread.
―And the curse of unpaid toil,
Downward through your generous soil
Like a fire shall burn and spoil. 75
―Our bleak hills shall bud and blow,
Vines our rocks shall overgrow,
Plenty in our valleys flow;—
―And when vengeance clouds your skies,
Hither shall ye turn your eyes, 80
As the lost on Paradise!
―We but ask our rocky strand,
Freedom‘s true and brother band,
Freedom‘s strong and honest hand;
―Valleys by the slave untrod, 85
And the Pilgrim‘s mountain sod,
Blessed of our fathers‘ God!‖
The Mexican-American War and Manifest Destiny
The Angels of Buena Vista
By John Greenleaf Whittier
A letter-writer from Mexico during the Mexican war, when detailing some of the incidents at the terrible fight of Buena Vista, mentioned
that Mexican women were seen hovering near the field of death, for the purpose of giving aid and succor to the wounded. One poor
woman was found surrounded by the maimed and suffering of both armies, ministering to the wants of Americans as well as Mexicans,
with impartial tenderness.
Speak and tell us, our Ximena, looking
northward far away,
O‘er the camp of the invaders, o‘er the Mex-
Who is losing? who is winning? are they 5
far or come they near?
Look abroad, and tell us, sister, whither
rolls the storm we hear.
Down the hills of Angostura still the storm
of battle rolls; 10
Blood is flowing, men are dying; God have
mercy on their souls!
―Who is losing? who is winning?‖ Over
hill and over plain,
I see but smoke of cannon clouding through 15
the mountain rain.‖
Holy Mother! keep our brothers! Look,
Ximena, look once more.
―Still I see the fearful whirlwind rolling
darkly as before, 20
Bearing on, in strange confusion, friend and
foeman, foot and horse,
Like some wild and troubled torrent sweep-
ing down its mountain course.‖
Look forth once more, Ximena! ―Ah! the 25
smoke has rolled away;
And I see the Northern rifles gleaming down
the ranks of gray.
Hark! that sudden blast of bugles! there
the troop of Minon wheels; 30
There the Northern horses thunder, with
the cannon at their heels.
―Jesu, pity I how it thickens I now retreat
and now advance!
Bight against the blazing cannon shivers 35
Puebla‘s charging lance!
Down they go, the brave young riders;
horse and foot together fall;
Like a ploughshare in the fallow, through
them ploughs the Northern ball.‖ 40
Nearer came the storm and nearer, rolling
fast and frightful on!
Speak, Ximena, speak and tell us, who has
lost, and who has won?
Alas! alas! I know not; friend and foe 45
O‘er the dying rush the living: pray, my
sisters, for them all!
―Lo! the wind the smoke is lifting.
Blessed Mother, save my brain! 50
I can see the wounded crawling slowly out
from heaps of slain.
Now they stagger, blind and bleeding; now
they fall, and strive to rise;
Hasten, sisters, haste and save them, lest 55
they die before our eyes!
―O my hearts love! O my dear one! lay
thy poor head on my knee;
Dost thou know the lips that kiss thee?
Canst thou hear me? canst thou see? 60
O my husband, brave and gentle! O my
Bernal, look once more
On the blessed cross before thee! Mercy!
Mercy! all is o‘er!‖
Dry thy tears, my poor Ximena; lay thy 65
dear one down to rest;
Let his hands be meekly folded, lay the cross
upon his breast;
Let his dirge be sung hereafter, and his
funeral masses said; 70
To-day, thou poor bereaved one, the living
ask thy aid.
Close beside her, faintly moaning, fair and
young, a soldier lay,
Torn with shot and pierced with lances, 75
bleeding slow his life away;
But, as tenderly before him the lorn Ximena
She saw the Northern eagle shining on his
With a stifled cry of horror straight she
turned away her head;
With a sad and bitter feeling looked she
back upon her dead;
But she heard the youth‘s low moaning, and 85
his struggling breath of pain,
And she raised the cooling water to his
parching lips again.
Whispered low the dying soldier, pressed
her hand and faintly smiled; 90
Was that pitying face his mother‘s? did
she watch beside her child?
All his stranger words with meaning her
woman‘s heart supplied;
With her kiss upon his forehead, ―Mother!‖ 95
murmured he, and died!
―A bitter curse upon them, poor boy, who
led thee forth,
From some gentle, sad-eyed mother, weep-
ing, lonely, in the North!‖ 100
Spake the mournful Mexic woman, as she
laid him with her dead,
And turned to soothe the living, and bind
the wounds which bled.
―Look forth once more, Ximena!‖ Like a 105
cloud before the wind
Rolls the battle down the mountains, leav-
ing blood and death behind;
Ah! they plead in vain for mercy; in the
dust the wounded strive; 110
―Hide your faces, holy angels! O thou
Christ of God, forgive!‖
Sink, O Night, among thy mountains! let
the cool, gray shadows fall;
Dying brothers, fighting demons, drop thy 115
curtain over all!
Through the thickening winter twilight,
wide apart the battle rolled,
In its sheath the sabre rested, and the can-
non‘s lips grew cold. 120
But the noble Mexic women still their holy
Through that long, dark night of sorrow,
worn and faint and lacking food.
Over weak and suffering brothers, with a 125
tender care they hung,
And the dying foeman blessed them in a
strange and Northern tongue.
Not wholly lost, O Father! is this evil
world of ours; 130
Upward, through its blood and ashes, spring
afresh the Eden flowers;
From its smoking hell of battle, Love and
Pity send their prayer,
And still thy white-winged angels hover 135
dimly in our air!
Ode, Inscribed to W. H. Channing
By Ralph Waldo Emerson
Though loth to grieve
The evil time‘s sole patriot,
I cannot leave
My buried thought
For the priest‘s cant, 5
Or statesman‘s rant.
If I refuse
My study for their politique,
Which at the best is trick,
The angry muse 10
Puts confusion in my brain.
But who is he that prates
Of the culture of mankind,
Of better arts and life?
Go, blind worm, go, 15
Behold the famous States
With rifle and with knife.
Or who, with accent bolder,
Dare praise the freedom-loving mountaineer, 20
I found by thee, O rushing Contoocook!
And in thy valleys, Agiochook!
The jackals of the negro-holder.
The God who made New Hampshire
Taunted the lofty land 25
With little men.
Small bat and wren
House in the oak.
If earth fire cleave
The upheaved land, and bury the folk, 30
The southern crocodile would grieve.
Virtue palters, right is hence,
Freedom praised but hid;
Rattles the coffin-lid. 35
What boots thy zeal,
O glowing friend,
That would indignant rend
The northland from the south?
Wherefore? To what good end? 40
Boston Bay and Bunker Hill
Would serve things still:
Things are of the snake.
The horseman serves the horse,
The neat-herd serves the neat, 45
The merchant serves the purse,
The eater serves his meat;
‘Tis the day of the chattel,
Web to weave, and corn to grind,
Things are in the saddle, 50
And ride mankind.
There are two laws discrete
Law for man, and law for thing;
The last builds town and fleet, 55
But it runs wild,
And doth the man unking.
‘Tis fit the forest fall,
The steep be graded,
The mountain tunnelled, 60
The land shaded,
The orchard planted,
The globe tilled,
The prairie planted,
The steamer built. 65
Live for friendship, live for love,
For truth‘s and harmony‘s behoof;
The state may follow how it can,
As Olympus follows Jove.
Yet do not I implore 70
The wrinkled shopman to my sounding woods,
Nor bid the unwilling senator
Ask votes of thrushes in the solitudes.
Every one to his chosen work.
Foolish hands may mix and mar, 75
Wise and sure the issues are.
Round they roll, till dark is light,
Sex to sex, and even to odd;
Who marries Right to Might, 80
Who peoples, unpeoples,
He who exterminates
Races by stronger races,
Black by white faces,
Knows to bring honey 85
Out of the lion,
Grafts gentlest scion
On Pirate and Turk.
The Cossack eats Poland,
Like stolen fruit; 90
Her last noble is ruined,
Her last poet mute;
Straight into double band
The victors divide,
Half for freedom strike and stand, 95
The astonished muse finds thousands at her side.
No. 1 A Letter (from The Biglow Papers)
By James Russell Lowell (1819-1891)
Thrash away, you‘ll hev to rattle
On them kittle drums o‘ yourn,—
‘Taint a knowin‘ kind o‘ cattle
Thet is ketched with mouldy corn;
Put in stiff, you fifer feller, 5
Let folks see how spry you be,—
Guess you‘ll toot till you are yeller
‘Fore you git ahold o‘ me!
Thet air flag‘s a leetle rotten,
Hope it aint your Sunday‘s best;— 10
Fact! it takes a sight o‘ cotton
To stuff out a soger‘s chest:
Sence we farmers hev to pay fer‘t,
Ef you must wear humps like these,
Sposin‘ you should try salt hay fer‘t, 15
It would du ez slick ez grease.
‘T would n‘t suit them Southern fellers,
They‘re a dreffle graspin‘ set,
We must ollers blow the bellers
Wen they want their irons het; 20
May be it‘s all right ez preachin‘,
But my narves it kind o‘ grates,
Wen I see the overreachin‘
O‘ them nigger-drivin‘ States.
Them thet rule us, them slave-traders, 25
Haint they cut a thunderin‘ swarth
(Helped by Yankee renegaders),
Thru the vartu o‘ the North!
We begin to think it‘s nater
To take sarse an‘ not be riled;— 30
Who‘d expect to see a tater
All on eend at bein‘ biled?
Ez fer war, I call it murder,—
There you hev it plain an‘ flat;
I don‘t want to go no furder 35
Than my Testyment fer that;
God hez sed so plump an‘ fairly,
It‘s ez long ez it is broad,
An‘ you‘ve gut to git up airly
Ef you want to take in God. 40
‘Taint your eppyletts an‘ feathers
Make the thing a grain more right;
Taint afollerin‘ your bell-wethers
Will excuse ye in His sight;
Ef you take a sword an‘ dror it, 45
An‘ go stick a feller thru,
Guv‘ment aint to answer for it,
God‘ll send the bill to you.
Wut‘s the use o‘ meetin-goin‘
Every Sabbath, wet or dry, 50
Ef it‘s right to go amowin‘
Feller-men like oats an‘ rye?
I dunno but wut it‘s pooty
Trainin‘ round in bobtail coats,—
But it‘s curus Christian dooty 55
This ere cuttin‘ folks‘s throats.
They may talk o‘ Freedom‘s airy
Tell they‘re pupple in the face,—
It‘s a grand gret cemetary
Fer the barthrights of our race; 60
They jest want this Californy
So‘s to lug new slave-states in
To abuse ye, an‘ to scorn ye,
An‘ to plunder ye like sin.
Aint it cute to see a Yankee 65
Take sech everlastin‘ pains
All to git the Devil‘s thankee,
Helpin‘ on ‘em weld their chains?
Wy, it‘s jest ez clear ez figgers,
Clear ez one an‘ one make two, 70
Chaps thet make black slaves o‘ niggers
Want to make wite slaves o‘ you.
Tell ye jest the eend I‘ve come to
Arter cipherin‘ plaguy smart,
An‘ it makes a handy sum, tu, 75
Any gump could larn by heart;
Laborin‘ man an‘ laborin‘ woman
Hev one glory an‘ one shame,
Ev‘y thin‘ thet‘s done inhuman
Injers all on ‘em the same. 80
‘Taint by turnin‘ out to hack folks
You‘re agoin‘ to git your right,
Nor by lookin‘ down on black folks
Coz you‘re put upon by wite;
Slavery aint o‘ nary colour, 85
‘Taint the hide thet makes it wus,
All it keers fer in a feller
‘S jest to make him fill its pus.
Want to tackle me in, du ye?
I expect you‘ll hev to wait; 90
Wen cold lead puts daylight thru ye
You‘ll begin to kal‘late;
‘Spose the crows wun‘t fall to pickin‘
All the carkiss from your bones,
Coz you helped to give a lickin‘ 95
To them poor half-Spanish drones?
Jest go home an‘ ask our Nancy
Wether I‘d be sech a goose
Ez to jine ye,—guess you‘d fancy
The etarnal bung wuz loose! 100
She wants me fer home consumption,
Let alone the hay‘s to mow,—
Ef you‘re arter folks o‘ gumption,
You‘ve a darned long row to hoe.
Take them editors thet‘s crowin‘ 105
Like a cockerel three months old,—
Don‘t ketch any on ‘em goin‘,
Though they be so blasted bold;
Aint they a prime set o‘ fellers?
‘Fore they think on‘t they will sprout 110
(Like a peach thet‘s got the yellers),
With the meanness bustin‘ out.
Wal, go ‘long to help ‘em stealin‘
Bigger pens to cram with slaves,
Help the men thet‘s ollers dealin‘ 115
Insults on your fathers‘ graves;
Help the strong to grind the feeble,
Help the many agin the few,
Help the men thet call your people
Witewashed slaves an‘ peddlin‘ crew! 120
Massachusetts, God forgive her,
She‘s akneelin‘ with the rest,
She, thet ough‘ to ha‘ clung fer ever
In her grand old eagle-nest;
She thet ough‘ to stand so fearless 125
Wile the wracks are round her hurled,
Holdin‘ up a beacon peerless
To the oppressed of all the world!
Haint they sold your coloured seamen?
Haint they made your env‘ys wiz? 130
Wut‘ll make ye act like freemen?
Wut‘ll git your dander riz?
Come, I‘ll tell ye wut I‘m thinkin‘
Is our dooty in this fix,
They‘d ha‘ done‘t ez quick ez winkin‘ 135
In the days o‘ seventy-six.
Clang the bells in every steeple,
Call all true men to disown
The tradoocers of our people,
The enslavers o‘ their own; 140
Let our dear old Bay State proudly
Put the trumpet to her mouth,
Let her ring this messidge loudly
In the ears of all the South:—
"I‘ll return ye good fer evil 145
Much ez we frail mortils can,
But I wun‘t go help the Devil
Makin‘ man the cus o‘ man;
Call me coward, call me traiter,
Jest ez suits your mean idees,— 150
Here I stand a tyrant-hater,
An‘ the friend o‘ God an Peace!"
Ef I‘d my way I hed ruther
We should go to work an‘ part,—
They take one way, we take t‘other,— 155
Guess it would n‘t break my heart;
Men hed ough‘ to put asunder
Them thet God has noways jined;
An‘ I should n‘t gretly wonder
Ef there‘s thousands o‘ my mind. 160
What Mr. Robinson Thinks (from The Biglow Papers)
By James Russell Lowell (1819-1891)
Guvener B. is a sensible man;
He stays to his home an‘ looks arter his folks;
He draws his furrer ez straight ez he can,
An‘ into nobody‘s tater-patch pokes;—
But John P. 5
Sez he wunt vote fer Guvener B.
My! aint it terrible? Wut shall we du?
We can‘t never choose him, o‘ course,—thet‘s flat;
Guess we shall hev to come round, (don‘t you?) 10
An‘ go in fer thunder an‘ guns, an‘ all that;
Fer John P.
Sez he wunt vote fer Guvener B.
Gineral C. is a dreffle smart man: 15
He‘s ben on all sides thet give places or pelf;
But consistency still wuz a part of his plan,—
He‘s ben true to one party,—an‘ thet is himself;—
So John P.
Robinson he 20
Sez he shall vote fer Gineral C.
Gineral C. he goes in fer the war;
He don‘t vally principle more ‘n an old cud;
Wut did God make us raytional creeturs fer,
But glory an‘ gunpowder, plunder an‘ blood? 25
So John P.
Sez he shall vote fer Gineral C.
We were gittin‘ on nicely up here to our village,
With good old idees o‘ wut‘s right an‘ wut aint, 30
We kind o‘ thought Christ went agin war an‘ pillage,
An‘ thet eppyletts worn‘t the best mark of a saint;
But John P.
Sez this kind o‘ thing‘s an exploded idee. 35
The side of our country must ollers be took,
An‘ Presidunt Polk, you know, he is our country;
An‘ the angel thet writes all our sins in a book
Puts the debit to him, an‘ to us the per contry;
An‘ John P. 40
Sez this is his view o‘ the thing to a T.
Parson Wilbur he calls all these argimunts lies;
Sez they‘re nothin‘ on airth but jest fee, faw, fum;
An‘ thet all this big talk of our destinies 45
Is half on it ignorance, an‘ t‘other half rum;
But John P.
Sez it aint no sech thing; an‘, of course, so must we.
Parson Wilbur sez he never heerd in his life 50
Thet th‘ Apostles rigged out in their swaller-tail coats
An‘ marched round in front of a drum an‘ a fife,
To git some on ‘em office, an' some on ‘em votes;
But John P.
Robinson he 55
Sez they didn‘t know everythin‘ down in Judee.
Wal, it‘s a marcy we‘ve gut folks to tell us
The rights an‘ the wrongs o‘ these matters, I vow,—
God sends country lawyers, an‘ other wise fellers,
To drive the world‘s team wen it gits in a slough; 60
Fer John P.
Sez the world‘ll go right, ef he hollers out Gee!
A Message to America
By Alan Seeger
You have the grit and the guts, I know;
You are ready to answer blow for blow
You are virile, combative, stubborn, hard,
But your honor ends with your own back-yard;
Each man intent on his private goal, 5
You have no feeling for the whole;
What singly none would tolerate
You let unpunished hit the state,
Unmindful that each man must share
The stain he lets his country wear, 10
And (what no traveller ignores)
That her good name is often yours.
You are proud in the pride that feels its might;
From your imaginary height
Men of another race or hue 15
Are men of a lesser breed to you:
The neighbor at your southern gate
You treat with the scorn that has bred his hate.
To lend a spice to your disrespect
You call him the ―greaser‖. But reflect! 20
The greaser has spat on you more than once;
He has handed you multiple affronts;
He has robbed you, banished you, burned and killed;
He has gone untrounced for the blood he spilled;
He has jeering used for his bootblack‘s rag 25
The stars and stripes of the gringo‘s flag;
And you, in the depths of your easy-chair—
What did you do, what did you care?
Did you find the season too cold and damp
To change the counter for the camp? 30
Were you frightened by fevers in Mexico?
I can‘t imagine, but this I know—
You are impassioned vastly more
By the news of the daily baseball score
Than to hear that a dozen countrymen 35
Have perished somewhere in Darien,
That greasers have taken their innocent lives
And robbed their holdings and raped their wives.
Not by rough tongues and ready fists
Can you hope to jilt in the modern lists. 40
The armies of a littler folk
Shall pass you under the victor‘s yoke,
Sobeit a nation that trains her sons
To ride their horses and point their guns—
Sobeit a people that comprehends 45
The limit where private pleasure ends
And where their public dues begin,
A people made strong by discipline
Who are willing to give—what you‘ve no mind to—
And understand—what you are blind to— 50
The things that the individual
Must sacrifice for the good of all.
You have a leader who knows—the man
Most fit to be called American,
A prophet that once in generations 55
Is given to point to erring nations
Brighter ideals toward which to press
And lead them out of the wilderness.
Will you turn your back on him once again?
Will you give the tiller once more to men 60
Who have made your country the laughing-stock
For the older peoples to scorn and mock,
Who would make you servile, despised, and weak,
A country that turns the other cheek,
Who care not how bravely your flag may float, 65
Who answer an insult with a note,
Whose way is the easy way in all,
And, seeing that polished arms appal
Their marrow of milk-fed pacifist,
Would tell you menace does not exist? 70
Are these, in the world‘s great parliament,
The men you would choose to represent
Your honor, your manhood, and your pride,
And the virtues your fathers dignified?
Oh, bury them deeper than the sea 75
In universal obloquy;
Forget the ground where they lie, or write
For epitaph: ―Too proud to fight.‖
I have been too long from my country‘s shores
To reckon what state of mind is yours, 80
But as for myself I know right well
I would go through fire and shot and shell
And face new perils and make my bed
In new privations, if ROOSEVELT led;
But I have given my heart and hand 85
To serve, in serving another land,
Ideals kept bright that with you are dim;
Here men can thrill to their country‘s hymn,
For the passion that wells in the Marseillaise
Is the same that fires the French these days, 90
And, when the flag that they love goes by,
With swelling bosom and moistened eye
They can look, for they know that it floats there still
By the might of their hands and the strength of their will,
And through perils countless and trials unknown 95
Its honor each man has made his own.
They wanted the war no more than you,
But they saw how the certain menace grew,
And they gave two years of their youth or three
The more to insure their liberty 100
When the wrath of rifles and pennoned spears
Should roll like a flood on their wrecked frontiers.
They wanted the war no more than you,
But when the dreadful summons blew
And the time to settle the quarrel came 105
They sprang to their guns, each man was game;
And mark if they fight not to the last
For their hearths, their altars, and their past:
Yea, fight till their veins have been bled dry
For love of the country that WILL not die. 110
O friends, in your fortunate present ease
(Yet faced by the self-same facts as these),
If you would see how a race can soar
That has no love, but no fear, of war,
How each can turn from his private role 115
That all may act as a perfect whole,
How men can live up to the place they claim
And a nation, jealous of its good name,
Be true to its proud inheritance,
Oh, look over here and learn from FRANCE! 120
Border Issues and Immigration
At the Rio Grande Near the End of the Century
By Ray González
See how the cottonwood bends at the waist.
It turns grayer, cracking as the sun goes down.
There is no limit to returning.
See the trunk turn toward what has changed you.
When you place yourself against the river you can‘t reach, 5
it is an old habit draining your hands of strength.
Look at the cottonwood disappearing.
Its hidden sentiment is alighting out of your reach.
It is not water.
It was not made to mark the border with leaves. 10
Only the river can cease its mud and turn its brown heart.
Only the passage belongs to swollen, bare feet.
What you know is the scent of the desert you are so tired
of writing about,
how it covers the past and hangs as the ember of thought— 15
wisdom molded out of the falling world.
What you love is removed from the pale circle of shadows.
It will never return. It will weep.
Even the moisture in the armpit smells like the trees.
Tomorrow you will see another kind of growth. 20
See the threads of the hills turning back the revolt.
See how the men are crossing the river toward you.
When the cottonwood petrifies in the lone spot,
history will be overlooked and you will die.
What you keep are the thousand miles of the wounded breast. 25
What you smell is the fine cotton of the dying tree.
When the white balls stick to your hair, listen to the fleeing men.
Even their backs are wet and some of them look like you.
The Angels of Juárez, Mexico
By Ray González
Sometimes, they save people from drowning in the river,
their wings soaked in the oily water
keeping them from leaving the border.
The oldest angel is a man from the last century
whose white hair hangs to the ground. 5
He floats above the water each time he saves
a mojado who tries to cross in the coyote’s raft,
falling into the current to be somebody.
The angels of Juárez look over the colonias,
nibble on the cardboard shacks like the rats 10
they never fear because rats have their own angels.
When children fall into the poison,
the angels dance above the glowing waves,
pull out the chosen child with a kiss,
toss him on the bank for others to find. 15
The angels know about revolution and dying,
prefer to hover over the Río Grande
where the bodies move at night,
fighting for air angels mistake
for a grasp toward heaven. 20
The angels of Juárez often hide
from the desire to cross,
to take a chance and send a chant
over the dirty waters of the border,
the latest drowning victim wondering 25
why the old man he was told
to watch for, never extended a hand.
The angels appear in the night,
listen as the course of the border
tightens with searchlights 30
and the hidden green cars of patrol.
They swim over the electricity,
wings humming to create a magnet
that makes it easier to cross.
The angels never appear near the churches, 35
nor the kneeling altars.
They are not part of the prayer, the escape.
They know the river churns toward
the horizon that accepts fewer souls each year.
They hover to make sure 40
the water keeps flowing,
mud moving to the other side of the river
where no angels dwell because
this side was cleared of faith long ago,
waiting streets of El Paso 45
never mistaken for the place of angels.
Running to America
By Luis Rodriguez
They are night shadows
Fingers curled through chain-link fences,
Hiding from infra-red eyes,
Dodging 30-30 bullets, 5
They leave familiar smells,
Warmth and sounds,
As ancient as the trampled stones.
Running to America.
There is a woman in her finest 10
A purple blouse from an older sister,
A pair of worn shoes
From a church bazaar,
A tattered coat from a former lover. 15
There is a child dressed in black,
Fear sparkling from dark Indian eyes,
Clinging to a headless Barbie doll.
And the men, some hardened, quiet,
Others young and loud— 20
You see something like this in prisons.
Soon they will cross on their bellies,
Kissing black earth,
Then run to America.
Bent to the Earth
By Blas Manuel De Luna
They had hit Ruben
with the high beams, had blinded
him so that the van
he was driving, full of Mexicans
going to pick tomatoes, 5
would have to stop. Ruben spun
the van into an irrigation ditch,
spun the five-year-old me awake
to immigration officers,
their batons already out, 10
already looking for the soft spots on the body,
to my mother being handcuffed
and dragged to a van, to my father
trying to show them our green cards.
They let us go. But Alvaro 15
was going back.
So was his brother Fernando.
So was their sister Sonia. Their mother
did not escape,
and so was going back. Their father 20
was somewhere in the field,
and was free. There were no great truths
revealed to me then. No wisdom
given to me by anyone. I was a child
who had seen what a piece of polished wood 25
could do to a face, who had seen his father
about to lose the one he loved, who had lost
some friends who would never return,
who, later that morning, bent
to the earth and went to work. 30
So Mexicans Are Taking Jobs from Americans
By Jimmy Santiago Baca
O Yes? Do they come on horses
with rifles, and say,
Ese gringo, gimmee your job?
And do you, gringo, take off your ring,
drop your wallet into a blanket 5
spread over the ground, and walk away?
I hear Mexicans are taking your jobs away.
Do they sneak into town at night,
and as you‘re walking home with a whore,
do they mug you, a knife at your throat, 10
saying, I want your job?
Even on TV, an asthmatic leader
crawls turtle heavy, leaning on an assistant,
and from a nest of wrinkles on his face,
a tongue paddles through flashing waves 15
of lightbulbs, of cameramen, rasping
―They‘re taking our jobs away.‖
Well, I‘ve gone about trying to find them,
asking just where the hell are these fighters.
The rifles I hear sound in the night 20
are white farmers shooting blacks and browns
whose ribs I see jutting out
and starving children,
I see the poor marching for a little work,
I see small white farmers selling out 25
to clean-suited farmers living in New York,
who‘ve never been on a farm,
don‘t know the look of a hoof or the smell
of a woman‘s body bending all day long in fields.
I see this, and I hear only a few people 30
got all the money in this world, the rest
count their pennies to buy bread and butter.
Below that cool green sea of money,
millions and millions of people fight to live,
search for pearls in the darkest depths 35
of their dreams, hold their breath for years
trying to cross poverty to just having something.
The children are dead already. We are killing them,
that is what America should be saying;
on TV, in the streets, in offices, should be saying, 40
―We aren‘t giving the children a chance to live.‖
Mexicans are taking our jobs, they say instead.
What they really say is, let them die,
and the children too.
By Jimmy Santiago Baca
I could not disengage my world
from the rest of humanity.
Wind chill factor 11° below. All night
wind thrashes barechested trees
like a West Texas tent evangelist 5
hissing them on his knees,
sinnn . . . sinn . . . sinn . . .
All night wind preaches.
Old tool shed 10
behind my house
fist-cuffs itself to nail-loose tin,
horse pasture gates
clank their crimes,
while neighing black stallions of rain 15
stampede on the patio
fleeing gunshots of thunder . . . .
Miles south of here,
nightscopes pick up human heat
that green fuzz helicopter 20
A mother whispers,
―Sssshhhh mejito, nomás poco más allá.
Nomás poco más allá.‖
Dunes of playing-dead people 25
jack rabbit under strobe lights
and cutting whack/blades,
Sssshhhh.‖ Child whimpers
and staggers in blinding dust 30
and gnashing wind.
Those not caught, scratch sand up
to sleep against underbellies
of roots and stones.
Eventually Juanito comes to my door, 35
sick from eating stucco chips—
his meals scratched off
walls of temporary shelters,
and Enrique, who guzzled water
at industrial pipes 40
pouring green foam out
at the El Paso/Juarez border,
and Maria steaming with fever,
face dark meteorite, whispers,
―Where I come from, Señor Baca, 45
a woman‘s womb is a rock,
and children born from me,
drop like stones, to become dust
under death squad‘s boots.‖
And Juanito, 50
―The came at midnight
and took my brothers. I have
never seen them since. Each judge‘s tongue
is a bleeding stub of death, and each lawyer‘s
finger a soft coffin nail.‖ 55
―You can trust no one.
Each crying person‘s eye is a damp cellar
where thieves and murderers sleep.‖
They have found refuge here 60
at Black Mesa.
The sun passes between our lives,
as between two trees,
one gray, one green,
but side by side. 65
Immigrants in Our Own Land
By Jimmy Santiago Baca
We are born with dreams in our hearts,
looking for better days ahead.
At the gates we are given new papers,
our old clothes are taken
and we are given overalls like mechanics wear. 5
We are given shots and doctors ask questions.
Then we gather in another room
where counselors orient us to the new land
we will now live in. We take tests.
Some of us were craftsmen in the old world, 10
good with our hands and proud of our work.
Others were good with their heads.
They used common sense like scholars
use glasses and books to reach the world.
But most of us didn‘t finish high school. 15
The old men who have lived here stare at us,
from deep disturbed eyes, sulking, retreated.
We pass them as they stand around idle,
leaning on shovels and rakes or against walls.
Our expectations are high: in the old world, 20
they talked about rehabilitation,
about being able to finish school,
and learning an extra good trade.
But right away we are sent to work as dishwashers,
to work in fields for three cents an hour. 25
The administration says this is temporary
So we go about our business, blacks with blacks,
poor whites with poor whites,
chicanos and indians by themselves.
The administration says this is right, 30
no mixing of cultures, let them stay apart,
like in the old neighborhoods we came from.
We came here to get away from false promises,
from dictators in our neighborhoods,
who wore blue suits and broke our doors down 35
when they wanted, arrested us when they felt like,
swinging clubs and shooting guns as they pleased.
But it‘s no different here. It‘s all concentrated.
The doctors don‘t care, our bodies decay,
our minds deteriorate, we learn nothing of value. 40
Our lives don‘t get better, we go down quick.
My cell is crisscrossed with laundry lines,
my T-shirts, boxer shorts, socks and pants are drying.
Just like it used to be in my neighborhood:
from all the tenements laundry hung window to window. 45
Across the way Joey is sticking his hands
through the bars to hand Felipé a cigarette,
men are hollering back and forth cell to cell,
saying their sinks don‘t work,
or somebody downstairs hollers angrily 50
about a toilet overflowing,
or that the heaters don‘t work.
I ask Coyote next door to shoot me over
a little more soap to finish my laundry. 55
I look down and see new immigrants coming in,
mattresses rolled up and on their shoulders,
new haircuts and brogan boots,
looking around, each with a dream in their heart,
thinking they‘ll get a chance to change their lives. 60
But in the end, some will just sit around
talking about how good the old world was.
Some of the younger ones will become gangsters.
Some will die and others will go on living
without a soul, a future, or a reason to live. 65
Some will make it out of here with hate in their eyes,
but so very few make it out of here as human
as they came in, they leave wondering what good they are now
as they look at their hands so long away from their tools,
as they look at themselves, so long gone from their families, 70
so long gone from life itself, so many things have changed.
By Jimmy Santiago Baca
Ten feet beyond the back door
the cottonwood tree
is a steaming stone of beginning time.
A battle-scarred warrior
whose great branches knock 5
telephone poles aside, mangle trailers
to meager tin-foil in its grasp,
clip chunks of stucco off my house
so sparrows can nest in gaps,
wreck my car hood, splinter 10
sections of my rail fence,
with uncompromising nostalgia
for warring storms.
I am like this tree 15
Spanish saddle-makers copies
The dense gray wrath of its bark
is the trackway
shipwrecked captains, shepherds, shepherdesses, 20
barn-burners, fence cutters followed.
Camped here at the foot of Black Mesa,
beneath this cottonwood,
leaned muskets on this trunk,
stuck knife blades into its canyon valley bark, 25
red-beaded tasseled arm sleeves clashing
with each throw, as the knife
pierced cattail or bamboo
pinched in bark.
I come back to myself 30
near this tree, and think of my roots
in this land—
Papa and me working in the field.
I tell Papa, ―Look, here comes someone.‖
He rises, pulls red handkerchief from back pocket, 35
takes sombrero off, wipes sweat from brow.
You drive up to our field. Unclip briefcase
on the hood of your new government blue car.
Spread official papers out, point with manicured fingers,
telling Papa what he must do. 40
He lifts a handful of earth by your polished shoe,
and tells you in Spanish, it carries the way of his life.
Before history books were written,
family blood ran through this land,
thrashed against mountain walls and in streams, 45
fed seeds, and swords, and flowers.
―My heart is a root in this earth!‖ he said in Spanish, angrily.
You didn‘t understand Spanish, you told him,
you were not to blame for the way things must be.
The government must have this land. 50
The Land Grant Deed was no good.
You left a trail of dust in our faces.
I asked Papa how a skinny man like you
could take our land away.
He wept that night, wept a strong cry, 55
as if blood were pouring from his eyes,
instead of tears. I remember hearing his voice
coming through the walls into my bedroom,
―They twist my arms back and tear the joints,
and they crush my spine with their boots . . .‖ 60
In my mind‘s eye I looked into the man‘s face
for a long time. I stared at his car for a long time,
and knew as a child I would carry the image
of the enemy in my heart forever.
I will call this cottonwood
Conditions of Mexican and Mexican-American Workers
The Elements of San Joaquin
By Gary Soto
for César Chávez
The wind sprays pale dirt into my mouth
The small, almost invisible scars
On my hands.
The pores in my throat and elbows
Have taken in a seed of dirt of their own. 5
After a day in the grape fields near Rolinda
A fine silt, washed by sweat,
Has settled into the lines
On my wrists and palms.
Already I am becoming the valley, 10
A soil that sprouts nothing.
For any of us.
A dry wind over the valley
Peeled mountains, grain by grain,
To small slopes, loose dirt 15
Where red ants tunnel.
The wind strokes
The skulls and spines of cattle
To white dust, to nothing,
Covers the spiked tracks of beetles, 20
Of tumbleweed, of sparrows
That pecked the ground for insects.
Evenings, when I am in the yard weeding,
The wind picks up the breath of my armpits
Like dust, swirls it 25
And drops it
On the ear of a rabid dog,
And I take on another life.
When you got up this morning the sun 30
Blazed an hour in the sky,
A lizard hid
Under the curled leaves of manzanita
And winked its dark lids.
Later, the sky grayed, 35
And the cold wind you breathed
Was moving under your skin and already far
From the small hives of your lungs.
At dusk the first stars appear.
Not one eager finger points toward them. 40
A little later the stars spread with the night
And an orange moon rises
To lead them, like a shepherd, toward dawn.
In June the sun is a bonnet of light
Coming up, 45
Little by little,
From behind a skyline of pine.
The pastures sway with fiddle-neck,
Tassels of foxtail.
At Piedra 50
A couple fish on the river‘s edge,
Their shadows deep against the water.
Above, in the stubbled slopes,
Cows climb down
As the heat rises 55
In a mist of blond locusts,
Returning to the valley.
When autumn rains flatten sycamore leaves,
The tiny volcanos of dirt
Ants raised around their holes, 60
I should be out of work.
My silverware and stack of plates will go unused
Like the old, my two good slacks
Will smother under a growth of lint
And smell of the old dust 65
When the closet door opens or closes.
The skin of my belly will tighten like a belt
And there will be no reason for pockets.
East of the sun‘s slant, in the vineyard that never failed, 70
A wind crossed my face, moving the dust
And a portion of my voice a step closer to the new year.
The sky went black in the ninth hour of rolling trays,
And in the distance ropes of rain dropped to pull me
From the thick harvest that was not mine. 75
If you go to your window
You will notice a fog drifting in.
The sun is no stronger than a flashlight.
Not all the sweaters
Hung in closets all summer 80
Could soak up this mist. The fog:
A mouth nibbling everything to its origin,
Pomegranate trees, stolen bicycles,
The string of lights at a used-car lot,
A Pontiac with scorched valves. 85
In Fresno the fog is passing
The young thief prying a window screen,
Graying my hair that falls
And goes unfound, my fingerprints
Slowly growing a fur of dust— 90
One hundred years from now
There should be no reason to believe
In this moment when the light starts up
In the east and rubs 95
The horizon until it catches fire,
We enter the fields to hoe,
Row after row, among the small flags of onion,
Waving off the dragonflies
That ladder the air. 100
And tears the onions raise
Do not begin in your eyes but in ours,
In the salt blown
From one blister into another;
They begin in knowing 105
You will never waken to bear
The hour timed to a heart beat,
The wind pressing us closer to the ground.
When the season ends,
And the onions are unplugged from their sleep, 110
We won‘t forget what you failed to see,
And nothing will heal
Under the rain‘s broken fingers.
(1977; rev. 1995)
In California: Morning, Evening, Late January
By Denise Levertov
Pale, then enkindled,
summits of palm and pine, 5
Soon the roar 10
cropping the already short
grass of lawns,
men with long-nozzled
cylinders of pesticide 15
poking at weeds,
at moss in cracks of cement,
and louder roar
of helicopters off to spray
vineyards where braceros try 20
to hold their breath,
and in the distance, bulldozers, excavators,
babel of destructive construction.
Banded by deep
oakshadow, airy 25
shadow of eucalyptus,
and other grass, unmown,
no green more brilliant.
At day's end the whole sky,
vast, unstinting, flooded with transparent
tint of wisteria,
over the malls, the industrial parks,
the homes with the lights going on,
the homeless arranging their bundles. 40
Who can utter
the poignance of all that is constantly
threatened, invaded, expended
persists in beauty,
tranquil as this young moon
just risen and slowly
from the vanished sun. 50
Who can utter
the praise of such generosity
or the shame?
An Orchard of Figs in the Fall
By Diana García
Somewhere deep in the San Joaquin Valley
a ranch foreman prunes limbs of fig trees
planted prior to World War I. Kadota,
honey-colored fig best eaten dried
like the Calimyrna, but smaller, tougher, 5
not as sweet. Enduring.
As a child I walked light in the dried fig season
beneath the pale green glow of a hung-low
canopy, its leaves like many-thumbed hands.
Summer wind sucked at figs and dirt clods. 10
Bend, crawl, bend, pick, infinite insult
to neck, waist, knees.
Any semblance of shade was destroyed
in the noonday sun. Lunch was a blur
of bean burritos, a dash to the outhouse 15
at the edge of the field, and a thirst
for water on a floor full of sun-baked
Once I ran from a boy on a metal brace
who pitched and rolled as he asked me to play, 20
I ran from the whispered Tuvo polio.
I ran from an orchard of figs in the fall,
the stripped trunks and arthritic fingers,
the grave of limbs gone wrong.
By Diana García
She shuffles to the door on faded scuffs.
Her breasts sway beneath the bodice of her muumuu
and the hands that welcome me are warm,
the skin like old paper crumpled then smoothed.
She is la curandera, faith healer, my nana. 5
We face each other, child to grandmother,
the trusting balance of young to old.
―Mija, did you give it to the priest?‖
―did he bless it?‖ she asks. She takes the emblem
of the brown-skinned Virgin from my palm. 10
The sun is in her face, here eyes water.
Some say she can read minds. She makes us drink
infusions of gordo lobo, fat wolf,
when we are sick with fever from the flu.
She prescribes a tea of estrella de anis 15
to calm the itching rash of measles; a tea
of manzanilla for those who can‘t sleep.
The new Irish priest didn‘t understand.
―Witchcraft,‖ he snorted, and refused to bless
the scapular. So at Mass I placed the badge 20
with its rubbed-smooth image in my prayer book
hoping to catch stray blessings. Kyrie eleison.
Tonight the old women of the neighborhood
begin a novena, nine days of prayer
for a dying man. Dona Juanita attends, 25
her black lace shawl clipped to her bun.
Her husband lies on their bed at home, swaddled
with sheets fresh from the line. The women fan
their black damask skirts on red Windsor chairs.
Nana displays the scapular. Hail Marys rise. 30
I can never go to heaven if the old man dies.
Squaring the Names
By Diana García
When we caught lice in the third grade,
Tony‘s mother soaked his hair
in kerosene. His hair fell out
exposing a football-shaped skull.
Pelón, we chanted, Pelón, 5
cabeza de melón.
We forgot his name
but not his bald head, not
even when his hair grew back.
The Chavezes‘ oldest girl 10
wore a cheerleader‘s skirt
and a letter on her boxy
La Barbie, we called her,
as in Barbie Doll, and Jorge 15
was her football captain Ken.
And there was Pineapple
for his chunky shape, Shorty
because he was, and Be-tween
the youngest of the twins. 20
My favorites were Punkin
with her fiery-red hair
and Hollywood for his gold chains.
For a while I was the barrio
sweetheart, la consentida, 25
with my Shirley Temple curls
to my waist. Too bad I wore bifocals.
My aunts switched to Spanish 30
when I came around. I stayed
bilingual. When they caught me
listening to the gossip about
my godmother, her boyfriend
ten years younger, they shrieked: 35
¡Coliche! ¿Quién te invito?
I told an uncle that he lacked
the right chromosome
which was why he only had
daughters. I‘d read that somewhere. 40
I‘ll never forget how my mother
signaled with her eyes,
warning, yet amused,
how my uncle hollered,
¡Cabrona! Somebody should wash 45
your mouth out with soap.
All these names I saved for myself.
When my mother introduced me
to her uncle last year, she said:
Soy Tomasa, esposa de Manuel, 50
y ésta es mi hija, Diana,
la más grande.
There it was, the formal genealogy:
―I am Tomasa, wife of Manuel,
and this is my daughter, Diana, 55
I am Diana la cazadora,
keening calls to the hunt on moon-hard nights.
I respond to orejona,
ears bent to the shape of your sighs. 60
Call me la chismosa,
your secrets glide in neon past my gaze.
Summon me with cabrona,
rutting female goat,
name of admiration 65
for those who won‘t back down.
Beware la hocicona,
the unmuzzled jaw,
the one whose heart rules her tongue,
blaze of tongue flaming strife. 70
Poem for the Young White Man Who Asked Me How I, an Intelligent, Well-Read Person,
Could Believe in the War between Races
By Lorna Dee Cervantes
In my land there are no distinctions.
The barbed wire politics of oppression
have been torn down long ago. The only reminder
of past battles, lost or won, is a slight
rutting in the fertile fields. 5
In my land
people write poems about love,
full of nothing but contented childlike syllables.
Everyone reads Russian short stories and weeps.
There are no boundaries. 10
There is no hunger, no
complicated famine or greed.
I am not a revolutionary.
I don't even like political poems.
Do you think I can believe in a war between races? 15
I can deny it. I can forget about it
when I'm safe,
living on my own continent of harmony
and home, but I am not
I believe in revolution
because everywhere the crosses are burning,
sharp-shooting goose-steppers round every corner,
there are snipers in the schools . . .
(I know you don't believe this. 25
You think this is nothing
but faddish exaggeration. But they
are not shooting at you.)
I'm marked by the color of my skin.
The bullets are discrete and designed to kill slowly. 30
They are aiming at my children.
These are facts.
Let me show you my wounds: my stumbling mind, my
"excuse me" tongue, and this
nagging preoccupation 35
with the feeling of not being good enough.
These bullets bury deeper than logic.
Racism is not intellectual.
I can not reason these scars away.
Outside my door 40
there is a real enemy
who hates me.
I am a poet
who yearns to dance on rooftops,
to whisper delicate lines about joy 45
and the blessings of human understanding.
I try. I go to my land, my tower of words and
bolt the door, but the typewriter doesn't fade out
the sounds of blasting and muffled outrage.
My own days bring me slaps on the face. 50
Every day I am deluged with reminders
that this is not
and this is my land.
I do not believe in the war between races 55
but in this country
there is war.
The Spanish-American War, the Philippine-American War,
and the Filipino-American Experience
The Spanish-American War in the Philippines
Memories of Imperialism
By John Ashberry
Dewey took Manila
and soon after invented the decimal system
that keeps libraries from collapsing even unto this day.
A lot of mothers immediately started naming their male offspring ―Dewey,‖
which made him queasy. He was already having second thoughts about imperialism. 5
In his dreams he saw library books with milky numbers
on their spines floating in Manila Bay.
Soon even words like ―vanilla‖ or ―mantilla‖ would cause him to vomit.
The sight of a manila envelope precipitated him
into his study, where all day, with the blinds drawn, 10
he would press fingers against temples, muttering ―What have I done?‖
all the while. Then, gradually, he began feeling a bit better.
The world hadn‘t ended. He‘d go for walks in his old neighborhood,
marveling at the changes there, or at the lack of them. ―If one is
to go down in history, it is better to do so for two things 15
rather than one,‖ he would stammer, none too meaningfully.
One day his wife took him aside
in her boudoir, pulling the black lace mantilla from her head
and across her bare breasts until his head was entangled in it.
―Honey, what am I supposed to say?‖ Say nothing, you big boob. 20
Just be glad you got away with it and are famous.‖ ―Speaking of
boobs . . .‖ ―Now you‘re getting the idea. Go file those books
on those shelves over there. Come back only when you‘re finished.‖
To this day schoolchildren wonder about his latter career
as a happy pedant, always nice with children, thoughtful 25
toward their parents. He wore a gray ceramic suit
walking his dog, a ―bouledogue,‖ he would point out.
People would peer at him from behind shutters, watchfully,
hoping no new calamities would break out, or indeed
that nothing more would happen, ever, that history had ended. 30
Yet it hadn‘t, as the admiral himself
would have been the first to acknowledge.
The Philippine-American War
Battle Hymn of the Republic, Updated
By Mark Twain
Mine eyes have seen the orgy of the launching of the Sword;
He is searching out the hoardings where the stranger's wealth is stored;
He hath loosed his fateful lightnings, and with woe and death has scored;
His lust is marching on.
I have seen him in the watch-fires of a hundred circling camps; 5
They have builded him an altar in the Eastern dews and damps;
I have read his doomful mission by the dim and flaring lamps—
His night is marching on.
I have read his bandit gospel writ in burnished rows of steel:
"As ye deal with my pretensions, so with you my wrath shall deal; 10
Let the faithless son of Freedom crush the patriot with his heel;
Lo, Greed is marching on!"
We have legalized the strumpet and are guarding her retreat;*
Greed is seeking out commercial souls before his judgement seat;
O, be swift, ye clods, to answer him! be jubilant my feet! 15
Our god is marching on!
In a sordid slime harmonious Greed was born in yonder ditch,
With a longing in his bosom—and for others' goods an itch.
As Christ died to make men holy, let men die to make us rich—
Our god is marching on. 20
* NOTE: In Manila the Government has placed a certain industry under the protection of our flag. (Mark Twain)
Note: This poem is a parody of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” a Civil War song written by Julia Ward
By Edgar Lee Masters (1869-1950)
I was just turned twenty-one,
And Henry Phipps, the Sunday-school superintendent,
Made a speech in Bindle‘s Opera House.
―The honor of the flag must be upheld,‖ he said,
―Whether it be assailed by a barbarous tribe of Tagalogs 5
Or the greatest power in Europe.‖
And we cheered and cheered the speech and the flag he waved
As he spoke.
And I went to the war in spite of my father,
And followed the flag till I saw it raised 10
By our camp in a rice field near Manila,
And all of us cheered and cheered it.
But there flies and poisonous things;
And there was deadly water,
And the cruel heat, 15
And the sickening putrid food;
And the smell of the trench just back of the tents
Where the soldiers went to empty themselves;
And there were the whores who followed us, full of syphilis;
And beastly acts between ourselves or alone, 20
With bullying, hatred, degradation among us,
And days of loathing and nights of fear
To the hour of the charge through the steaming swamp,
Following the flag,
Till I fell with a scream, shot through the guts. 25
Now there‘s a flag over me in Spoon River!
A flag! A flag!
On a Soldier Fallen in the Philippines
By William Vaughan Moody (1869-1910)
Streets of the roaring town,
Hush for him, hush, be still!
He comes, who was stricken down
Doing the word of our will.
Hush! Let him have his state, 5
Give him his soldier‘s crown.
The grists of trade can wait
Their grinding at the mill,
But he cannot wait for his honor, now the trumpet has been blown.
Wreathe pride now for his granite brow, lay love on his breast of stone. 10
Toll! Let the great bells toll
Till the clashing air is dim.
Did we wrong this parted soul?
We will make it up to him.
Toll! Let him never guess 15
What work we set him to.
Laurel, laurel, yes;
He did what we bade him do.
Praise, and never a whispered hint but the fight he fought was good;
Never a word that the blood on his sword was his country‘s own heart‘s-blood. 20
A flag for the soldier‘s bier
Who dies that his land may live;
O, banners, banners here,
That he doubt not nor misgive!
That he heed not from the tomb 25
The evil days draw near
When the nation, robed in gloom,
With its faithless past shall strive.
Let him never dream that his bullet‘s scream went wide of its island mark,
Home to the heart of his darling land where she stumbled and sinned in the dark. 30
Influence of U.S. in Philippines
The Light in One’s Blood
By Gemino H. Abad
To seek our way of thinking
by which our country is found,
I know but do not know,
for its language too is lost.
To find our trail up a mountain 5
without a spirit guide—
here is no space where words in use
might stake a claim.
Speaking is fraught with other speech.
Through all our fathers, Spain 10
and America had invented our souls
and wrought our land and history.
How shall I think counter to the thick
originating grain of their thought?
―I have not made or accepted 15
their words. My voice holds them at bay.‖
Look then without words,
nor jump about like ticks
missing their dumb meat.
If there be enough blood yet 20
in our story for counterpoise,
in speech take no meaning
be more thorough that passion.
Whence does one come 25
when he speaks, his eyes lighting up?
Before speech, all words are dead,
their legends blind.
No one comes from language,
the truth is what words dream. 30
One speaks, and language comes,
the light in one‘s blood.
What ravening lions roar
in our blood for our thoughts?
We too have our own thunder 35
from lost insurrections;
even the present seems a gift,
but mostly unopened.
So much thought is scattered
like grain upon burnt ground. 40
The soil is ours, and inters
the secret bones of our loss.
We must know our loss, all things
that ghost our time.
Speak now, collect every bone, 45
lay the pieces together.
Here is true speaking—
a mountain rises beneath our feet!
Is language already given?
—yet we have its use: 50
a double forgery!
No essences are fixed by words.
Proceed by evacuation
of first seeing; in emptiness
gather the pieces 55
of breaking light.
No language is beforehand
but its shadow; there‘s nothing
in the script, but the other‘s myth
that now frets your soul. 60
What breathed there before the words
took their hue and creed?
How, with the same words,
shall another tale be told?
The same words, but not the given, 65
for void its speech of empire!
Our eyes must claim their right
to our landscape and its names.
What cataract of other minds
has flooded their sight? 70
We must even fall from our own sky
to find our earth again.
By Regie Cabico
The government asks me to ―check one‖ if I want money.
I just laugh in their faces and say
―How can you ask me to be one race?‖
I stand proudly before you, a proud Filipino
who knows how to belt hard-gospel songs 5
played to African drums at a Catholic mass—
and loving the music to suffering beats
and lashes from men‘s eyes on the Capitol streets—
Southeast DC, with its sleepy crime
my mother nursed patients from seven to nine— 10
patients grey from the railroad
riding past civil rights.
I walked their tracks when I entertained
them at the chapel and made their canes pillars
of percussion to my heavy gospel— 15
my comedy out-loud, laughing about
our shared stolen experiences of the South.
Would it surprise you if I told you my blood
was delivered from the North off Portuguese vessels
who gave me spiritual stones and the turn in my eyes— 20
my father‘s name when they conquered the Pacific Isles.
My hair is black and thick as ―negrito,‖ growing abundant
as ―sampaguita‖ flowers—defying civilization
like Pilipino pygmies that dance in the mountain.
I could give you an epic about my way of life or my look, 25
and you want me to fill it in ―one square box.‖
From what integer or shape do you count existing identities,
grant loans for the mind or crayola-white census sheets—
There‘s no one kind to fill for anyone.
You tell me who I am, what gets the money— 30
I‘ll sing that song like a one-man caravan.
I know arias from Naples, Tunis and Accra—
lullabyes from welfare, foodstamps and nature—
and you want me to sing one song?
I have danced jigs with Jim Crow and shuffled my hips 35
to the sonic guitar of Clapton and Hendrix,
waltzed with dead lovers, skipped to bamboo sticks,
balleted kabuki and mimed cathacali
arrivederccied-a-rhumba and tapped Tin Pan Alley—
And you want me to dance the Bhagavad Gita 40
on a box too small for a thumbelina-thin diva?
I‘ll check ―other.‖ Say artist. That‘s who I am:
a poet, a writer, a lover of man.
By Eugene Gloria
On board the Victory Line Bus
boring down Kennon Road
from a weekend in Baguio
is the bus driver‘s sideline:
a Coleman chest full of cold Cokes and Sprites, 5
a loaf sack of sandwiches
wrapped in pink napkin and cellophane.
My hunger sated by thin white
bread thick with mayonnaise,
diced pickles and slim slice of ham. 10
What‘s mere snack
for my gaunt Filipino seatmate,
was my American lunch, a habit
of eating, shaped by boyhood shame.
You see, there was a time when I believed 15
that a meal meant at least a plate of rice
with a sauced dish like kare kare,
or pinakbet pungent with bagoong.
But homeboys like us are marked
by experience of not being part of the whole 20
in a playground full of white kids lined
on red-painted benches in the fall chill of noon,
lunchpails bright with their favorite cartoons,
and a thermos of milk, or brown paper sacks
with Glad bags of chips, peeled Sunkist, 25
Mom‘s special sandwich with crisp of lettuce,
and pressed turkey thick in between—
crumbed with the breakfast table bread.
I remember that first day of school, my mother with the purest
took two sheets of foil hollowed
with a cup of steamed rice
and a helping of last night‘s
caldereta: chunks of potatoes, sliced
red peppers, and a redder sauce with beef; 35
and I, with hunger, could not
bring myself to eat.
Ashamed to be more different
than what my face had already betrayed,
the rice, I hid from my schoolmates. 40
Next morning, my mother grasped
the appropriate combination: fruit,
sandwich cut in two triangles,
handful of chips, my best broken English.
And weeks passed while the scattered rice— 45
beneath the length of that red-painted bench—
blackened with the schoolyard‘s dirt.
The Spanish-American War, Relations between Cuba and
the United States, and the Cuban-American Experience
Spanish-American War in Cuba
Vistas del 1898 1898 Vistas
Por Enrique Sacerio-Gari By Enrique Sacerio-Gari
Trans. from Spanish by the author
La víspera de San Juan guarda un ojo mágico The Eve of San Juan has a magic eye
en el agua . . . on the water . . .
¿Quién nos va a decir Who is to say
lo que hacían nuestras abuelas en 1898: what our grandmothers were doing in 1898:
se asomaban por ver un puerto ardiendo o una lista gazing over a burning harbor or a casualty
de bajas, list,
por abrazar a un marinero herido al borde del agua hugging a wounded sailor at the water‘s edge, 5
uniformes azules manchados de sangre y polvo de a blue jacket stained with blood and coal dust
carbón del Maine, from the Maine,
o lloraban por los mambises de Matanzas or crying for the mambises in Matanzas
y por las lágrimas de Calixto García and for Calixto García‘s own tears
que esperaba en las afueras de Santiago as he waited outside Santiago
mientras los americanos marchaban a la ciudad con while the Americans marched into their city
su bandera . . .? with their flag . . . ? 10
¿Quién nos va a decir Who is to say
si nuestras abuelas se sentaban en cómodos cojines if our grandmothers sat on soft cushions and
y llevaban wore jewels
joyas rojas y verdes resplandecientes en las cámaras of red and green glittering in the brightest
más iluminadas chambers
o si piel oscura colorada incandescente or if dark skin glowing red,
ante la lomita del carbonero facing a charcoal maker‘s heap, 15
una niña oyó las balas acercándose de ambos lados . . .? a girl heard bullets approaching from both sides . . . ?
¿Quién nos va a decir de quién ere el hijo que subío Who is to say whose son ran up a hurtful
la loma dolorosa hill
o de quién ere el hijo que tocó la mano de Clara Barton or whose child touched Clara Barton‘s hand
o como murió Clara Maass en Las Animas or how Clara Maass died in Las Animas
o por qué sólo la Universidad de Jefferson honra or why only Jefferson University honors
a Carlos Finlay . . .? Carlos Finlay . . . ? 20
Los titulares declaraban Cuba Libre Headlines claimed Cuba Libre
(Y Daiquirí: donde desembarcaron) (and Daiquirí: the site of the landing)
contra la orgullosa resistencia del machete, against a proud machete resistance,
alzando los cañones de los buques más fuertes raising the cannons of the strongest ships
(y las copas para brindar por el nuevo imperio . . .) (and glasses to toast the new empire . . .) 25
Las noches de verano aclaran la memoria Summer nights clear the memories
pero nuestras tormentas políticas recurvan las guerras but our political storms replay the oldest
más antiguas . . . wars . . .
¿Quién nos va a decir Who is to say
lo que hacían nuestras abuelas en 1898, what our grandmothers were doing in 1898,
quién logra ver lo que conforma sus manos: who can see what shaped the contour of their hands: 30
una copa de cristal fino, un diamante a fine glass? a diamond? or the darkest hour
o la hora más oscura de los carboneros? of the charcoal makers?
Do not weep, maiden, for war is kind
By Stephen Crane
Do not weep, maiden, for war is kind.
Because your lover threw wild hands toward the sky
And the affrighted steed ran on alone,
Do not weep.
War is kind. 5
Hoarse, booming drums of the regiment,
Little souls who thirst for fight,
These men were born to drill and die.
The unexplained glory flies above them,
Great is the battle-god, great, and his kingdom— 10
A field where a thousand corpses lie.
Do not weep, babe, for war is kind.
Because your father tumbled in the yellow trenches,
Raged at his breast, gulped and died,
Do not weep. 15
War is kind.
Swift blazing flag of the regiment,
Eagle with crest of red and gold,
These men were born to drill and die.
Point for them the virtue of slaughter, 20
Make plain to them the excellence of killing
And a field where a thousand corpses lie.
Mother whose heart hung humble as a button
On the bright splendid shroud of your son,
Do not weep. 25
War is kind.
The Battle Hymn
By Stephen Crane
All-feeling God, hear in the war-night
The rolling voices of a nation;
Through dusky billows of darkness
See the flash, the under-light, of bared swords—
—Whirling gleams like wee shells 5
Deep in the streams of the universe—
Bend and see a people, O, God,
A people rebuked, accursed,
By him of the many lungs
And by him of the bruised weary war-drum 10
(The chanting disintegrate and the two-faced eagle)
Bend and mark our steps, O, God.
Mark well, mark well, Father of the Never-Ending Circles
And if the path, the new path, lead awry
Then in the forest of the lost standards 15
Suffer us to grope and bleed apace
For the wisdom is Thine.
Bend and see a people, O, God,
A people applauded, acclaimed,
By him of the raw red shoulders 20
The manacle-marked, the thin victim
(He lies white amid the smoking cane)
—And if the path, the new path, leads straight—
Then—O, God—then bare the great bronze arm;
Swing high the blaze of the chained stars 25
And let them look and heed
(The chanting disintegrate and the two-faced eagle)
For we go, we go in a lunge of a long blue corps
And—to Thee we commit our lifeless sons,
The convulsed and furious dead. 30
(They shall be white amid the smoking cane)
For, the seas shall not bar us;
The capped mountains shall not hold us back
We shall sweep and swarm through jungle and pool,
Then let the savage one bend his high chin 35
To see on his breast, the sullen glow of the death-medals
For we know and we say our gift.
His prize is death, deep doom.
(He shall be white amid the smoking cane.)
The Conquerors: The Black Troops in Cuba
By Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906)
Round the wide earth, from the red field your valour has won,
Blown with the breath of the far-speaking gun,
Goes the word.
Bravely you spoke through the battle cloud heavy and dun.
Tossed though the speech toward the mist-hidden sun, 5
The world heard.
Hell would have shrunk from you seeking it fresh from the fray,
Grim with the dust of the battle, and gray
From the fight.
Heaven would have crowned you, with crowns not of gold but of bay, 10
Owning you fit for the light of her day,
Men of night.
Far through the cycle of years and of lives that shall come,
There shall speak voices long muffled and dumb,
Out of fear. 15
And through the noises of trade and the turbulent hum,
Truth shall rise over the militant drum,
Loud and clear.
Then on the cheek of the honester nation that grows,
All for their love of you, not for your woes, 20
There shall lie
Tears that shall be to your souls as the dew to the rose;
Afterward thanks, that the present yet knows
Not to ply!
Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missile Crisis
The Deer in the Ditch
By Thomas McGrath
We saw him there in the dry season among the burning
Daisies. Knocked off the road by a car, neck broke, his haunch
Open like a book of flesh.
Slack center of the day‘s eye,
He flashed still for the flies to gloss him into the dark. 5
Many were the losses on the roads that year my brother was dying,
Chair-broken, geared to his death, wheeling toward night while
The C.I.A. killed Cubans.
Dead Reds. Dear brothers. Deer
In the ditch. 10
Tokens . . .
so much steel and so little breath.
These passings like fictions have nothing to do with each other.
Going back there in the fast sun of the new-summer fact,
I read the right of way, seeking a sign in the ditch, convention 15
Of wild flowers maybe (where the bone went home) enriched by mild flesh.
But there are no evidences of such deaths.
By David Bottoms
First a noise under the kitchen,
then a week later
that same chug and scrape under my bedroom floor.
Out my window I watched them roll those wheelbarrows
across our backyard, down to the dam of our neighbor's pond. 5
At dinner my father's face was drawn,
for days on end my mother burned the rolls.
Who knew exactly what was going on,
though fear was everywhere like odor
from a mildewed carpet? 10
In geography class someone charted a map.
Boats from a foreign country were sailing toward Cuba,
an island of cigars. The boats were from Russia,
a land of red bears, and they carried in their hulls
bombs of hot dust. 15
Then the thing was finished.
We bought a model train and planned a game room—
Ping-Pong and bumper pool, Monopoly and the game of Life.
But that was a dream no one wanted to enter.
It was a steep flight and damp, 20
and once in midsummer after rain had sogged the yard,
I saw a copperhead drag its tail over the stoop.
There were spiders, too, and other dreads,
not the least of which were the fears themselves
we'd taken from the house 25
and shelved down there with the dried and canned goods,
all those basics reserved for the future,
pressed into a dark we hoped, in our reprieve,
would become more and more remote.
The U. S. Embargo of Cuba
By Aaron Kramer
The first morning, we trudged (forget buses, taxis!)
in amazement to Raúl Martínez, a handclasp from New York.
For two hours he quenched us, down to the dregs of our questions.
The phone lashed: had he forgotten his luncheon date?
I praised his book designs; he gave me four. I asked 5
the price of a laughing silk-screen print. ―For you it is free.‖
Next day, in Havana, we saw it for fifty dollars.
There, pressing my nose to the glass of a library store-front,
I found, amid books on the other side, the librarian‘s nose.
She beckoned me in—Francisca—expounded the role of each nook, 10
led me to Lorca‘s very shelf, his rarest book,
saw that I lifted it like a rose, and said it was mine.
The third night, on the twenty-fifth floor, where Hilton once
surveyed his necklace-harbor and Morro Castle beyond,
we stood at the pianist‘s side: she was straight, she was black, she was Nora; 15
her round face, long hair swayed as she played, and we swayed too;
her fingers took our tunes, twined them into magic;
her eyes, wide as Havana harbor, took our eyes.
Next, at ten in the morning, brushing aside the bustle
of his beloved island‘s birthday preparations, 20
Nicolás Guillén bartered with me hug for hug,
jest for jest, laud for laud, book for book,
and at last a glimpse at this glowing archives, a tour of his tropies;
and later a fireworks handwave: ―Next time send me a cable!‖
Toward the end of the hospital visit, reaching the rows that pasted 25
heels onto sandals, I caught a murmur in English; she‘d learned it
twenty-nine years ago, at fourteen, seldom has used it;
her name began with a Rosa and closed with a Casanova;
into the light she leaped for a snapshot grin with my wife,
then clutched my hand Good Luck as she turned to the heels and sandals. 30
After the final dinner, during the final folk-dance,
I was led to a private corner, a woman‘s solemn hand.
The gift was an envelope freshly postmarked, freshly engraved
with Cuba‘s tenderly issued faces of Ethel and Julius.
―Everywhere in Latin America we remember 35
what we were doing, whom we were with on the night of the burning.‖
Noon. The seventh noon. We‘d lugged our bags and gnat-bitten
salt-swollen limbs to the final frenzy of weigh-ins, customs.
Estella, denouncing her English, her errors in planning: ―I promise—
next time you come, I‘ll be better . . .‖ and, spite of our seven days‘ whining, 40
hugged the length of the line; and, spite of my uncouth blast
at her hero, her Hemingway, reached me her lips at the last.
None of them asked why my country for twenty years of torment
had tried to drag their country into the dust. No one
pointed with a frown at their wretched store-displays, 45
trucks and buses and taxis stricken, sparkless, gasping
for parts. No—not one. Theirs was the bounty; in seven
days they had broken the blockade around my heart.
Cuban Exiles in the United States
Years of Exile
By Ricardo Pau-Llosa
After the paintings of Humberto Calzada
The water enters the old ballroom
and the once bedroom, seeps across
the erstwhile chessboard floor
where rumors made their way.
The squares once mapped 5
the tinted flights of sun
that stained-glass half-wheels wrote,
pages in the metronome diary of an age.
These testaments only seemed random,
stretched like lights falling like 10
against the staring wall
or upon the lurid waist of the piano.
And then the water came.
The first arrival left 15
a pale ghost on the tiles.
Later more water came and more
so that no one could show
the uninvited flood the door,
which was half drowned. 20
The glass wheels turned
their voices on the murk.
And we waited for the new day
when losses would turn to stories.
We would laugh, we knew it, about 25
the swallowed rooms, the stabbed
recollections where gilded curtains
and danzones swayed.
But the years knew better.
We have learned to love 30
the cracks on the ceiling,
a nose away. We stare into them now
that we have learned to float and have become
the Sistine chroniclers of our shrinkings.
We create, we are free 35
now that we have lost count of everything.
For the Cuban Dead
By Ricardo Pau-Llosa (b. 1954)
Once they were men fully because they belonged,
and everywhere they looked and chatted and sipped
a bit of coffee, whisked away a fly with a wrist
or jolted a newspaper readably straight,
or flirted, or worried about the world and where 5
the damn country was going as a trolley rolled
and curtains dipped and bulged breast-like
and hid again in the proper window. They were
home and citizens of it and dared and loved
and were decent and stole and killed and loved again. 10
They were home. How like the root in the earth,
the crease in the linen, the wind rending the cloud,
the growl in the hunger, the pavement sprayed
with waves crashing against the sea wall.
How like all right things in the mind of place, 15
they jostled and failed, learned and betrayed.
Like coins in pockets made for them
they cried stridently or simply tinkled in murmurs,
and it didn‘t matter if talk or life had substance.
Right of place was substance. 20
There is no enough in exile. Not enough anger,
and the blanket of safety always leaves the feet bare.
And it is here, no matter how clean and golden,
that one learns how different the wrist and the fly
and the shot of wave, how it never stops 25
calling although the law of distance deafens.
Memory is the heart‘s gravity.
The accent of their children
becomes unbearably alien, a dampness
from the sidewalk creeping past the thin sole 30
and into the ignored sock. Now nothing
escapes notice and the balance is always against.
And it hits them, these never again composed,
that the time to see and hear was then,
when rightness held even the stormy evils 35
of the quotidian in the same palm
with the trash of years of seconds
and the kissed joys.
Then, as we have come to know, was
the proper place to gaze at the dust 40
of butterfly panoplies, ponder
the calligraphic crud on china,
relinquish decorous ears to taut goatskins,
wash in the lace of Sunday clouds,
and otherwise pay attention 45
with one‘s whole life to shadows
knitting five centuries of incomparable capital,
field‘s antique jewel, and the cradling shore.
God it was who let them die
filled with late understanding, 50
so who dares say we the innocent lurk
unpunished in the works and days?
The United States and Relations with Other Latin American
Nations / Territories
Theodore Roosevelt, Imperialism, and the United Fruit Company
A Roosevelt To Roosevelt
Por Rubén Darío By Rubén Darío
Trans. by Bonnie Frederick
Es con voz de la Biblia, o verso de Walt It is with the voice of the Bible, or the verse of Walt
que habría que llegar hasta ti, Cazador! that I should come to you, Hunter,
Primitivo y moderno, sencillo y complicado, primitive and modern, simple and complicated,
con un algo de Washington y cuatro de Nemrod. with something of Washington and more of Nimrod.
Eres los Estados Unidos, You are the United States, 5
eres el futuro invasor you are the future invader
de la América ingenua que tiene sangre indígena, of the naive America that has Indian blood,
que aún reza a Jesucristo y aún habla en español. that still prays to Jesus Christ and still speaks Spanish.
Eres soberbio y fuerte ejemplar de tu raza; You are the proud and strong exemplar of your race;
eres culto, eres hábil; te opones a Tolstoy. you are cultured, you are skillful; you oppose Tolstoy.
Y domando caballos, o asesinando tigres, And breaking horses, or murdering tigers,
eres un Alejandro-Nabucodonosor. you are an Alexander-Nebuchadnezzar.
(Eres un profesor de energía, (You are a professor of Energy
como dicen los locos de hoy.) as today's madmen say.)
Crees que la vida es incendio, You think that life is fire, 15
que el progreso es erupción; that progress is eruption,
en donde pones la bala that wherever you shoot
el porvenir pones. you hit the future.
Los Estados Unidos son potentes y grandes. The United States is potent and great. 20
Cuando ellos se estremecen hay un hondo temblor When you shake there is a deep tremblor
que pasa por las vértebras enormes de los that passes through the enormous vertebrae of the
Si clamáis, se oye como el rugir del león. If you clamor, it is heard like the roaring of a lion.
Ya Hugo a Grant le dijo: «Las estrellas son vuestras». Hugo already said it to Grant: The stars are yours.
(Apenas brilla, alzándose, el argentino sol (The Argentine sun, ascending, barely shines, 25
y la estrella chilena se levanta . . .) Sois ricos. and the Chilean star rises . . .) You are rich.
Juntáis al culto de Hércules el culto de Mammón; You join the cult of Hercules to the cult of Mammon,
y alumbrando el camino de la fácil conquista, and illuminating the road of easy conquest,
la Libertad levanta su antorcha en Nueva York. Liberty raises its torch in New York.
Mas la América nuestra, que tenía poetas But our America, that has had poets 30
desde los viejos tiempos de Netzahualcoyotl, since the ancient times of Netzahualcoyotl,
que ha guardado las huellas de los pies del gran Baco, that has walked in the footprints of great Bacchus
que el alfabeto pánico en un tiempo aprendió; who learned Pan's alphabet at once;
que consultó los astros, que conoció la Atlántida, that consulted the stars, that knew Atlantis
cuyo nombre nos llega resonando en Platón, whose resounding name comes to us from Plato, 35
que desde los remotos momentos de su vida that since the remote times of its life
vive de luz, de fuego, de perfume, de amor, has lived on light, on fire, on perfume, on love,
la América del gran Moctezuma, del Inca, America of the great Montezuma, of the Inca,
la América fragante de Cristóbal Colón, the fragrant America of Christopher Columbus,
la América católica, la América española, Catholic America, Spanish America, 40
la América en que dijo el noble Guatemoc: the America in which noble Cuahtemoc said:
«Yo no estoy en un lecho de rosas»; esa América "I'm not in a bed of roses"; that America
que tiembla de huracanes y que vive de Amor, that trembles in hurricanes and lives on love,
hombres de ojos sajones y alma bárbara, vive. it lives, you men of Saxon eyes and barbarous soul.
Y sueña. Y ama, y vibra; y es la hija And it dreams. And it loves, and it vibrates, and it is
del Sol. the daughter of the Sun.
Tened cuidado. ¡Vive la América española! Be careful. Viva Spanish America!
Hay mil cachorros sueltos del León There are a thousand cubs loosed from the Spanish
Se necesitaría, Roosevelt, ser Dios mismo, Roosevelt, one would have to be, through God himself,
el Riflero terrible y el fuerte Cazador, the fearful Rifleman and strong Hunter,
para poder tenernos en vuestras férreas garras. to manage to grab us in your iron claws. 50
Y, pues contáis con todo, falta una cosa: And, although you count on everything, you lack one
¡Dios! thing: God!
La United Fruit Co. (Canto general V.ii) United Fruit Co.
Por Pablo Neruda By Pablo Neruda
Trans. from Spanish by Jack Schmitt
Cuando sonó la trompeta, estuvo When the trumpet blared everything
todo preparado en la tierra on earth was prepared
y Jehová repartió el mundo and Jehovah distributed the world
a Coca-Cola Inc., Anaconda, to Coca-Cola, Anaconda,
Ford Motors, y otras entidades: 5 Ford Motors and other entities:
la Compañía Frutera Inc. United Fruit Inc.
se reservó lo más jugoso, reserved for itself the juiciest,
la costa central de mi tierra, the central seaboard of my land,
la dulce cintura de América. America‘s sweet waist.
Bautizó de nuevo sus tierras 10 It baptized its lands
como « Repúblicas Bananas » the ―Banana Republics‖
y sobre los muertos dormidos, and upon the slumbering corpses,
sobre los héroes inquietos upon the restless heroes
que conquistaron la grandeza, who conquered renown,
la libertad y las banderas, 15 freedom and flags,
estableció la ópera bufa: it established the comic opera:
enajenó los albedríos, it alienated self-destiny,
regaló coronas de César, regaled Caesar‘s crowns,
desenvainó la envidia, atrajo unsheathed envy, drew
la dictadura de las moscas, 20 the dictatorship of flies:
moscas Trujillo, moscas Tachos, Trujillo flies, Tacho flies,
moscas Carías, moscas Martínez, Carías flies, Martínez flies,
moscas Ubico, moscas húmedas Ubico flies, flies soaked
de sangre humilde y mermelada, in humble blood and jam,
moscas borrachos que zumban 25 drunk flies that drone
sobre las tumbas populares, over the common graves,
moscas de circo, sabias moscas circus flies, clever flies
entendidas en tiranía. versed in tyrranny.
Entre las moscas sanguinarias Among the bloodthirsty flies
la Frutera desembarca, 30 the Fruit Co. disembarks,
arrasando el café y las frutas ravaging coffee and fruits
en sus barcos que deslizaron for its ships that spirit away
como bandejas el tesoro our submerged lands‘ treasures
de nuestras tierras sumergidas. like serving trays.
Mientras tanto, por los abismos 35 Meanwhile, in the seaports‘
azucarados de los puertos, sugary abysses,
caían indios sepultados Indians collapsed, buried
en el vapor de la mañana: in the morning mist:
un cuerpo rueda, una cosa a body rolls down, a nameless
sin nombre, un número caído, 40 thing, a fallen number,
un racimo de fruta muerta a bunch of lifeless fruit
derramada en el pudridero. dumped in the rubbish heap.
Ibero-America resurge ante Bolívar Ibero-America Resurges before Bolívar
Por Julia de Burgos By Julia de Burgos
Trans. from Spanish by Jack Agüeros
¡Alma de América Soul of America
detente en Puerto Rico detain yourself in Puerto Rico
y recoge su voz and gather your voice
ora protesta enérgica pray energetic protest
ora intenso dolor! pray intense pain! 5
en este siglo que se viste de rojo in this century which dresses in red
con el sol de tus patrias redimidas, sun of your redeemed nations,
has caído herida you have fallen wounded
en medio del Caribe in the middle of the Caribbean 10
en la isla más bella on the most beautiful island
de tu enorme regazo continental. of your enormous continental lap.
Has caído herida You have fallen wounded
con el puñal de bárbaro by the dagger of the barbaric
imperialismo yanqui Yankee imperialism 15
que te desgaja, that rips you,
para saciar sus ansias to satiate its desires
de monstruo pervertido of perverted monster
en la flor entreabierta in the half opened flower
de tu fresca ingenuidad. of your fresh ingenuousness. 20
¡Alma de América, Soul of America,
tira el manto diplomático Discard the diplomatic mantle
que cubre tu innata rebeldía; that covers your innate rebelliousness;
no permitas que te anestesie el invasor malvado don‘t let the malicious invader 25
que te hiere a traición; who wounds you with treason, anesthetize you;
revístete del valor de tu estirpe clothe yourself with the valor of your stock
y sufre a sangre fría and suffer in cold blood
los latidos punzantes the stabbing throbs
de tu herida of your wound 30
hasta que te estremezcas de dolor;— until you tremble with pain;
hasta que seintas until you feel
que el alma de Bolívar that the soul of Bolívar
se agita en ti!— stirs in you!
¡que se convierte en parte de ti misma!— that it becomes part of you! 35
¡que se funde en la tuya!— that it fuses in yours!
¡que eres Bolívar!— that you are Bolívar!
¡Bolívar Inmortal! Bolívar Immortal!
¡Bolívar está herido Bolívar is wounded
porque Bolívar es because Bolívar is 40
la lucha por la santa libertad! the struggle for holy liberty!
Bolívar está herido, Bolívar is wounded,
porque Bolívar es because Bolívar is
el hombre the man
que invocando la luz de los Libertadores that invoking the light of the Liberators 45
se coloca frente a frente al imperio places himself face to face with the empire
que esclaviza su patria that enslaves his homeland
y vestido de gloria and dressed in glory
levanta las huestas de la Libertad. lifts the armies of Liberty.
El alma de Bolívar The soul of Bolívar, 50
en Puerto Rico está. is in Puerto Rico.
Vibra en Albizu Campos, y en los siete patriotas Vibrant in Albizu Campos, and in the seven patriots
que entre rejas se encuentran who find themselves behind bars
por defender santísimo ideal;— for defending the holiest ideal;
y en los hombre altivos and in proud men 55
y en las dignas mujeres and in worthy women
de la patria usurpada of the usurped homeland
que abnegadas aguardan sacrificio y martitío that selflessly guard sacrifice and martyrdom
por difundir el grito libertario to spread the cry of liberty
que es llamada de honor y dignidad. that is a call of honor and dignity. 60
América Española America Hispanic
América de Duarte America of Duarte
de Sucre of Sucre
y San Martín; and San Martín;
América tirgueña America bronzed 65
de Bolívar of Bolívar
de Hostos of Hostos
de Maceo of Maceo
y Martí; and Martí;
América cristiana, America Christian 70
donde la cruz es símbolo where the cross is symbol
del sacrificio heróico of the heroic sacrifice
de los hombres que hicieron of the men who made
Patrias libres free nations
movidos stirred 75
por impulsos de Dios; by impulses from God;
América Latina, America Latin,
contra el yanqui invasor! against the yankee invader!
Asómate Look upon 80
a esta tierra irredenta this irredent land
donde la historia ha impuesto where history has imposed
una heróica misión: a heroic mission:
¡Puerto Rico es las espada Puerto Rico is the sword
que detendrá el avance that will delay the advance 85
del imperio sajón! of the saxon empire!
Sea su herido la última Let her wound be the last
que en tu suelo latino that on its latin soil
haga el vil opresor. the vile oppressor makes.
―¡Es la Hora de América!‖ ―It is America‘s Hour!‖ 90
Empecemos Let us start
la cruzada de honor, the crusade of honor.
¡Guerra al rubio tirano! War to the blond tyrant!
¡Guerra al yanqui, War to the Yankee,
al extraño to the strange 95
invasor de tu suelo invader of your soil
que comulga con su historia that communes with its history
de heroismo y valor! of heroism and valor!
Donde sólo se adora Where with fervent delirium
con ferviente delirio only 100
A Bolívar Bolívar
y a Dios! and God
Cockroaches of Liberation
By Martín Espada
for Víctor Rivera, Puerto Rico
Near the campus, every night,
there was a ceremony
familiar and savored
as piragua, fruit syrup on ice:
First, the student strike, 5
congregating on the plaza
with songs taunting
the governor and the chancellor
in rhyme, five beats of the clave,
placards accusing collaboration 10
with bankers and the Marines.
Then, every night,
the canter of the police,
rumbling on cobblestone
through the plaza 15
in the wake of dropped leaflets,
clubs sweeping at heads
like cop fantasies of Roberto Clemente at bat,
though his spirit spat back
the water that drowned him 20
Everyone had a spell for disappearing,
a secret for dissolving
between the grillwork of balconies
and fire escapes, down hallways 25
with a single dead bulb, basement steps.
The plaza was an empty postcard.
Later, after the flashlights
and battery-charged eyes of the cops
had dimmed, 30
they crept back onto the plaza,
calling to each other
with the wooden clap of the claves
and hands slapping time till
the beat bounced off cobblestone, 35
feasting on rebel songs
cool on the tongue
as fruit syrup and ice,
multiplying in the dark
like cockroaches of liberation 40
too quick for stomping boots
that circle back on the hour,
immune to the stink
of government fumigation.
The Dominican Republic and Trujillo
Himno de sangre a Trujillo Hymn of Blood to Trujillo
Por Julia de Burgos By Julia de Burgos
Trans. from Spanish by Jack Agüeros
Que ni muerto ni las rosas del amor te sostengan, May not even dead the roses of love sustain you,
General de la muerte, para ti impiedad. General of Death—for you impiety.
Que la sangre te siga, General de la muerte, May blood pursue you, General of Death,
hasta el hongo, hasta el hueso, hasta el breve gusano to the fungus, to the bone, to the brief worm
condenado a tu estiércol. condemned to your compost.
Que la sangre, la sangre May blood, blood 5
se levante y te siga. rise and pursue you.
Que la sangre que heriste por los caminos reales May the blood you wounded along the royal paths
se levante y siga. rise and pursue you.
La sangre campesina, descolorida sangre, buena Peasant blood, discolored blood, good blood
sangre violada, violated,
que despierte y te siga. may it awaken and pursue you. 10
La que muerta, aun vigila en un rostro de The one that dead, still stands guard in the face of a
que despierte y te siga. may it awaken and pursue you.
Que la sangre que muere por tu voz cada dia May the blood that dies for your voice every day
se levante y te siga. rise and pursue you.
Toda la sangre, ronco general de la muerte, All your blood, hoarse General of Death, 15
toda tu sangre en fila para siempre, y gritando all your blood lined-up forever, and screaming
para siempre, y siguiéndote, forever, and pursuing you,
toda, toda tu sangre. all, all your blood.
General Rafael, Trujillo General, General Rafael, Trujillo General
que tu nombre sea un eco eterno de cadáveres, may your name be an eternal echo of cadavers 20
rodando entre ti mismo, sin piedad, persiguiéndote, wandering within you, without pity, pursuing you,
que los lirios se tapen sus ojos de tus ojos, may lilies cover their eyes from your eyes,
vivo y muerto, para siempre; alive and dead, forever;
que las flores no quieran germinar de tus huesos, may flowers refuse to germinate from your bones,
ni la tierra te albergue: and the earth refuse you shelter: 25
que nada te sostenga, General, que tus muertos may nothing sustain you, General, may your dead
te despueblen la vida y tú mismo te entierres. despoil your life, may you bury yourself.
Dictador. ¿A qué nuevos horizontes de crimen Dictator. At what new horizons of crime
vuelves hoy a apuntar tu mirada suicida? do you re-aim your suicidal look?
Esa cumbre de muertos donde afianzas tu That summit of corpses where you finance your
triunfo, triumph, 30
¿te podrá resguardar de puñal de la vida? can it safeguard you from the dagger of life?
Ese pálido miedo que otra vez te levanta, That pallid fear that again lifts you—
¿durará sobre el rostro de un mundo que te espía? will it last on the face of a world that spies on you?
Dictador de ese hermoso pueblo dominicano Dictator of the splendid Dominican people
masacrado en tus ansias y dormido en sus iras, massacred in your desires and asleep in its rages, 35
¿de qué llevas tu cetro? ¿De qué sol te what is your scepter made of? From what sun are you
De los hombres que muerden tu nombre cada día, From the men who bite your name each day,
del dolor que un gran lecho te prepara en sus From the pain that a great bed prepares for you in its
pero no de la espiga: but not from the blossom:
pero no de los ríos que limpiarán el polvo but not from the rivers that will wash the dust 40
por donde te paseaste, pisoteando la vida; where you paraded, stomping life:
pero no de las manos de los niños que crecen but not from the hands of the children who grow
abonando de nuevos universos sus risas; fertilizing their laughter with new universes
pero no del futuro, dictador de la muerte, but not from the future, Dictator of Death,
que tu burla a una tumba con desprecio te fija. the tomb you mock stares back in scorn. 45
¡Maldición, General, desde el sepulcro en armas Malediction, General, from the sepulchre in arms
que reclama tu vida; that demands your life;
desde la voz presente de los muertos que marchan from the present voice of the dead who march
a polvorear de cruces tu insolente conquista! to dust your insolent conquest with crosses!
¡Maldición desde el grito amplio y definitivo Malediction from the ample and definitive scream 50
que por mi voz te busca desde todas tus victimas! that through my voice seeks you from all your victims!
Sombra para tu nombre, General. Shadow for your name, General.
Sombra para tu crimen, General. Shadow for your crime, General.
Sombra para tu sombra. Shadow for your shadow.
By Julia Alvarez
Ciudad Trujillo, New York City, 1960
The night we fled the country, Papi,
you told me we were going to the beach,
hurried me to get dressed along with the others,
while posted at a window, you looked out
at a curfew-darkened Ciudad Trujillo, 5
speaking in worried whispers to your brothers,
which car to take, who‘d be willing to drive it,
what explanation to give should we be discovered . . .
On the way to the beach, you added, eyeing me.
The uncles fell in, chuckling phony chuckles, 10
What a good time she’ll have learning to swim!
Back in my sisters‘ room Mami was packing
a hurried bag, allowing one toy apiece,
her red eyes belying her explanation:
a week at the beach so Papi can get some rest. 15
She dressed us in our best dresses, party shoes.
Something was off, I knew, but I was young
and didn‘t think adult things could go wrong.
So as we quietly filed out of the house
we wouldn‘t see again for another decade, 20
I let myself lie back in the deep waters,
my arms out like Jesus‘ on His cross,
and instead of sinking down as I‘d always done,
magically, that night, I could stay up,
floating out, past the driveway, past the gates, 25
in the black Ford, Papi grim at the wheel,
winding through back roads, stroke by difficult stroke,
out on the highway, heading toward the coast.
Past the checkpoint, we raced towards the airport,
my sisters crying when we turned before 30
the family beach house, Mami consoling,
there was a better surprise in store for us!
She couldn‘t tell, though, until . . . until we were there.
But I had already swum ahead and guessed
some loss much larger than I understood, 35
more danger than the deep end of the pool.
At the dark, deserted airport we waited.
All night in a fitful sleep, I swam.
At dawn the plane arrived, and as we boarded,
Papi, you turned, your eyes scanned the horizon 40
as if you were trying to sight a distant swimmer,
your hand frantically waving her back in,
for you knew as we stepped inside the cabin
that a part of both of us had been set adrift.
Weeks later, wandering our new city, hand in hand, 45
you tried to explain the wonders: escalators
as moving belts; elevators: pulleys and ropes;
blond hair and blue eyes: a genetic code.
We stopped before a summery display window
at Macy‘s, The World’s Largest Department Store, 50
to admire a family outfitted for the beach:
the handsome father, slim and sure of himself,
so unlike you, Papi, with your thick mustache,
your three-piece suit, your fedora hat, your accent.
And by his side a girl who looked like Heidi 55
in my storybook waded in colored plastic.
We stood awhile, marveling at America,
both of us trying hard to feel luckier
than we felt, both of us pointing out
the beach pails, the shovels, the sandcastles 60
no wave would ever topple, the red and blue boats.
And when we backed away, we saw our reflections
superimposed, big-eyed, dressed too formally
with all due respect as visitors to this country.
Or like, Papi, two swimmers looking down 65
at the quiet surface of our island waters,
seeing their faces right before plunging in,
eager, afraid, not yet sure of the outcome.
By Rita Dove
1. The Cane Fields
There is a parrot imitating spring
in the palace, its feathers parsley green.
Out of the swamp the cane appears
to haunt us, and we cut it down. El General
searches for a word; he is all the world 5
there is. Like a parrot imitating spring,
we lie down screaming as rain punches through
and we come up green. We cannot speak an R—
out of the swamp, the cane appears
and then the mountain we call in whispers Katalina. 10
The children gnaw their teeth to arrowheads.
There is a parrot imitating spring.
El General has found his word: perejil.
Who says it, lives. He laughs, teeth shining
out of the swamp. The cane appears 15
in our dreams, lashed by wind and streaming.
And we lie down. For every drop of blood
there is a parrot imitating spring.
Out of the swamp the cane appears.
2. The Palace
The word the general's chosen is parsley. 20
It is fall, when thoughts turn
to love and death; the general thinks
of his mother, how she died in the fall
and he planted her walking cane at the grave
and it flowered, each spring stolidly forming 25
four-star blossoms. The general
pulls on his boots, he stomps to
her room in the palace, the one without
curtains, the one with a parrot
in a brass ring. As he paces he wonders 30
Who can I kill today. And for a moment
the little knot of screams
is still. The parrot, who has traveled
all the way from Australia in an ivory
cage, is, coy as a widow, practising 35
spring. Ever since the morning
his mother collapsed in the kitchen
while baking skull-shaped candies
for the Day of the Dead, the general
has hated sweets. He orders pastries 40
brought up for the bird; they arrive
dusted with sugar on a bed of lace.
The knot in his throat starts to twitch;
he sees his boots the first day in battle
splashed with mud and urine 45
as a soldier falls at his feet amazed—
how stupid he looked!—at the sound
of artillery. I never thought it would sing
the soldier said, and died. Now
the general sees the fields of sugar 50
cane, lashed by rain and streaming.
He sees his mother's smile, the teeth
gnawed to arrowheads. He hears
the Haitians sing without R's
as they swing the great machetes: 55
Katalina, they sing, Katalina,
mi madle, mi amol en muelte. God knows
his mother was no stupid woman; she
could roll an R like a queen. Even
a parrot can roll an R! In the bare room 60
the bright feathers arch in a parody
of greenery, as the last pale crumbs
disappear under the blackened tongue. Someone
calls out his name in a voice
so like his mother's, a startled tear 65
splashes the tip of his right boot.
My mother, my love in death.
The general remembers the tiny green sprigs
men of his village wore in their capes
to honor the birth of a son. He will 70
order many, this time, to be killed
for a single, beautiful word.
Chile, Allende, Pinochet, and the C. I. A.
By Martín Espada
for Raúl Zurita
Santiago de Chile, July 2004
The other poets tell me he tried to blind himself,
taped his eyelids and splashed his face with ammonia.
What Zurita saw gnawed like a parasite at the muscles in his eyes:
Chile‘s warships invaded the harbor of Valparaíso
and subversives staggered at gunpoint 5
through the city of hills down to the dock.
Only the water knows how many
faded away like black boots tossed into a black sea,
or dangled from the masts, beaten by knuckles and rain
into scarecrows the seagulls would pluck. 10
September 11, 1973: Zurita‘s heart
crashed deep in the ribs of a navy ship.
The officer in charge of interrogation
shook the poet‘s papers and fumed: This is not poetry.
The other poets tell me: Electricity was involved. 15
Seven years later, Zurita blinked
to save his eyes, and wrote:
in the name of our love let even
the steel-toed boots
that kicked us be loved 20
and those who mocking us said
“Do a little dance for us” and put out their cigarettes
on our arms so we would dance for them
for our love’s sake, for that alone,
let them now dance. 25
Today we walk through the courtyard
of the presidential palace.
The fountain speaks in the water‘s tongue;
the fountain of smoke is gone.
The bombers that boomed across this sky 30
left no fingerprints in the clouds
when they dropped their rockets,
twisting the rails of the balcony like licorice.
Today Allende is white marble outside the palace,
mute as a martyr, without a hand free to wave 35
from the balcony, without a voice to crackle
his last words in the radio air.
Zurita says: After the bombing, after the coup,
no one could stand here to look at the ruins.
If you did, you were suspect. Did you grieve for Allende? 40
They grieved, heads down, hands in pockets, moving along,
glancing up, a blackened balcony in the corner of the eye.
Zurita knows what the water knows,
what the sky will not confess even to the gods
who switch the electricity on, off, then on again. 45
Zurita‘s beard is forged in gray, the steel of a navy ship.
He lights a cigarette for those who would see the ruins
where the ruins have been swept away.
I am the one navigating the night without stars.
On or around the night of September 11, 1973, 50
at the age of sixteen,
I was vandalizing a golf course in the rain,
fishtailing my car through the mud on the ninth hole
as beer cans rolled under my feet.
Ten miles away, at the White House, 55
the plotters were pleased; the coup
was a world in miniature they painted by hand,
a train with real smoke and bells
circling the track in the basement.
The rest of us drank too much, drove too fast, 60
as the radio told us what happened
on the other side of the world
and the windshield wipers said
not here, not here, not here.
Poem Delivered Before Assembly of Colored People Held at Glide Memorial Church,
Oct. 4, 1973, and Called to Protest Recent Events in the Sovereign Republic of Chile
By Ishmael Reed
In the winter of 1964 Pablo Neruda
Lifted 195 lbs of ragged scrawls
That wanted to be a poet and put
Me in the picture where we stood
Laughing like school chums 5
No little man ever lifted me like that
Pablo Neruda was a big man
It is impossible for me to believe that
Cancer could waste him
He was filled with barrel-chested poetry 10
From stocky head to feet and
Had no need for mortal organs
The cancer wasn‘t inside of Pablo Neruda
Cancer won‘t go near poetry
The cancer was inside ITT 15
The Cancer God with the
Nose of President Waterbugger
The tight-Baptist lips of John Forster Dulles
And the fleshy Q Ball head of
Melvin Laird 20
Dick Tracy‘s latest victim
The Cancer God with the body
Of the rat-sucking Indian Plague Flea
All creepy transparent and hunched up
Stalks the South American copper 25
Country with its pet anaconda
It breathes and hollers like
All the Japanese sci fi monsters
Rolled into one: Hogzilla
Its excrescency supply the Portuguese 30
The Cancer God is a bully who mooches up
Rational gentle and humanistic men
But when it picked a fight with the poet
It got all the cobalt-blue words it could use 35
And reels about holding in its insides
Do something about my wounded mother
Says President Waterbugger
Shambling across the San Clemente beach
Whose sand is skulls grinded 40
Do something about my wounded mother
Says the slobbering tacky thing
Pausing long enough from his hobby
Ripping-off the eggs of the world
Their albumen oozing down his American 45
Flag lapel, his bareassed elephant
Gyrating its dung-wings
Give her all of South America if she wants it
And if she makes a mess
Get somebody to clean it up 50
A colonel who holds his inaugural address
Upside down and sports
And if they can‘t stomach their 55
New leaders‘ uglysucker French
Angel faces then cover them up with
A uniform or hide its Most Disgusting
In a tank
Cover it up like they want to cover 60
Me up those pitiful eyes gazing from
The palm tree freeway of the Dead War
President Waterbugger your crimes
Will not leave office
No imperial plastic surgeon can 65
Remove them from your face
They enter the bedroom of you
Hacienda at night and rob you
Of your sleep
They call out your name 70
Next to you Hitler resembles
A kindergarten aide
Who only wanted to raise some geese
And cried when listening to 75
Everything you put your paws on
Becomes all crummy and yukky
In New Jersey the mob cries for Jumboburgers
In Florida the old people are stealing Vitamin E 80
President Waterbugger only your crimes
Want to be near you now
Your daughters have moved out of town
Your wife refuses to hold your hand
On the elevator 85
Inexplicably, Lincoln‘s picture
Just fell from the wall
Next time you kill a poet
You‘d better read his poems first
Or they will rise up and surround you 90
Like 1945 fire cannons a few miles from
And History will find no trace of
Your ashes in the bunker of your hell
By Sandra M. Castillo
I don‘t recall his name,
only the slits of his eyes.
We found him on your front step
after dinner, a walk on pastel-colored South Beach,
the deco district. 5
It was your day off.
We had run home to be naked, alone,
to lie under your ceiling fan,
your long hair on my face.
With legs propped up on your balcony 10
on the second floor, he waited,
his black leather phonebook
on his military lap.
He wore a yellow “Don’t Worry,
Be Happy” t-shirt and he spoke about me 15
as if I wasn‘t in the same room.
Where did you find this woman?‖ he‘d ask.
Interspersed with laugher,
this later became a response to questions
he couldn‘t answer. 20
Turning his Spanish into English,
we learned that you had shared a major,
yours in Tel Aviv, his, Ft. Bragg, special tactics.
And though he had to say “Tell him this. Tell him this,”
he never looked me in the eye 25
because, he said, I wasn‘t a man.
He said he needed a place to sleep in Miami,
and he had been given your name.
You fed him the tabuli we had both made
and waited for his words to become English, 30
your second language.
All night, I tried to be your dictionary,
but my words turned into questions
he couldn‘t answer and my mind became a third world country;
dark-haired, outdoor-skinned men in military green 35
lined the Honduran border like thick, leafless trees,
their M-16s on tight shoulders.
I heard gunfire, saw the night turn to blood
as it filled my lungs,
felt the wind come off the ocean, 40
pound on the windows of your studio apartment,
wrap itself around my neck
like night or death.
The Meaning of the Shovel
By Martín Espada
—Barrio René Cisneros
Managua, Nicaragua, June-July 1982
This was the dictator‘s land
before the revolution.
Now the dictator is exiled to necropolis,
his army brooding in camps on the border,
and the congregation of the landless 5
stipples the earth with a thousand shacks,
every weatherbeaten carpenter
planting a fistful of nails.
Here I dig latrines. I dig because last week
I saw a funeral in the streets of Managua, 10
the coffin swaddled in a red and black flag,
hoisted by a procession so silent
that even their feet seemed
to leave no sound on the gravel.
He was eighteen, with the border patrol, 15
when a sharpshooter from the dictator‘s army
took aim at the back of his head.
I dig because yesterday
I saw four walls of photographs:
the faces of volunteers 20
in high school uniforms
who taught campesinos to read,
bringing an alphabet
sandwiched in notebooks
to places where the mist never rises 25
from the trees. All dead,
by malaria or the greedy river
or the dictator‘s army
swarming the illiterate villages
like a sky full of corn-plundering birds. 30
I dig because today, in this barrio
without plumbing, I saw a woman
wearing a yellow dress
climb into a barrel of water
to wash herself and the dress 35
at the same time,
her cupped hands spilling.
I dig because today I stopped digging
to drink an orange soda. In a country
with no glass, the boy kept the treasured bottle 40
and poured the liquid into a plastic bag
full of ice, then poked a hole with a straw.
I dig because today my shovel
struck a clay bowl centuries old,
the art of ancient fingers 45
moist with this same earth,
perfect but for one crack in the lip.
I dig because I have hauled garbage
and pumped gas and cut paper
and sold encyclopedias door to door. 50
I dig, digging until the passport
in my back pocket saturates with dirt,
because here I work for nothing
and for everything.
Grenada Symphony: First Movement
By Aaron Kramer
Early that morning we learned how, while we had slept,
the two hundred twenty millions of us had leapt
on a breadcrumb isle—a scheme top-secretly kept
One should never refer to it as invasion, as war. 5
There were reasons, lofty of course, and there would be more.
We had saved, set free; a wickedness close to our door
had been uprooted.
Baskets of munchies would coax from the mouths of the poor
a welcoming smile, even cheers; but just to be sure 10
that none of our smilers preferred the disease to the cure,
we‘d keep our sons there,
ferreting out of its hole each mutter, each frown,
shutting the unconvinced, insolent newspaper down,
till only Freedom and Decency dwelled in the town, 15
blessing our guns there.
By Ishmael Reed
He fondles the public
as though it were a
Playing giddyup with his 5
His wife has this thing about
the color blue
Why is it that when the old
men have power the young men 10
fly home in star-spangled skins
The liars on t.v.
They have turned me against the
head of hair, parted on the left side 15
Under the eyes of god, at night
They cry into sympathetic bourbon
Casper, the malevolent duppy
Doesn‘t crack a smile in his
hard pinched face 20
They bombed the mad house by
A level headed pilot came back
Three times, the nurse testified
―I‘ll remember his grin for the 25
rest of my life.‖
The mad house is located on the
Island of Grenada
It is where they chain the crazy
Historical Issues Involving Native Americans
I Expected My Skin and My Blood to Ripen
By Wendy Rose
“When the blizzard subsided four days later (after the massacre), a burial party was sent to Wounded Knee. A long trench
was dug. Many of the bodies were stripped by whites who went out in order to get the ghost shirts and other accoutrements
the Indians wore . . . the frozen bodies were thrown into the trench stiff and naked . . . only a handful of items remain in
private hands . . . exposure to snow has stiffened the leggings and moccasins and all the objects show the effects of age and
long use. . . .” There follows: moccasins at $140, hide scraper at $350, buckskin shirt at $1200, woman’s leggings at $275,
bone breastplate at $1000.
PLAINS INDIAN ART SALES CATALOG BY KENNETH CANFIELD
I expected my skin and my blood
not be ripped from my bones;
like green fruit I am peeled
tasted, discarded; my seeds are stepped on 5
as if there were no future. Now
there has been
My own body gave up the beads 10
my own arms handed the babies away
to be strung on bayonets, to be counted
one by one like rosary stones and then
to be tossed to each side of life
as if the pain of their borning 15
had never been.
My feet were frozen to the leather,
pried apart, left behind—bits of flesh
on the moccasins, bits of papery deerhide
on the bones. My back was stripped 20
of its cover, its quilling intact; was torn,
was taken away, was restored.
My leggings were taken like in a rape
and shriveled to the size of stick figures
like they had never felt 25
the push of my strong woman‘s body
walking in the hills.
It was my own baby whose cradleboard I held.
Would‘ve put her in my mouth
like a snake 30
if I could, would‘ve turned her
into a bush or old rock
if there‘d been enough magic
to work such changes. Not enough magic
even to stop the bullets. 35
Not enough magic
to stop the scientists.
Not enough magic
to stop the collectors.
By Mark Turcotte
I do not know where these words come from,
it is the only way I can speak.
the pony of Crazy Horse
in a field
of yellow hair, 5
its nervous neck
a hail of stones,
step step 10
the pony of Crazy Horse
in a field
of greasy grass,
polishing its anxious hooves
upon the buttons
of Custer's coat, 20
the pony of Crazy Horse 25
in a field
of horses grazing,
deaf to the distant wail of a widow 30
why my Georgie, why my Georgie why,
the pony of Crazy Horse 35
in a field
of bloodied flowers,
where the horn
of her husband's empty saddle 40
is still decorated
with the flesh of Lakota women,
that is why my Georgie why
step step 45
step step . . .
Report to Crazy Horse
By William E. Stafford
All the Sioux were defeated. Our clan
got poor, but a few got richer.
They fought two wars. I did not
take part. No one remembers your vision
or even your real name. Now 5
the children go to town and like
loud music. I married a Christian.
Crazy Horse, it is not fair
to hide a new vision from you.
In our schools we are learning 10
to take aim when we talk, and we have
found out our enemies. They shift when
words do; they even change and hide
in every person. A teacher here says
hurt or scorned people are places 15
where real enemies hide. He says
we should not hurt or scorn anyone,
but help them. And I will tell you
in a brave way, the way Crazy Horse
talked: that teacher is right. 20
I will tell you a strange thing:
at the rodeo, close to the grandstand,
I saw a farm lady scared by a blown
piece of paper; and at that place
horses and policemen were no longer 25
frightening, but suffering faces were,
and the hunched-over backs of the old.
Crazy Horse, tell me if I am right:
these are the things we thought we were
doing something about. 30
In your life you saw many strange things,
and I will tell you another: now I salute
the white man's flag. But when I salute
I hold my hand alertly on the heartbeat
and remember all of us and how we depend 35
on a steady pulse together. There are those
who salute because they fear other flags
or mean to use ours to chase them:
I must not allow my part of saluting
to mean this. All of our promises, 40
our generous sayings to each other, our
honorable intentions—those I affirm
when I salute. At these times it is like
shutting my eyes and joining a religious
colony at prayer in the gray dawn 45
in the deep aisles of a church.
Now I have told you about new times.
Yes, I know others will report
different things. They have been caught
by weak ways. I tell you straight 50
the way it is now, and it is our way,
the way we were trying to find.
The chokecherries along our valley
still bear a bright fruit. There is good
pottery clay north of here. I remember 55
our old places. When I pass the Musselshell
I run my hand along those old grooves in the rock.
A Centenary Ode: Inscribed to Little Crow, Leader of the Sioux Rebellion in Minnesota,
By James Wright
I had nothing to do with it. I was not here.
I was not born.
In 1862, when your hotheads
Raised hell from here to South Dakota,
My own fathers scattered into West Virginia 5
And southern Ohio.
My family fought the Confederacy
And fought the Union.
None of them got killed.
But for all that, it was not my fathers 10
Who murdered you.
I don't know
Where the fathers of Minneapolis finalized
Your flayed carcass. 15
Little Crow, true father
Of my dark America,
When I close my eyes I lose you among
My family were a lot of singing drunks and good carpenters. 20
We had brothers who loved one another no matter what they did.
And they did plenty.
I think they would have run like hell from your Sioux.
And when you caught them you all would have run like hell
From the Confederacy and from the Union 25
Into the hills and hunted for a few things,
Some bull-cat under the stones, a gar maybe,
If you were hungry, and if you were happy,
Sunfish and corn.
If only I knew where to mourn you, 30
I would surely mourn.
But I don't know.
I did not come here only to grieve
For my people's defeat.
The troops of the Union, who won, 35
Still outnumber us.
Old Paddy Beck, my great-uncle, is dead
At the old soldiers' home near Tiffen, Ohio.
He got away with every last stitch
Of his uniform, save only 40
The dress trousers.
Oh all around us,
The hobo jungles of America grow wild again.
The pick handles bloom like your skinned spine..
I don't even know where 45
My own grave is.
Elegy to the Sioux
By Norman Dubie
The vase was made of clay
With spines of straw
For strength . . The sun-baked vase
Soaked in a deep blue dye for days. The events in this wilderness,
Portrayed in the round of the vase, 5
Depend on shades of indigo against
The masked areas of the clay, a flat pearl color
To detail the big sky and snow . . .
This Montana field in winter is not sorrowful:
A bugle skips through notes: 10
We view it all somehow from the center of the field
And there are scattered groups of cavalry. Some of these
Men were seasoned by civil war. Their caps are blue.
Their canteens are frozen. The horses shake their heads
Bothered by the beads of ice, the needles of ice 15
Forming at both sides of their great anvil heads.
The long, blue cloaks of the officers fall over the haunches
Of the horses. The ammunition wagons
Beside the woods are blurred by the snowy weather . . .
Beyond the wagons, further even, into the woods 20
There is a sloping stream bed. This is
The dark side of the vase, which is often misunderstood.
From here through the bare trees there's
A strange sight to be seen at the very middle of the field:
A valet is holding a bowl of cherries—archetype and rubric, 25
A general with white hair eats the fruit while introducing its color,
Which will flow through the woods in early December.
An Indian woman came under dark clouds to give birth, unattended
In the deep wash inside the woods. She knew the weather
Could turn and staked the tips of two rooted spruce trees 30
To the earth to make a roof.
The deerskin of her robe is in her mouth. Her legs spread,
Her feet are tied up in the roof of darkening spruce. No stars
Show through! But on the vase that belonged to a President
There are countless stars above the soldier's campfires . . . 35
With rawhide her feet are tied high in the spruce
And her right hand is left loose as if she were about
To ride a wild stallion
to its conclusion in a box canyon.
President Grant drinks bourbon from his boot. The Sioux 40
Cough in their blankets . . .
It snowed an hour more, and then the moon appeared.
The unborn infant,
Almost out on the forest floor, buckled and lodged. It died.
Its mother died. Just before she closed her eyes 45
She rubbed snow up and down the inside of her bare thighs.
In the near field an idle, stylish horse raised one leg
To make a perfect right angle. Just then a ghost of snow formed
Over the tents of the soldiers,
It blows past the stylish, gray horse, 50
Unstopped it moves through woods, up the stream bed
And passes into the crude spruce shelter, into the raw open
Woman, her legs raised into sky—
Naked house of snow and ice! This gust of wind
Spent the night within the woman. At sunrise, it left her mouth 55
Tearing out trees, keeping the owls from sleep; it was angry now
And into the field it spilled, into the bivouac of pony soldiers
Who turned to the south, who turned back to the woods, who became
Still. Blue all over! If there is snow
Still unspooling in the mountains 60
Then there is time yet for the President to get his Indian vase
And to fill it with bourbon from his boot and to put flowers into it:
The flowers die in a window that looks out on a cherry tree
Which heavy with fruit drops a branch:
torn to its very heartwood 65
By the red clusters of fruit, the branch fell
Like her leg and foot
Out of the big sky into Montana . . .
By Jean V. Gier (Filipina)
The Ohlone walk among us, setting fire to the stipa;
their fields of vast burning among the freeways
and condominiums deposit ash upon the sand
upon the decaying shells of white sand clam,
the many littleneck clams. Holy Mary, mother of God 5
the Lord is with thee, the catechumens chant
as they march around the mission chapel. Father Serra
proselytizes among the clapper rails, the furious
scrub Jays, as seams open in the sidewalks and visionaries
come forth, singing of fishes and loaves, planets aligned, 10
Rahjneesh, Eckankar (we will consume anything: snakes,
God). The Pomo still eat the chiton, chew the tough
flesh, discarding the sandy carapace. It is said
Jaime de Angulo plowed his ledge of land 2000 ft.
above Torre Canyon in his all-together. Died sad 15
and crazy, having lost his European manners
and his son to the rubbled cliffs. I know
there is a rocky ledge beyond which all things
fall away; the ground shudders beneath our beds
and we prick up like frightened ground squirrels 20
hearing a sound like the Southern Pacific about to derail
in the front yard. Now and then, one of us plunges
into the starry field of excess and awe.
Points of View
By Ishmael Reed
The pioneer stands in front of the
Old pioneer‘s home with his back-pack
walking stick and rifle
Wasn‘t me that Kisadi Frog-Klan
Indian was talking about when he 5
mentioned the horrors of Alaska
What horrors of Alaska?
Why Baranof was a swell fellow
Generous to the Indians, he was
known as far south as California 10
for his good deeds
Before we came the Indians were
making love to their children and
sacrificing their slaves, because
the Raven told them so, according 15
―They couldn‘t even speak good
English and called the streams and
the mountains funny names
They were giving each other refrigerators 20
the potlatches had become so bad
We made them stop
They‘d build a canoe abandon
it, then build another
We made them stop that, too 25
Now they have lawyers
They can have anything they want
If they want to go whaling
when we know they don‘t need to
go whaling 30
The lawyers see to it that they
They‘re just like us
They buy frozen snow peas
just like we do 35
They‘re crazy about motorcycles
Just like we are
We brought them civilization
We brought them penicillin
We brought them Johnny Carson 40
We brought them trailer camps
They‘d get married at fourteen
and die at 24
We brought them longevity 45
They brought us carbon dioxide
They brought us contractors
We told them not to dig there
They were clawed by two eagles
While uncovering the graves of 50
two medicine men
The white man has the mind of a
walrus‘s malignant left ball
We don‘t think the way they do
They arrive at the rate of one 55
thousand per month in cars
whose license plates read
texas oklahoma and mississippi
They built the Sheffield Hotel on
a herring bed 60
Everywhere are their dogs
Everywhere are their guns
Everywhere are their salmon-faced
women who get knocked up a lot
and sometimes enter the Chanel 65
restaurant wearing mysterious black
eyes, socked into their Viking-eyes
by men whose hair is plastered with
It all began when 70
Chief Kowee of the Raven Klan showed
Joe Juneau the location of the gold
Now Mount Juneau is as empty as
a box of popcorn on the floor of
a picture show 75
When our people saw the first
Russian ship, we thought it was
the White Raven‘s return
Instead it was the Czarina‘s pirate
Dressed in Russian merchant‘s clothes 80
and a peacock‘s hat.
He shot Katlian in the back
Forced Acculturation of Native Americans
Indian Boarding School: The Runaways
By Louise Erdrich
Home‘s the place we head for in our sleep.
Boxcars stumbling north in dreams
don‘t wait for us. We catch them on the run.
The rails, old lacerations that we love,
shoot parallel across the face and break 5
just under Turtle Mountain. Riding scars
you can‘t get lost. Home is the place they cross.
The lame guard strikes a match and makes the dark
less tolerant. We watch through cracks in boards
as the land starts rolling till it hurts 10
to be out here, cold in regulation clothes.
We know the sheriff‘s waiting at midrun
to take us back. His car is dumb and warm.
The highway doesn‘t rock. It only hums
like a wing of long insults. The worn-down welts 15
of ancient punishments lead back and forth.
All runaways wore dresses, long green ones,
the color you would think shame was. We scrub
the sidewalks down because it‘s shameful work.
Our brushes cut the stone in watered arcs 20
and in the soak frail outlines shiver clear
a moment, things us kids pressed on the dark
face before it hardened, pale, remembering
delicate old injuries, the spines of names and leaves.
The Decline of the Buffalo
By Mary Oliver
Have you noticed?
Where so many millions of powerful bawling beasts
lay down on the earth and died
it‘s hard to tell now
what‘s bone, and what merely 5
The golden eagle, for instance,
has a bit of heaviness in him;
moreover the huge barns
seem ready, sometimes, to ramble off 10
toward deeper grass.
near the Bitterroot Mountains:
a man named Lewis kneels down
on the prairie watching 15
a sparrow‘s nest cleverly concealed in the wild hyssop
and line with buffalo hair. The chicks,
not more than a day hatched, lean
quietly into the thick wool as if
content, after all, 20
to have left the perfect world and fallen,
helpless and blind
into the flowered fields and the perils of this one.
In the book of the earth it is written:
nothing can die. 25
In the book of the Sioux it is written:
they have gone away into the earth to hide.
Nothing will coax them out again
but the people dancing.
Said the old-timers: 30
the tongue is the sweetest meat.
Passengers shooting from train windows
could hardly miss, they were
Afterward the carcasses 35
stank unbelievably, and sang with flies, ribboned
with slopes of white fat,
black ropes of blood—hellhunks
in the prairie heat.
Have you noticed? how the rain 40
falls soft as the fall
of moccasins. Have you noticed?
how the immense circles still,
stubbornly, after a hundred years,
mark the grass where the rich droppings 45
from the roaring bulls
fell to the earth as the herd stood
day after day, moon after moon
in their tribal circle, outwaiting
the packs of yellow-eyed wolves that are also 50
have you noticed? gone now.
Once only, and then in a dream,
I watched while, secretly
and with the tenderness of any caring woman,
a cow gave birth 55
to a red calf, tongued him dry and nursed him
in a warm corner
of the clear night
in the fragrant grass
in the wild domains 60
of the prairie spring, and I asked them,
in my dream I knelt down and asked them
to make room for me.
General George Armstrong Custer: My Life in the Theater
After the blood wedding
at Little Big Horn,
I rose from death,
a bride loved past desire
yet unsatisfied, 5
and walked among the mutilated corpses.
Skin stripped from them,
they were as white as marble,
their raw scalps like red bathing caps.
Sometimes I bent to stroke the dying horses 10
as dew bathed my feet.
When I tore the arrows from my genitals,
I heard again the sound of the squaws.
The trills on their tongues thrilled me.
Those sounds were victory 15
and I was victory's slave
and she was a better lover than my wife
or the colored laundress
I took under a wagon one night
when I was hot with my invincibility. 20
Why, eventually even Sitting Bull
joined a Wild West show.
He rode a dancing pony
and sold his autograph to anyone who'd pay
and I might have become president, 25
my buckskin suit, white hat,
two guns, and rifle
flung in some closet
while I wore silk shirts
and trousers made of cotton 30
milled on my own shores
and took my manly pleasures
with more accomplished whores.
Instead I dress in lies and contradictions
and no one recognizes me. 35
All they see is the tall, skinny mercenary
with yellow hair
and blue, vacant eyes that stare,
so while I chew the tips of my mustache,
the cameras pass over me. 40
The journalists interview that guy or that one
and I want to shoot them down,
but that's been done before
by some back-door assassin or other
who kills publicly for sport, 45
but I kill for
the spectacle, the operatic pitch
of the little civil wars
that decimate from inside,
as in Belfast, Beirut, or Los Angeles, 50
where people know how it feels to be
somebody's personal Indian,
a few arrows, a few bullets short of home,
then left behind to roam this afterlife.
Once I knelt on one knee, 55
firing from my circle of self-deceit,
no thought but to extinguish thought,
until I brought down each brave.
but it was his red hand that wounded me,
no matter how many times I shot, 60
clubbed, clawed, or bit him,
my mouth overflowing with blood,
the rubbery flesh I chewed
that left no evidence of my savagery.
When I raised the gun to my own head, 65
I recalled the fields and fields of yellow flowers
that lit my way as I rode to battle.
How beautiful they were,
how often I stopped to pick them.
I twined them in my horse's mane 70
and in my hair,
but they were useless amulets
that could not stop my bullet
as it sizzled through flesh, then bone.
Now misfortune's soldier, 75
black armband on sleeve and hand on heart,
I pledge no fear
as chance propels me
into another breach
from which there is no deliverance, 80
only the tragicomedy of defeat acted out
in the belly of the cosmic whale,
where I swim against the dark, relentless tide.
Suppression, Genocide, and Reservations
By Howard Nemerov
an introductory lecture
This morning we shall spend a few minutes
Upon the study of symbolism, which is basic
To the nature of money. I show you this nickel.
Icons and cryptograms are written all over
The nickel: one side shows a hunchbacked bison 5
Bending his head and curling his tail to accommodate
The circular nature of money. Over him arches
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, and, squinched in
Between that and his rump, E PLURIBUS UNUM,
A Roman reminiscence that appears to mean 10
An indeterminately large number of things
All of which are the same. Under the bison
A straight line giving him a ground to stand on
Reads FIVE CENTS. And on the other side of our nickel
There is a profile of a man with long hair 15
And a couple of feathers in the hair; we know
Somehow that he is an American Indian, and
He wears the number nineteen-thirty-six.
Right in front of his eyes the word LIBERTY, bent
To conform with the curve of the rim, appears 20
To be falling out of the sky Y first; the Indian
Keeps his eyes downcast and does not notice this;
To notice it, indeed, would be shortsighted of him.
So much for the iconography of one of our nickels,
Which is now becoming a rarity and something of 25
A collectors‘ item: for as a matter of fact
There is almost nothing you can buy with a nickel,
The representative American Indian was destroyed
A hundred years or so ago, and his descendants‘
Relations with liberty are maintained with reservations, 30
Or primitive concentration camps; while the bison,
Except for a few examples kept in cages,
Is now extinct. Something like that, I think,
Is what Keats must have meant in his celebrated
Ode on a Grecian Urn. 35
Notice, in conclusion,
A number of circumstances sometimes overlooked
Even by experts: (a) Indian and bison,
Confined to obverse and reverse of coin,
Can never see each other; (b) they are looking 40
In opposite directions, the bison past
The Indian‘s feathers, the Indian past
The bison‘s tail; (c) they are upside down
To one another; (d) the bison has a human face
Somewhat resembling that of Jupiter Ammon. 45
I hope that our studies today will have shown you
Something of the import of symbolism
With respect to the understanding of what is symbolized.
By Lorna Dee Cervantes
for the Ute and Arapaho
The mountains are there like ghosts
of slaughtered mules, the whites of my
ancestors rest on the glaciers, veiled
and haloed with the desire of electrical
storms. Marginal feasts corral the young 5
to the cave walls, purple smoke wafts up
a chimney of shedding sundown. Statuesque
and exquisitely barren, my seed shines
in the dying rays. . The rich earth of the wealthy
splays the legs of heaven in my view. Monstrous 10
and sullen, the slabs of death let loose their
hikers, let fall with an old snow. My harmony
of blood and ash, fire on the mound, I feel
them shuffling in the aspen, their vague ahems
marry the sucking fish in a derelict river. The 15
winter of their genocide still Ghost Dances
with a dream where the bison and mammoth unite,
where the story of their streams is as long
as the sabers of northern ice. The mountains
are the conquest of the sea, the belly of gems, 20
her fossil stays, her solicitudes. The glass
before the angel fish, she stands royal in
her invisible captivity, the impassability of her
element, elemental and efficient. She is there
in the silent baying, in the memory of a native 25
and the dripping pursuance of thawing babies—
specters in a sunset on The Heights—after massacre.
Dear John Wayne
By Louise Erdrich
August and the drive-in picture is packed.
We lounge on the hood of the Pontiac
surrounded by the slow-burning spirals they sell
at the window, to vanquish the hordes of mosquitoes.
Nothing works. They break through the smoke screen for blood. 5
Always the lookout spots the Indian first,
spread north to south, barring progress.
The Sioux or some other Plains bunch
in spectacular columns, ICBM missiles,
feathers bristling in the meaningful sunset. 10
The drum breaks. There will be no parlance.
Only the arrows whining, a death-cloud of nerves
swarming down on the settlers
who die beautifully, tumbling like dust weeds
into the history that brought us all here 15
together: this wide screen beneath the sign of the bear.
The sky fills, acres of blue squint and eye
that the crowd cheers. His face moves over us,
a thick cloud of vengeance, pitted
like the land that was once flesh. Each rut, 20
each scar makes a promise: It is
not over, this fight, not as long as you resist.
Everything we see belongs to us.
A few laughing Indians fall over the hood
slipping in the hot spilled butter. 25
The eye sees a lot, John, but the heart is so blind.
Death makes us owners of nothing.
He smiles, a horizon of teeth
the credits reel over, and then the white fields
again blowing in the true-to-life dark. 30
The dark films over everything.
We get into the car
scratching our mosquito bites, speechless and small
as people are when the movie is done.
We are back in our skins. 35
How can we help but keep hearing his voice,
the flip side of the sound track, still playing:
Come on, boys, we got them
where we want them, drunk, running.
They'll give us what we want, what we need. 40
Even his disease was the idea of taking everything.
Those cells, burning, doubling, splitting out of their skins.
The Powwow at the End of the World
By Sherman Alexie
I am told by many of you that I must forgive and so I shall
after an Indian woman puts her shoulder to the Grand Coulee Dam
and topples it. I am told by many of you that I must forgive
and so I shall after the floodwaters burst each successive dam
downriver from the Grand Coulee. I am told by many of you 5
that I must forgive and so I shall after the floodwaters find
their way to the mouth of the Columbia River as it enters the Pacific
and causes all of it to rise. I am told by many of you that I must forgive
and so I shall after the first drop of floodwater is swallowed by that salmon
waiting in the Pacific. I am told by many of you that I must forgive and so I shall 10
after that salmon swims upstream, through the mouth of the Columbia
and then past the flooded cities, broken dams and abandoned reactors
of Hanford. I am told by many of you that I must forgive and so I shall
after that salmon swims through the mouth of the Spokane River
as it meets the Columbia, then upstream, until it arrives 15
in the shallows of a secret bay on the reservation where I wait alone.
I am told by many of you that I must forgive and so I shall after
that salmon leaps into the night air above the water, throws
a lightning bolt at the brush near my feet, and starts the fire
which will lead all of the lost Indians home. I am told 20
by many of you that I must forgive and so I shall
after we Indians have gathered around the fire with that salmon
who has three stories it must tell before sunrise: one story will teach us
how to pray; another story will make us laugh for hours;
the third story will give us reason to dance. I am told by many 25
of you that I must forgive and so I shall when I am dancing
with my tribe during the powwow at the end of the world.
Slavery and the African-American Civil Rights Movement
By Rita Dove
What did he do except lie
under a pear tree, wrapped in
a great cloak, and meditate
on the heavenly bodies?
Venerable, the good people of Baltimore 5
whispered, shocked and more than
a little afraid. After all it was said
he took to strong drink.
Why else would he stay out
under the stars all night 10
and why hadn‘t he married?
But who would want him! Neither
Ethiopian nor English, neither
lucky nor crazy, a capacious bird
humming as he penned in his mind 15
another enflamed letter
to President Jefferson—he imagined
the reply, polite and rhetorical.
Those who had been to Philadelphia
reported the statue 20
of Benjamin Franklin
before the library
his very size and likeness.
A wife? No, thank you.
At dawn he milked 25
the cows, then went inside
and put on a pot to stew
while he slept. The clock
he whittled as a boy
still ran. Neighbors 30
woke him up
with warm bread and quilts.
At nightfall he took out
his rifle—a white-maned
figure stalking the darkened 35
breast of the Union—and
shot at the stars, and by chance
one went out. Had he killed?
I assure thee, my dear Sir!
Lowering his eyes to fields 40
sweet with the rot of spring, he could see
a government‘s domed city
rising from the morass and spreading
in a spiral of lights....
NOTES: Benjamin Banneker (1731-1806), first black man to devise an almanac and predict a solar eclipse
accurately, was also appointed to the commission that surveyed and laid out what is now Washington, D.C.
Benjamin Banneker Sends His ―Almanac‖ to Thomas Jefferson
By Jay Wright
your eyes nearly blank
from plotting the light's
movement over the years,
you clean your Almanac 5
and place it next
to the heart of this letter.
I have you in mind,
giving a final brush and twist
to the difficult pages, 10
staring down the shape of the numbers
as though you would find a flaw
in their forms.
Solid, these calculations
verify your body on God's earth. 15
the stars submit themselves
to the remembered way you turn them;
the moon gloats under your attention.
I, who know so little of stars, 20
whose only acquaintance with the moon
is to read a myth, or to listen
to the surge
of songs the women know,
sit in your marvelous reading 25
of all movement,
of all relations.
So you look into what we see
yet cannot see,
and shape and take a language 30
to give form to one or the other,
believing no form will escape,
no movement appear, nor stop,
believing no reason is only reason, 35
nor without reason.
I read all of this into your task,
all of this into the uneasy
reproof of your letter.
Surely, there must be a flaw. 40
These perfect calculations fall apart.
There are silences
that no perfect number can retrieve,
omissions no perfect line could catch.
How could a man but challenge God's 45
How could a man sit among
the free and ordered movements
of stars, and waters, beasts and birds,
each movement seen or accounted for, 50
and not know God jealous,
and not know that he himself must be?
So you go over the pages again,
looking for the one thing
that will not reveal itself, 55
judging what you have received,
what you have shaped,
believing it cannot be strange
to the man you address.
But you are strange to him 60
—your skin, your tongue,
the movement of your body,
even your mysterious ways with stars.
You argue here with the man and God,
and know that no man can be right, 65
and know that no God will argue right.
Your letter turns on what the man knows,
on what God, you think, would have us know.
All stars will forever move under your gaze,
truthfully, leading you from line to line, 70
from number to number, from truth to truth,
while the man will read your soul's desire,
searcher, searching yourself,
losing the relations.
The Ballad of Nat Turner
By Robert E. Hayden
Then fled, O brethren, the wicked juba
and wandered wandered far
from curfew joys in the Dismal‘s night.
Fool of St. Elmo‘s fire
In scary night I wandered, praying, 5
Lord God my harshener,
speak to me now or let me die;
speak, Lord, to this mourner.
And came at length to livid trees
where Ibo warriors 10
hung shadowless, turning in wind
that moaned like Africa,
Their belltongue bodies dead, their eyes
alive with the anger deep
in my own heart. Is this the sign, 15
the sign forepromised me?
The spirits vanished. Afraid and lonely
I wandered on in blackness.
Speak to me now or let me die.
Die, whispered the blackness. 20
And wild things gasped and scuffled in
the night; seething shapes
of evil frolicked upon the air.
I reeled with fear, I prayed.
Sudden brightness clove the preying 25
darkness, brightness that was
itself a golden darkness, brightness
so bright that it was darkness.
And there were angels, their faces hidden
from me, angels at war 30
with one another, angels in dazzling
combat. And oh the splendor,
The fearful splendor of that warring.
Hide me, I cried to rock and bramble.
Hide me, the rock, the bramble cried. . . . 35
How tell you of that holy battle?
The shock of wing on wing and sword
on sword was the tumult of
a taken city burning. I cannot
say how long they strove, 40
For the wheel in a turning wheel which is time
in eternity had ceased
its whirling, and owl and moccasin,
panther and nameless beast
And I were held like creatures fixed 45
in flaming, in fiery amber.
But I saw I saw oh many of
those mighty beings waver,
Waver and fall, go streaking down
into swamp water, and the water 50
hissed and steamed and bubbled and locked
shuddering shuddering over
The fallen and soon was motionless.
Then that massive light
began a-folding slowly in 55
upon itself, and I
Beheld the conqueror faces and, lo,
they were like mine, I saw
they were like mine and in joy and terror
wept, praising praising Jehovah. 60
Oh praised my honer, harshener
till a sleep came over me,
a sleep heavy as death. And when
I awoke at last free
And purified, I rose and prayed 65
and returned after a time
to the blazing fields, to the humbleness.
And bided my time.
By Robert E. Hayden
When it is finally ours, this freedom, this liberty, this beautiful
and terrible thing, needful to man as air,
usable as earth; when it belongs at last to all,
when it is truly instinct, brain matter, diastole, systole,
reflex action; when it is finally won; when it is more 5
than the gaudy mumbo jumbo of politicians:
this man, this Douglass, this former slave, this Negro
beaten to his knees, exiled, visioning a world
where none is lonely, none hunted, alien,
this man, superb in love and logic, this man 10
shall be remembered. Oh, not with statues‘ rhetoric,
not with legends and poems and wreaths of bronze alone,
but with the lives grown out of his life, the lives
fleshing his dream of the beautiful, needful thing.
By Eloise Greenfield
Harriet Tubman didn't take no stuff
Wasn't scared of nothing neither
Didn't come in this world to be no slave
And wasn't going to stay one either
"Farewell!" she sang to her friends one night 5
She was mighty sad to leave 'em
But she ran away that dark, hot night
Ran looking for her freedom
She ran to the woods and she ran through the woods
With the slave catchers right behind her 10
And she kept on going till she got to the North
Where those mean men couldn't find her
Nineteen times she went back South
To get three hundred others
She ran for her freedom nineteen times 15
To save Black sisters and brothers
Harriet Tubman didn't take no stuff
Wasn't scared of nothing neither
Didn't come in this world to be no slave
And didn't stay one either 20
And didn't stay one either
By Robert Hayden
Loved feared hated:
Foredoomed to fail
in all but the prophetic 5
Axe in Jehovah's
loving wrathful hand?
The face is not cruel,
the eyes are not mad but 10
has the symmetry
of a cross:
John Brown 15
Ossowatomie De Old Man.
Doing The Lord's work with sabre
sharpened on the grindstone
of The Word:
Bleeding Kansas: 20
the cries of my people the cries
of their oppressors harrowed
hacked---poison meat for Satan's
I slew no man but blessed 25
the Chosen, who in the name
of justice killed at my command.
a son martyred
there: I am tested I am trued 30
made worthy of my servitude.
Oh the crimes of this guilty
let Kansas bleed.
Fury of truth: fury 35
My hands 40
are bloody who never wished
to kill wished only to obey
The Higher Law.
of truth, its enigmas, 45
fire harvest: John Brown
and his Chosen
at Harper's Ferry: 50
fury of The Word made pikes guns
Arm the slaves
seize their masters kill
only if you must: 55
Who sent you here, John Brown?
None in human form.
Fire harvest: harvest fire:
spent forlorn colossal 60
in that bloody light
death-agonies around him
Gabriel and Nat
I have failed: 65
Come, Death, breathe life
into my Cause, O Death.
these mordant images—
these vibrant stainedglass 70
colors, elemental shapes
in ardent interplay
with what we know of him
know yet fail to understand---
even we 75
for whom he died:
(Shall we not say he died
Hanged body turning clockwise
in the air 80
speeding to that hour
sorrows visions prophesied:
And now 85
these haunting stark
The Slave Trade and Slave Life
By Robert E. Hayden
Jesús, Estrella, Esperanza, Mercy:
Sails flashing to the wind like weapons,
sharks following the moans the fever and the dying;
horror the corposant and compass rose.
Middle Passage: 5
voyage through death
to life upon these shores.
―10 April 1800—
Blacks rebellious. Crew uneasy. Our linguist says
their moaning is a prayer for death, 10
ours and their own. Some try to starve themselves.
Lost three this morning leaped with crazy laughter
to the waiting sharks, sang as they went under.‖
Desire, Adventure, Tartar, Ann:
Standing to America, bringing home 15
black gold, black ivory, black seed.
Deep in the festering hold thy father lies,
of his bones New England pews are made,
those are altar lights that were his eyes.
Jesus Saviour Pilot Me 20
Over Life‘s Tempestuous Sea
We pray that Thou wilt grant, O Lord,
safe passage to our vessels bringing
heathen souls unto Thy chastening.
Jesus Saviour 25
―8 bells. I cannot sleep, for I am sick
with fear, but writing eases fear a little
since still my eyes can see these words take shape
upon the page & so I write, as one
would turn to exorcism. 4 days scudding, 30
but now the sea is calm again. Misfortune
follows in our wake like sharks (our grinning
tutelary gods). Which one of us
has killed an albatross? A plague among
our blacks—Ophthalmia: blindness—& we 35
have jettisoned the blind to no avail.
It spreads, the terrifying sickness spreads.
Its claws have scratched sight from the Capt.'s eyes
& there is blindness in the fo‘c‘sle
& we must sail 3 weeks before we come 40
What port awaits us, Davy Jones’
or home? I’ve heard of slavers drifting, drifting,
playthings of wind and storm and chance, their crews
gone blind, the jungle hatred 45
crawling up on deck.
Thou Who Walked On Galilee
―Deponent further sayeth The Bella J
left the Guinea Coast
with cargo of five hundred blacks and odd 50
for the barracoons of Florida:
―That there was hardly room ‘tween-decks for half
the sweltering cattle stowed spoon-fashion there;
that some went mad of thirst and tore their flesh
and sucked the blood: 55
―That Crew and Captain lusted with the comeliest
of the savage girls kept naked in the cabins;
that there was one they called The Guinea Rose
and they cast lots and fought to lie with her:
―That when the Bo‘s‘n piped all hands, the flames 60
spreading from starboard already were beyond
control, the negroes howling and their chains
entangled with the flames:
―That the burning blacks could not be reached,
that the Crew abandoned ship, 65
leaving their shrieking negresses behind,
that the Captain perished drunken with the wenches:
―Further Deponent sayeth not.‖
Pilot Oh Pilot Me
Aye, lad, and I have seen those factories, 70
Gambia, Rio Pongo, Calabar;
have watched the artful mongos baiting traps
of war wherein the victor and the vanquished
Were caught as prizes for our barracoons.
Have seen the nigger kings whose vanity 75
and greed turned wild black hides of Fellatah,
Mandingo, Ibo, Kru to gold for us.
And there was one—King Anthracite we named him—
fetish face beneath French parasols
of brass and orange velvet, impudent mouth 80
whose cups were carven skulls of enemies:
He‘d honor us with drum and feast and conjo
and palm-oil-glistening wenches deft in love,
and for tin crowns that shone with paste,
red calico and German-silver trinkets 85
Would have the drums talk war and send
his warriors to burn the sleeping villages
and kill the sick and old and lead the young
in coffles to our factories.
Twenty years a trader, twenty years, 90
for there was wealth aplenty to be harvested
from those black fields, and I‘d be trading still
but for the fevers melting down my bones.
Shuttles in the rocking loom of history,
the dark ships move, the dark ships move, 95
their bright ironical names
like jests of kindness on a murderer‘s mouth;
plough through thrashing glister toward
fata morgana‘s lucent melting shore,
weave toward New World littorals that are 100
mirage and myth and actual shore.
Voyage through death,
voyage whose chartings are unlove.
A charnel stench, effluvium of living death
spreads outward from the hold, 105
where the living and the dead, the horribly dying,
lie interlocked, lie foul with blood and excrement.
Deep in the festering hold thy father lies,
the corpse of mercy rots with him,
rats eat love’s rotten gelid eyes. 110
But, oh, the living look at you
with human eyes whose suffering accuses you,
whose hatred reaches through the swill of dark
to strike you like a leper’s claw.
You cannot stare that hatred down 115
or chain the fear that stalks the watches
and breathes on you its fetid scorching breath;
cannot kill the deep immortal human wish,
the timeless will.
―But for the storm that flung up barriers 120
of wind and wave, The Amistad, señores,
would have reached the port of Príncipe in two,
three days at most; but for the storm we should
have been prepared for what befell.
Swift as the puma‘s leap it came. There was 125
that interval of moonless calm filled only
with the water‘s and the rigging‘s usual sounds,
then sudden movement, blows and snarling cries
and they had fallen on us with machete
and marlinspike. It was as though the very 130
air, the night itself were striking us.
Exhausted by the rigors of the storm,
we were no match for them. Our men went down
before the murderous Africans. Our loyal
Celestino ran from below with gun 135
and lantern and I saw, before the cane—
knife‘s wounding flash, Cinquez,
that surly brute who calls himself a prince,
directing, urging on the ghastly work.
He hacked the poor mulatto down, and then 140
he turned on me. The decks were slippery
when daylight finally came. It sickens me
to think of what I saw, of how these apes
threw overboard the butchered bodies of
our men, true Christians all, like so much jetsam. 145
Enough, enough. The rest is quickly told:
Cinquez was forced to spare the two of us
you see to steer the ship to Africa,
and we like phantoms doomed to rove the sea
voyaged east by day and west by night, 150
deceiving them, hoping for rescue,
prisoners on our own vessel, till
at length we drifted to the shores of this
your land, America, where we were freed
from our unspeakable misery. Now we 155
demand, good sirs, the extradition of
Cinquez and his accomplices to La
Havana. And it distresses us to know
there are so many here who seem inclined
to justify the mutiny of these blacks. 160
We find it paradoxical indeed
that you whose wealth, whose tree of liberty
are rooted in the labor of your slaves
should suffer the august John Quincy Adams
to speak with so much passion of the right 165
of chattel slaves to kill their lawful masters
and with his Roman rhetoric weave a hero‘s
garland for Cinquez. I tell you that
we are determined to return to Cuba
with our slaves and there see justice done. Cinquez— 175
or let us say ‗the Prince‘—Cinquez shall die.‖
The deep immortal human wish,
the timeless will:
Cinquez its deathless primaveral image,
life that transfigures many lives. 175
Voyage through death
to life upon these shores.
By Rita Dove
(Boston, February, 1782)
To the honorable Senate and House
of Representatives of the Country,
new born: I am Belinda, an African,
since the age of twelve a Slave.
I will not take too much of your Time, 5
but to plead and place my pitiable Life
unto the Fathers of this Nation.
Lately your Countrymen have severed
the Binds of Tyranny. I would hope
you would consider the Same for me, 10
pure Air being the sole Advantage
of which I can boast in my present Condition.
As to the Accusation that I am Ignorant:
I received Existence on the Banks
of the Rio de Valta. All my Childhood 15
I expected nothing, if that be Ignorance.
The only Travelers were the Dead who returned
from the Ridge each Evening. How might
I have known of Men with Faces like the Moon,
who would ride toward me steadily for twelve Years? 20
The House Slave
By Rita Dove
The first horn lifts its arm over the dew-lit grass
and in the slave quarters there is a rustling—
children are bundled into aprons, cornbread
and water gourds grabbed, a salt pork breakfast taken.
I watch them driven into the vague before-dawn 5
while their mistress sleeps like an ivory toothpick
and Massa dreams of asses, rum and slave-funk.
I cannot fall asleep again. At the second horn,
the whip curls across the backs of the laggards—
sometimes my sister‘s voice, unmistaken, among them. 10
―Oh! pray,‖ she cries. ―Oh! pray!‖ Those days
I lie on my cot, shivering in the early heat,
and as the fields unfold to whiteness,
and they spill like bees among the flat flowers,
I weep. It is not yet daylight. 15
By Rita Dove
The bells, the cannons, the houses black with crepe,
all for the great Harrison! The citizenry of Washington
clotted the avenue—I among them, Solomon Northrup
from Saratoga Springs, free papers in my pocket, violin
under arm, my new friends Brown and Hamilton by my side. 5
Why should I have doubted them? The wages were good.
While Brown‘s tall hat collected pennies at the tent flap,
Hamilton‘s feet did a jig on a tightrope,
pigs squealed invisibly from the bleachers and I fiddled.
I remember how the windows rattled with each report. 10
Then the wine, like a pink lake, tipped.
I was lifted—the sky swivelled, clicked into place.
I floated on water I could not drink. Though the pillow
was stone, I climbed no ladders in that sleep.
I woke and found myself alone, in darkness and in chains. 15
By Rita Dove
―. . . the hour was come when the man must act, or forever be a slave.‖
At two, the barnyard settled
into fierce silence—anvil,
water pump glinted
as though everything waited
for the first step. 5
into the open. The wind
fields spread their sails.
There really is a star up there and moss on the trees. She 10
discovered if she kept a steady pace, she could walk forever.
The idea pleased her, and she hummed a hymn to herself—
Peach Point, Silk Hope, Beaver Bend. It seemed that the further
north she went, the freer she became. The stars were plates
for good meat; if she reached, they flashed and became coins. 15
White quiet. Night pushed over the hill.
The woods hiss with cockleburs,
each a small woolly head.
She feels old, older
than these friendly shadows 20
who, like the squirrels, don‘t come too near.
Knee-deep in the muscadine, she watches them coming.
snapping the brush. They are
smiling, rifles crossed on their chests.
By Rita Dove
I stood at 6 a.m. on the wharf,
thinking: This is Independence, Missouri.
I am to stay here. The boat goes on to New Orleans.
My life seemed minutes old, and here it was ending.
I was silent, although she clasped me 5
and asked forgiveness for giving me life.
As the sun broke the water into a thousand needles
tipped with the blood from someone‘s finger,
the boat came gently apart from the wharf.
I watched till her face could not distinguish itself 10
from that shadow floated on broken sunlight.
I stood there. I could not help her. I forgive.
The Slave’s Critique of Practical Reason
By Rita Dove
Ain‘t got a reason
to run away—
leastways, not one
would save my life.
So I scoop speculation 5
into a hopsack.
I scoop fluff till
the ground rears white
and I‘m the only dark
spot in the sky. 10
All day the children
sit in the weeds
to wait out the heat
with the rattlers.
All day Our Lady 15
of the Milk-Tooth
while I, the Owl
of the Broken Spirit
keep dipping and 20
thinking up tunes
that fly off quick
as they hit
the air. As far
as I can see, 25
it‘s hotter in heaven
than in the cool
cool earth. I know
‘cause I‘ve been there,
a stony mote 30
circling the mindless
blue, dropping rows
of little clouds,
for sale. 35
By Rita Dove
It is Sunday, day of roughhousing. We are let out in the woods. The
young boys wrestle and butt their heads together like sheep—a circle
forms; claps and shouts fill the air. The women, brown and glossy,
gather around the banjo player, or simply lie in the sun, legs and aprons
folded. The weather‘s an odd monkey—any other day he‘s on our 5
backs, his cotton eye everywhere; today the light sifts down like the
finest cornmeal, coating our hands and arms with a dust. God‘s dust,
old woman Acker says. She‘s the only one who could read to us from
the Bible, before Massa forbade it. On Sundays, something hangs in
the air, a hallelujah, a skitter of brass, but we can‘t call it by name and 10
Then Massa and his gentlemen friends come to bet on the boys. They
guffaw and shout, taking sides, red-faced on the edge of the boxing
ring. There is more kicking, butting, and scuffling—the winner gets a
dram of whiskey if he can drink it all in one swig without choking. 15
Jason is bucking and prancing about—Massa said his name reminded
him of some sailor, a hero who crossed an ocean, looking for a golden
cotton field. Jason thinks he‘s been born to great things—a suit with
gold threads, vest and all. Now the winner is sprawled out under a tree
and the sun, that weary tambourine, hesitates at the rim of the sky‘s 20
green light. It‘s a crazy feeling that carries through the night; as if the
sky were an omen we could not understand, the book that, if we could
read, would change our lives.
Three Days of Forest, a River, Free
By Rita Dove
The dogs have nothing better
to do than bark; duty‘s whistle
slings a bright cord
around their throats.
I‘ll stand here all night 5
if need be, no more real
than a tree when no moon shines.
The terror of waking is a trust
drawn out unbearably
until nothing, not even love, 10
makes it easier, and yet
I love this life:
three days of forest,
the mute riot of leaves.
Who can point out a smell 15
but a dog? The way is free
to the river. Tell me,
Lord, how it feels
to burst out like a rose.
Blood rises in my head— 20
Faint tongue, dry fear,
I think I lost you to the dogs,
so far off now they‘re no
more than a chain of bells 25
ringing darkly, underground.
The Transport of Slaves From Maryland to Mississippi
By Rita Dove
(On August 22, 1839, a wagonload of slaves broke their chains, killed two
white men, and would have escaped, had no a slave woman helped the
Negro driver mount his horse and ride for help.)
I don’t know if I helped him up
because I thought he was our salvation
or not. Left for dead in the middle
of the road, dust hovering around the body
like a screen of mosquitoes 5
shimmering in the hushed light.
The skin across his cheekbones
burst open like baked yams—
deliberate, the eyelids came apart—
his eyes were my eyes in a yellower face. 10
Death and salvation—one accommodates the other.
I am no brute. I got feelings.
He might have been a son of mine.
―The Negro Gordon, barely escaping with his life, rode
into the plantation just as his pursuers came into sight. 15
The neighborhood was rallied and a search begun.
Some of the Negroes had taken to the woods but
were routed, ending this most shocking affray and murder.‖
Eight miles south of Portsmouth, the last handcuff
broke clean from the skin. The last thing 20
the driver saw were the trees, improbable as broccoli,
before he was clubbed from behind. Sixty slaves
poured off the wagon, smelly, half-numb, free.
Baggage man Petit rushed in with his whip.
Some nigger’s laid on another one’s leg, he thought 25
before he saw they were loose. Hold it! he yelled;
but not een the wenches stopped. To his right
Atkins dropped under a crown of clubs. They didn‘t
even flinch. Wait. You ain’t supposed to act this way.
The Emancipation Proclamation
By Paul Laurence Dunbar
Fling out your banners, your honors be bringing,
Raise to the ether your paeans of praise.
Strike every chord and let music be ringing!
Celebrate freely this day of all days.
Few are the years since that notable blessing, 5
Raised you from slaves to the powers of men.
Each year has seen you my brothers progressing,
Never to sink to that level again.
Perched on your shoulders sits Liberty smiling,
Perched where the eyes of the nations can see. 10
Keep from her pinions all contact defiling;
Show by your deeds what you're destined to be.
Press boldly forward nor waver, nor falter.
Blood has been freely poured out in your cause,
Lives sacrificed upon Liberty's alter. 15
Press to the front, it were craven to pause.
Look to the heights that are worth your attaining
Keep your feet firm in the path to the goal.
Toward noble deeds every effort be straining.
Worthy ambition is food for the soul! 20
Up! Men and brothers, be noble, be earnest!
Ripe is the time and success is assured;
Know that your fate was the hardest and sternest
When through those lash-ringing days you endured.
Never again shall the manacles gall you 25
Never again shall the whip stroke defame!
Nobles and Freemen, your destinies call you
Onward to honor, to glory and fame.
Segregation, Jim Crow Laws, the KKK, and Conditions in the South
Message to the President
By Langston Hughes
Mr. President, kindly please,
May I have a word with you?
There‘s one thing, for a long time,
I‘ve been wishing you would do.
In your fireside chats on the radio 5
I hear you telling the world
What you want them to know,
And your speeches in general
Sound mighty fine,
But there‘s one thing, Mr. President, 10
That worries my mind.
I hear you talking about freedom
For the Finn,
And the Czechoslovak— 15
But you never seem to mention
Us folks who‘re black!
We‘re all Americans, Mr. President,
And I‘ve had enough
Of putting up with this 20
Jim Crow stuff.
I want the self-same rights
Other Americans have today.
I want to fly a plane
Like any other man may. 25
I don‘t like this Jim Crow army
Or this Jim Crow navy,
Or the lily-white marines
Licking up the gravy.
We‘re one-tenth of the nation, 30
Mr. President, fourteen million strong.
If you help to keep us down,
We work and pay our taxes.
Our patriotism‘s good. 35
We try to live like
Decent Americans should.
That‘s why as citizens, Mr. President,
We have the right to demand
The next time you make a speech, 40
Take an all-out stand
And make your meaning
Just as clear to me
As you do when talking to
Those Englishmen across the sea. 45
Since, for our land‘s defense
If we have to fight—
We ought to be together,
Black and white.
So what I‘m asking, Mr. President, 50
Is to hear you say
No more segregation in the U.S.A.
And when you mention the Finns,
And the Jew,
And the Czechoslovak, 55
Don‘t forget the fourteen million
Here who‘re black.
Such a speech, Mr. President, for me
Would put a whole lot more meaning
In Democracy. 60
So the next time you sit down
To that radio,
Just like you lambast Hitler,
Give Jim Crow a blow—
For all I‘m asking, Mr. President, 65
Is to hear you say,
No more segregation in the U.S.A.
My friends, NO more
Segregation in the U.S.A.
By Allen Tate
SCENE: Montgomery County,
Kentucky, July 1911
Kentucky water, clear springs: a boy fleeing
To water under the dry Kentucky sun,
His four little friends in tandem with him, seeing
Long shadows of grapevine wriggle and run
Over the green swirl; mullein under the ear 5
Soft as Nausicaa‘s palm; sullen fun
Savage as childhood‘s thin harmonious tear:
O fountain, bosom source undying-dead
Replenish me the spring of love and fear
And give me back the eye that looked and fled 10
When a thrush idling in the tulip tree
Unwound the cold dream of the copperhead.
—Along the creek the road was winding; we
Felt the quicksilver sky. I see again
The shrill companions of that odyssey: 15
Bill Eaton, Charlie Watson, ‗Nigger‘ Layne
The doctor‘s son, Harry Duesler who played
The flute; and Tate, with water on the brain.
Dog-days: the dusty leaves where rain delayed
Hung low on poison-oak and scuppernong, 20
And we were following the active shade
Of water, that bells and bickers all night long.
‗No more‘n a mile,‘ Layne said. All five stood still.
Listening, I heard what seemed at first a song;
Peering, I heard the hooves come down the hill. 25
The posse passed, twelve horse; the leader‘s face
Was worn as limestone on an ancient sill.
Then, as sleepwalkers shift from a hard place
In bed, and rising to keep a formal pledge
Descend a ladder into empty space, 30
We scuttled down the bank below a ledge
And marched stiff-legged in our common fright
Along a hog-track by the riffle‘s edge:
Into a world where sound shaded the sight
Dropped the dull hooves again; the horsemen came 35
Again, all but the leader: it was night
Momently and I feared: eleven same
Jesus-Christers unmembered and unmade,
Whose Corpse had died again in dirty shame.
The bank then levelling in a speckled glade, 40
We stopped to breathe above the swimming-hole;
I gazed at its reticulated shade
Recoiling in blue fear, and felt it roll
Over my ears and eyes and lift my hair
Like seaweed tossing on a sunk atoll. 45
I rose again. Borne on the copper air
A distant voice green as a funeral wreath
Against a grave: ‗That dead nigger there.‘
The melancholy sheriff slouched beneath
A giant sycamore; shaking his head 50
He plucked a sassafras twig and picked his teeth:
‗We come too late.‘ He spoke to the tired dead
Whose ragged shirt soaked up the viscous flow
Of blood in which It lay discomfited.
A butting horse-fly gave one ear a blow 55
And glanced off, as the sheriff kicked the rope
Loose from the neck and hooked it with his toe
Away from the blood.—I looked back down the slope:
The friends were gone that I had hoped to greet.—
A single horseman came at a slow lope 60
And pulled up at the hanged man‘s horny feet;
The sheriff noosed the feet, the other end
The stranger tied to his pommel in a neat
Slip-knot. I saw the Negro‘s body bend
And straighten, as a fish-line cast transverse 65
Yields to the current that it must subtend.
The sheriff‘s Goddamn was a murmured curse
Not for the dead but for the blinding dust
That boxed the cortege in a cloudy hearse
And dragged it towards our town. I knew I must 70
Not stay till twilight in that silent road;
Sliding my bare feet into the warm crust,
I hopped the stonecrop like a panting toad
Mouth open, following the heaving cloud
That floated to the court-house square its load 75
Of limber corpse that took the sun for shroud.
There were three figures in the dying sun
Whose light were company where three was crowd.
My breath crackled the dead air like a shotgun
As, sheriff and the stranger disappearing, 80
The faceless head lay still. I could not run
Or walk, but stood. Alone in the public clearing
This private thing was owned by all the town,
Though never claimed by us within my hearing.
A Negro Cemetery Next to a White One
By Howard Nemerov
I wouldn‘t much object, if I were black,
To being turned away at the iron gate
By the dark blonde angel holding up a plaque
That said White only; who would mind the wait
For those facilities? And still it‘s odd, 5
Though a natural god-given civil right,
For men to throw it in the face of God
Some ghosts are black and some darknesses white.
But since they failed to integrate the earth,
It‘s white of them to give what tantamounts 10
To it, making us all, for what that‘s worth,
Separate but equal where it counts.
By Margaret Walker
City of tense and stricken faces
City of closed doors and ketchup splattered floors,
City of barbed wire stockades,
And ranting voices of demagogues,
City of squealers and profane voices; 5
Hauling my people in garbage trucks,
Fenced in by new white police billies,
Fist cuffs and red-necked brothers of Hate Legions
Straining their leashed and fiercely hungry dogs;
City of tree-lined, wide, white avenues 10
And black alleys of filthy rendezvous;
City of flowers: of new red zinnias
And oriental poppies and double-ruffled petunias
Ranch styled houses encircled with rose geranium
And scarlet salvia 15
And trouble-ridden minds of the guilty and the conscienceless;
City of stooges and flunkeys, pimps and prostitutes,
Bar-flies and railroad-station freaks;
City with southern sun beating down raw fire
On heads of blaring jukes, 20
And light-drenched streets puddled with the promise
Of a brand-new tomorrow
I give you my heart, Southern City
For you are my blood and dust of my flesh,
You are the harbor of my ship of hope, 25
The dead-end street of my life,
And the long washed down drain of my youth's years of toil,
In the bosom of your families
I have planted my seeds of dreams and visions and prophecies
All my fantasies of freedom and of pride, 30
Here lie three centuries of my eyes and my brains and my hands,
Of my lips and strident demands,
The graves of my dead,
And the birthing stools of grannies long since fled.
Here are echoes of my laughing children 35
And hungry minds of pupils to be fed.
I give you my brimming heart, Southern City
For my eyes are full and no tears cry
And my throat is dusty and dry.
jasper texas 1998
By Lucille Clifton
for j. byrd
i am a man's head hunched in the road.
i was chosen to speak by the members
of my body. the arm as it pulled away
pointed toward me, the hand opened once
and was gone. 5
why and why and why
should i call a white man brother?
who is the human in this place,
the thing that is dragged or the dragger?
what does my daughter say? 10
the sun is a blister overhead.
if i were alive i could not bear it.
the townsfolk sing we shall overcome
while hope bleeds slowly from my mouth
into the dirt that covers us all. 15
i am done with this dust. i am done.
By Kevin Young
Survivors will be human.
—MICHAEL S. HARPER
It‘s all there in black
and white: someone
has done it again.
We have lynched a man
in a land far-off 5
like Texas, hog-tied
to the back of a car.
There‘s a word I have been
searching for 10
in the sand but cannot find.
At five o‘clock in the afternoon
we play ball, hard,
until we bruise 15
talk, no beautiful
shots, the smooth
skull of the ball 20
slant Andalusian light
Nearby they are burying
the boy beaten
by the gang—nobody 25
knows him, everyone
calls the killers by name.
Names. With handcuffs some
manage to hide
their faces like furnaces 30
failing—first flame, then smoke
and now only cold.
It shifts, this light,
its bruised eye shines
above our heads. 35
Before us the horse,
to whinny a word—
that wildness in the eyes.
Again, the bull 40
horning in—how many
has he drug
silent into swamp
or South, whether of States
or Spain? 45
If it moans
like a man it must
be a man.
One day the writer
the painter rose 50
excused himself from the table
at which he no longer
could sit still.
Bought him a one-way 55
billet, boarded the train
or the boat bound
land of red and blue
Dragged awake by midday 60
sweating my sheets.
We go out into heat. Sit
shaded and peel the shrimp
we will eat, and laugh. 65
Seafood fresh as a wound.
must I save you
On the day of the saint 70
we watch from the terrace
trying not to toss
ourselves over like flowers.
In the arena
the bulls bow, and begin. 75
Above the roar the victor
the ear, the living leather.
The Rise of African-American Musicians and Athletes
America’s Young Black Joe!
By Langston Hughes
One tenth of the population
Of this mighty nation
Was sun-tanned by nature long ago,
But we‘re Americans by birth and training
So our country will be gaining 5
When every citizen learns to know
That I‘m America‘s Young Black Joe!
Manly, good natured, smiling and gay,
My sky is sometimes cloudy
But it won‘t stay that way. 10
I‘m comin‘, I‘m comin‘—
But my head AIN‘T bending, low!
I‘m walking proud! I‘m speaking out loud!
I‘m America‘s Young Black Joe!
This is my own native land, 15
And I‘m mighty glad that‘s true.
Land where my fathers worked
The same as yours worked, too.
So from every mountain side
Let freedom‘s bright torch glow— 20
Standing hand in hand with democracy,
I‘m America‘s Young Black Joe!
Besides Joe Louis there‘s Henry Armstrong,
Three titles to his name,
Beat everybody that was his size 25
In the fighting game.
Then there was Kenny Washington
In a football suit,
Run, pass, kick, tackle, and block to boot.
And don‘t forget track men like Ellerbe 30
Who piles up points for Tuskegee,
Or Jessie Owens with his laurel wreath
That made old Hitler grit his teeth.
Look at those dark boys streaking by,
Feet just flying and head held high. 35
Looky yonder at Metcalf, Johnson,
Tolan! Down the field they go,
Swift and proud before the crowd—
They‘re America‘s Young Black Joe!
This is our own, our native land, 40
And I‘m mighty glad that‘s true.
Land where my fathers worked
The same as yours worked, too.
So from every mountain side
Let freedom‘s bright torch glow— 45
Standing hand in hand with democracy
I‘m America‘s Young Black Joe!
By Aaron Kramer
Tonight Paul Robeson sings.
His feet are enough of a stage.
His voice is a hammer that rings.
His voice is a bull in rage.
Tonight Paul Robeson sings. 5
His eyes are enough of light.
His smiles are eagle wings.
A tree of steel is his height.
Come out of your room, your cage!
Come out to the Concert Hall! 10
Here is your waiting‘s wage.
Here is your chance to grow tall.
He‘ll sing of trees, remind you
that some of the earth is green.
He‘ll sing of the hopes behind you 15
for a porch, a limousine.
He‘ll sing for the steel that rose
like a jail around your choice;
like a jail that would even close
its bars on your timid voice. 20
He‘ll sing until your throat
is Robeson; ‘til you hear
your pain in every note,
your wild and lonely fear.
Then suddenly he‘ll sing 25
in a strange, volcano tone
with great arms welcoming
you who have sobbed alone.
He‘ll welcome you who have grown
the trees of steel so tall, 30
you who only own
the strength to raise a wall.
He‘ll sing of the sap that must rise
to make its tree abloom,
of the roots that must grope their eyes 35
for sun-food deep in the gloom.
He‘ll sing until your veins
are swollen with sap of steel,
‘til your eyes are hurricanes
from which the shadows reel. 40
He‘ll sing until your hand
is Robeson; ‘til his feet
are the stage on which you stand
an eagle over your street.
IX High Modes: Vision as Ritual: Confirmation
By Michael S. Harper
Black Man Go Back To The Old Country
Black Man Go Back To The Old Country
Black Man Go Back To The Old Country
Black Man Go Back To The Old Country
And you went back home for the images, 5
the brushwork packing the mud
into the human form; and the ritual:
Black Man Go Back To The Old Country.
We danced, the chocolate trees and samba
leaves wetting the paintbrush, and babies 10
came in whispering of one, oneness,
otherness, forming each man in his music,
one to one: and we touched, contact-high,
high modes, contact-high, and the images,
contact-high, man to man, came back. 15
Black Man Go Back To The Old Country.
The grooves turned in a human face,
Lady Day, blue and green, modally,
and we touched, contact-high, high modes:
Black Man Go Back To The Old Country. 20
Bird was a mode from the old country;
Bud Powell bowed in modality, blow Bud;
Louis Armstrong touched the old country,
and brought it back, around corners;
Miles is a mode; Coltrane is, power, 25
Black Man Go Back To The Old Country
Black Man Go Back To The Old Country
Black Man Go Back To The Old Country
And we go back to the well: Africa,
the first mode, and man, modally, 30
touched the land of the continent,
modality: we are one; a man is another
man's face, modality, in continuum,
from man, to man, contact-high, to man,
contact-high, to man, high modes, oneness, 35
contact-high, man to man, contact-high:
Black Man Go Back To The Old Country
Black Man Go Back To The Old Country
Black Man Go Back To The Old Country
Black Man Go Back To The Old Country 40
I ―Bird Lives‖: Charles Parker in St. Louis
By Michael S. Harper
Last on legs, last on sax,
last in Indian wars, last on smack ,
Bird is spacious, Bird is alive,
horn, unplayable, before, after,
right now: it's heroin time: 5
smack , in the melody a trip;
smack , in the Mississippi;
smack , in the drug merchant trap;
smack , in St. Louis, Missouri.
We knew you were through— 10
trying to get out of town,
unpaid bills, connections
unmet, unwanted, unasked,
Bird's in the last arc
of his own light: blow Bird! 15
And you did—
screaming, screaming, baby,
for life, after it, around it,
screaming for life, blow Bird!
What is the meaning of music? 20
What is the meaning of war?
What is the meaning of oppression?
Blow Bird! Ripped up and down
into the interior of life, the pain,
Bird , the embraceable you, 25
how many brothers gone,
smacked out: blues and racism,
the hardest, longest penis
in the Mississippi urinal:
Blow Bird! 30
Taught more musicians, then forgot,
space loose, fouling the melodies,
the marching songs, the fine white
geese from the plantations,
syrup in this pork barrel, 35
Kansas City, the even teeth
of the mafia, the big band:
Blow Bird! Inside out Charlie's
guts, Blow Bird! get yourself killed.
In the first wave, the musicians, 40
out there, alone, in the first wave;
everywhere you went, Massey Hall,
Sweden, New Rochelle, Birdland,
nameless bird, Blue Note, Carnegie,
tuxedo junction, out of nowhere, 45
confirmation, confirmation, confirmation:
Bird Lives! Bird Lives! and you do:
Civil Rights Leaders and Martyrs
Prophets for a New Day
By Margaret Walker
As the Word came to prophets of old,
As the burning bush spoke to Moses,
And the fiery coals cleansed the lips of Isaiah;
As the wheeling cloud in the sky
Clothed the message of Ezekiel; 5
So the Word of fire burns today
On the lips of our prophets in an evil age—
Our soothsayers and doom-tellers and doers of the Word.
So the Word of the Lord stirs again
These passionate people toward deliverance. 10
As Amos, Shepherd of Tekoa, spoke
To the captive children of Judah,
Preaching to the dispossessed and the poor,
So today in the pulpits and the jails,
On the highways and in the byways, 15
A fearless shepherd speaks at last
To his suffering weary sheep.
So, kneeling by the river bank
Comes the vision to a valley of believers
So in flaming flags of stars in the sky 20
And in the breaking dawn of a blinding sun
The lamp of truth is lighted in the Temple
And the oil of devotion is burning at midnight
So the glittering censer in the Temple
Trembles in the presence of the priests 25
And the pillars of the door-posts move
And the incense rises in smoke
And the dark faces of the sufferers
Gleam in the new morning
The complaining faces glow 30
And the winds of freedom begin to blow
While the Word descends on the waiting World below.
A beast is among us.
His mark is on the land.
His horns and his hands and his lips are gory with our blood. 35
He is War and Famine and Pestilence
He is Death and Destruction and Trouble
And he walks in our houses at noonday
And devours our defenders at midnight.
He is the demon who drives us with whips of fear 40
And in his cowardice
He cries out against liberty
He cries out against humanity
Against all dignity of green valleys and high hills
Against clean winds blowing through our living; 45
Against the broken bodies of our brothers.
He has crushed them with a stone.
He drinks our tears for water
And he drinks our blood for wine;
He eats our flesh like a ravenous lion 50
And he drives us out of the city
To be stabbed on a lonely hill.
Ballad of Harry Moore
By Langston Hughes
(Killed at Mims, Florida, on Christmas night, 1951)
Florida means land of flowers.
It was on Christmas night
In the state named for the flowers
Men came bearing dynamite.
Men came stealing through the orange groves 5
Bearing hate instead of love,
While the star of Bethlehem
Was in the sky above.
Oh, memories of a Christmas evening
When Wise Men travelled from afar 10
Seeking out a lowly manger
Guided by a Holy Star!
Oh, memories of a Christmas evening
When to Bethlehem there came
―Peace on earth, good will to men‖— 15
Jesus was His name.
But they must‘ve forgotten Jesus
Down in Florida that night
Stealing through the orange groves
Bearing hate and dynamite. 20
It was a little cottage,
A family, name of Moore.
In the windows wreaths of holly,
And a pine wreath on the door.
Christmas, 1951, 25
The family prayers were said
When father, mother, daughter,
And grandmother went to bed.
The father‘s name was Harry Moore.
The N.A.A.C.P. 30
Told him to carry out its work
That Negroes might be free.
So it was that Harry Moore
(So deeply did he care)
Sought the right for men to live 35
With their heads up everywhere.
Because of that, white killers,
Who like Negroes ―in their place,‖
Came stealing through the orange groves
On that night of dark disgrace. 40
It could not be in Jesus‘ name,
Beneath the bedroom floor,
On Christmas night the killers
Hid the bomb for Harry Moore.
It could not be in Jesus‘ name 45
The killers took his life,
Blew his home to pieces
And killed his faithful wife.
It could not be for the sake of love
They did this awful thing— 50
For when the bomb exploded
No hearts were heard to sing.
And certainly no angels cried,
―Peace on earth, good will to men‖—
But around the world an echo hurled 55
A question: When?...When? When?
When will men for sake of peace
And for democracy
Learn no bombs a man can make
Keep men from being free? 60
It seems that I hear Harry Moore.
From the earth his voice cries,
No bomb can kill the dreams I hold—
For freedom never dies!
I will not stop! I will not stop— 65
For freedom never dies!
I will not stop! I will not stop!
Freedom never dies!
So should you see our Harry Moore
Walking on a Christmas night, 70
Don‘t run and hide, you killers,
He has no dynamite.
In his heart is only love
For all the human race,
And all he wants is for every man 75
To have his rightful place.
And this he says, our Harry Moore,
As from the grave he cries:
No bomb can kill the dreams I hold
For freedom never dies! 80
Freedom never dies, I say!
Freedom never dies!
Blues for Emmett Till
By Aaron Kramer
I‘ve got the blues, friend—
don‘t know how to keep still;
the Mississippi blues, friend,
won‘t let me keep still.
One name is moaned by every wind: 5
the name of Emmett Till.
Been hearing a blue story—
that‘s why I feel blue;
Emmett Till‘s story
makes me feel so blue, 10
can‘t breathe another day, friend,
‘less I pass it on to you.
He went down South for the summer:
Chicago‘s a boiling slum.
Flew down like a bird for the summer, 15
but he should‘ve stayed in the slum—
the South‘s no place for a Negro
to buy a stick of gum.
Foolish little bird!
His feathers were all brown . . . 20
They should‘ve warned that bird,
if you happen to be brown
better not chirp
when Mrs. Bryant‘s around.
Poor young Emmett Till! 25
He will never get his wish.
I‘m sorry for Emmett Till—
it was such a little wish . . .
He went down to the Tallahatchie,
but he didn‘t go down to fish. 30
Seems like in Mississippi
murder‘s doing all right;
in Money, Mississippi,
to kill a young bird‘s all right
if the young bird is brown 35
and the killer‘s white.
Jury knows who killed him—
knows the place and the time,
Jury knows who killed him,
that terrible midnight-time. 40
But his face was crushed so bad,
it couldn‘t be called a crime.
Next time you pass a courthouse,
look at the marble word.
Slow down when you pass a courthouse 45
and laugh about that word—
laugh about ―Justice,‖ friend,
and cry for a young brown bird . . .
I‘ve got the blues, friend—
don‘t know how to keep still; 50
the Mississippi blues, friend,
won‘t let me keep still.
One name is moaned by every wind:
the name of Emmett Till.
By Níkos Pappás
Trans. from Greek by Kimon Friar
All this age belongs to them,
the bankers, the dowry dollars,
the elections in West Germany
the sailor lads of the Sixth Fleet, Rock and Roll 5
all the colors of our era.
You too, my dear Negro Till,
at Kalamáki, at Záppion, at Kastélla
crammed with weekends and romantic moons
can seat yourself with a girl from Fáliron 10
in sports cars that terrorize the seacoast.
All this age belongs to them:
Sikelianós and The Visionary are memories only,
the poems and the movie screens have been covered with an enormous movie screen
by Madam Melína Mercoúri! 15
Everything is theirs, Emmet Till,
the radio, the newspapers,
the assured careers of the young who drive
hot rods crammed with corruption,
theirs the countryside sun 20
and the marine moon
the love of the young girl you don‘t dare look at sideways,
and even the Ark which might have rescued our dreams
is their own private property.
The hours are like faded stars 25
our hours contain small wounds
wear narrow white bandages
and are murdered night and day
in darkness or May afternoons
by the same ones who lie in ambush even for you 30
along some riverbank
in the same spring.
Toughs with silk shirts
and high-school diplomas encircle us
beat up their mothers 35
smoke hashish and gulp gin
while we write verses,
our thirst still unquenched by the cataracts of silence.
When these become enraged, Emmit Till,
because a young man blackened by the sun 40
(who keeps his youth as fresh
as a bouquet of flowers on a fine May day)
takes delight in a white girl passing by
and emits vowels like a bird
in admiration of her beauty, 45
then these men with their white faces
tear the bird to shreds, my young Negro lad,
tear it to shreds. . . .
Blues for Medgar Evers
By Aaron Kramer
who died of an ambusher‘s bullet on the way to
I should have been there when darkness
came around your neck like a noose;
—not night, but that other darkness
choking, tight as a noose,
till even you couldn‘t stand it 5
and you whispered ―Turn me loose!‖
I should have begged them to go faster,
but what would have been the use?
They drove till they couldn‘t drive faster,
but it wasn‘t any use. 10
Turning the corners of Jackson
is not the same as turning you loose.
We‘d better watch out for triggers.
We‘d better pray hard for a truce.
The hand that turned that trigger 15
turned more than a bullet loose.
My hand should have been on your forehead
when you whispered ―Turn me loose!‖
By Margaret Walker
In Memory of Medgar Evers of Mississippi
Micah was a young man of the people
Who came up from the streets of Mississippi
And cried out his Vision to his people;
Who stood fearless before the waiting throng
Like an astronaut shooting into space. 5
Micah was a man who spoke against Oppression
Crying: Woe to you Workers of iniquity!
Crying: Woe to you doers of violence!
Crying: Woe to you breakers of the peace!
Crying: Woe to you, my enemy! 10
For when I fall I shall rise in deathless dedication.
When I stagger under the wound of your paid assassins
I shall be whole again in deathless triumph!
For your rich men are full of violence
And your mayors of your cities speak lies. 15
They are full of deceit.
We do not fear them.
They shall not enter the City of good-will.
We shall dwell under our own vine and fig tree in peace.
And they shall not be remembered in the Book of Life. 20
Micah was a man.
Birmingham Sunday (September 15, 1963)
By Langston Hughes
Four little girls
Who went to Sunday School that day
And never came back home at all
But left instead
Their blood upon the wall 5
With splattered flesh
And bloodied Sunday dresses
Torn to shreds by dynamite
That China made aeons ago—
Did not know 10
That what China made
Before China was ever Red at all
Would redden with their blood
This Birmingham-on-Sunday wall.
Four tiny girls 15
Who left their blood upon that wall,
In little graves today await
The dynamite that might ignite
The fuse of centuries of Dragon Kings
Whose tomorrow sings a hymn 20
The missionaries never taught Chinese
In Christian Sunday School
To implement the Golden Rule.
For little girls
Might be awakened someday soon 25
By songs upon the breeze
As yet unfelt among magnolia trees.
By Margaret Walker
With the last whippoorwill call of evening
Settling over mountains
Dusk dropping down shoulders of red hills
And red dust of mines
Sifting across somber sky 5
Setting the sun to rest in a blue blaze of coal fire
And shivering memories of Spring
With raw wind out of woods
And brown straw of last year's needle-shedding-pines
Cushions of quiet underfoot 10
Violets pushing through early new spring ground
And my winging heart flying across the world
With one bright bird—
Cardinal flashing through thickets—
Memories of my fancy-ridden life 15
Come home again.
I died today.
In a new and cruel way.
I came to breakfast in my night-dying clothes
Ate and talked and nobody knew 20
They had buried me yesterday.
I slept outside city limits
Under a little hill of butterscotch brown
With a dusting of white sugar
Where a whistling ghost kept making a threnody 25
Out of a naked wind.
Call me home again to my coffin bed of soft warm clay.
I cannot bear to rest in frozen wastes
Of a bitter cold and sleeting northern womb.
My life dies best on a southern cross 30
Carved out of rock with shooting stars to fire
The forge of bitter hate.
For Andy Goodman—Michael Schwerner—and James Chaney
By Margaret Walker
(Three Civil Rights Workers Murdered in Mississippi on June 21, 1964)
(Written After Seeing the Movie Andy In A.M.)
Three faces . . .
mirrored in the muddy stream of living . . .
young and tender like
quiet beauty of still water,
sensitive as the mimosa leaf, 5
intense as the stalking cougar
and impassive as the face of rivers;
The sensitive face of Andy
The intense face of Michael
The impassive face of Chaney. 10
Three leaves . . .
Floating in the melted snow
Flooding the Spring
one by one 15
moving like a barge
across the seasons
moving like a breeze across the window pane
winter . . . summer . . . spring
When is the evil year of the cricket? 20
When comes the violent day of the stone?
In which month
do the dead ones appear at the cistern?
Three lives . . .
turning on the axis of our time 25
Black and white together
turning on the wheeling compass
of a decade and a day
The concerns of a century of time
. . . an hourglass of destiny 30
Three lives . . .
ripe for immortality of daisies and wheat
for the simple beauty of a humming bird
and dignity of a sequoia
of renunciation and 35
For the Easter morning of our Meridians.
Why should another die for me?
Why should there be a calvary
A subterranean hell for three? 40
In the miry clay?
In the muddy stream?
In the red misery?
In mutilating hatred and in fear?
The brutish and the brazen 45
without beauty . . .
They have killed these three.
They have killed them for me. 50
Sunrise and sunset . . .
Spring rain and winter window pane . . .
I see the first leaves budding
The green Spring returning
I mark the falling 55
of golden Autumn leaves
and three lives floating down the quiet stream
Till they come to the surging falls . . .
The burned blossoms of the dogwood tree
tremble in the Mississippi morning 60
The wild call of the cardinal bird
troubles the Mississippi morning
I hear the morning singing
larks, robins, and the mocking bird
while the mourning dove 65
broods over the meadow
Summer leaf falls never turning brown
Deep in a Mississippi thicket
I hear that mourning dove
Bird of death singing in the swamp 70
Leaves of death floating in their watery grave
Three faces turn their ears and eyes
to see the solemn sky of summer
to hear the brooding cry
of the mourning dove
Mississippi bird of sorrow
O mourning bird of death 80
Sing their sorrow
Mourn their pain
And teach us death,
To love and live with them again!
For Malcom X
By Margaret Walker
All you violated ones with gentle hearts;
You violent dreamers whose cries shout heartbreak;
Whose voices echo clamors of our cool capers,
And whose black faces have hollowed pits for eyes.
All you gambling sons and hooked children and bowery bums 5
Hating white devils and black bourgeoisie,
Thumbing your noses at your burning red suns,
Gather round this coffin and mourn your dying swan.
Snow-white Moslem head-dress around a dead black face!
Beautiful were your sand-papering words against our skins! 10
Our blood and water pour from your flowing wounds.
You have cut open out breasts and dug scalpels in our brains.
When and Where will another come to take your holy place?
Old man mumbling in his dotage, or crying child, unborn?
Who Killed Malcolm X
By Imamu Amiri Baraka
The Same people who killed
& Fred Hampton 5
The same ones who
& Cabral. the same murderer
who killed Bobby Hutton 10
or Medgar Evers
still directly connected
to the secret government
that killed Lincoln
that seceded 15
that had slaves
who locked Garvey up & deported him
who attacked & dishonored & lied about
Who drove him 20
Nat Turner & David Walker were killed
by the same
The murderers of Vesey & Gabriel 25
Who destroyed Robeson
& humiliated Langston & Zora
the little girls & blew up
that church 30
Who freed Emmett Till's
Who blew up Ralph Featherstone's
In Memoriam: Martin Luther King, Jr.
By June Jordan
honey people murder mercy U.S.A.
the milkland turn to monsters teach
to kill to violate pull down destroy
the weakly freedom growing fruit
from being born 5
tomorrow yesterday rip rape
exacerbate despoil disfigure
crazy running threat the
deadly thrall 10
appall belief dispel
the wildlife burn the breast
the onward tongue
the outward hand
deform the normal rainy 15
riot sunshine shelter wreck
of darkness derogate
assassinate and batten up 20
like bullets fatten up
the raving greed
reactivate a springtime
death by men by more 25
than you or I can
They sleep who know a regulated place
or pulse or tide or changing sky
according to some universal 30
stage direction obvious
like shorewashed shells
we share an afternoon of mourning
in between no next predictable
except for wild reversal hearse rehearsal 35
bleach the blacklong lunging
ritual of fright insanity and more
By Margaret Walker
Amos is a Shepherd of suffering sheep;
A pastor preaching in the depths of Alabama
Preaching social justice to the Southland
Preaching to the poor a new gospel of love
With the words of a god and the dreams of a man 5
Amos is our loving Shepherd of the sheep
Crying out to the stricken land
―You have sold the righteous for silver
And the poor for a pair of shoes.
My God is a mighty avenger 10
And He shall come with His rod in His hand.‖
Preaching to the persecuted and the disinherited millions
Preaching love and justice to the solid southern land
Amos is a Prophet with a vision of brotherly love
With a vision and a dream of the red hills of Georgia 15
―When Justice shall roll down like water
And Righteousness like a mighty stream.‖
Amos is our Shepherd standing in the Shadow of our God
Tending his flocks all over the hills of Albany
And the seething streets of Selma and of bitter Birmingham. 20
Amos (Postscript, 1968)
By Margaret Walker
From Montgomery to Memphis he marches
He stands on the threshold of tomorrow
He breaks the bars of iron and they remove the signs
He opens the gates of our prisons.
He speaks to the captive hearts of America 5
He bares raw their conscience
He is a man of peace for the people
Amos is a Prophet of the Lord
Amos speaks through Eternity
The glorious Word of the Lord! 10
Elegy for Martin Luther King [see Appendix for French text]
By Léopold Sédar Senghor
Translated from the French by Melvin Dixon
(for jazz orchestra)
Who said I was stable in my mastery, black under scarlet and gold?
Who said that I, like the master of hammer and maul,
Master of dyoung-dyoung drums and tom-toms, leader of the dance,
Commanded the Red Powers with my carved scepter
Better than camel drivers their long-distance dromedaries? 5
They bend so supplely, and the slow winds and fertile rains fall,
Who said, who said in this century of hate and the atom bomb
When all power is dust and all force a weakness that the Super Powers
Tremble in the night on their deep bomb silos and tombs,
When at the season‘s horizon, I peer into the fever of sterile 10
Tornadoes of civil disorder? But tell me who said it?
Flanked by the orchestra‘s sabar drums, eyes sharp and mouth white
Like the village idiot, I see the vision, I hear the mode
And the instrument, bu the words like a herd of stumbling buffaloes
Bump against my teeth and my voice opens on the void. 15
The last chord hushed, and I must begin again at zero,
Learn once again this language so strange and ambiguous,
And confront it with my smooth lance, confront the monster,
This sea cow-lionness, siren-serpent in the labyrinth of caves.
At the start of the chorus, at the first step, the first breath on the pages of my loins, 20
I lost my lips, threw up my hands, and I trembled harshly.
And you speak of happiness when I am mourning Martin Luther King!
This night, this clear insomnia, I remember yesterday and one year ago yesterday.
It was the eighth day, the eighth year of our circumcision,
The one hundred seventy-ninth year of our stillbirth in Saint-Louis. 25
Saint-Louis, Saint-Louis! I remember yesterday and the time before yesterday,
It was one year ago in the Center‘s capital, on the peninsula,
Prow cleaving straight through the bitter substance.
On the long, wide road red-gold flags and standards of hope
Flapped splendidly in the sun as if in victory. 30
And in the breeze of joy, a numberless black people
Celebrated their triumph in the stadiums of the Word,
The seat of its ancient presence regained. It was yesterday
In Saint-Louis during the Feast among the Linguère and Signare women,
The young women carrying loads, their dresses open on their long 35
Legs, among the high hairstyles and in the flash of teeth,
The wreath of laughter and drinks. I remember feeling
A sudden weight on my shoulders, my heart, the lead of the past.
I looked around and saw the faded, worn-out dresses
Beneath the smiles of the Signare and Linguère women. 40
I saw laughter stop and teeth become veiled with blue-black lips,
I saw Martin Luther King again, lying with a red rose at his neck.
And I felt in the marrow of my bones voices and tears come down,
Ha! A blood deposit of four hundred years, four hundred million eyes,
Two hundred million hearts, two hundred million mouths, 45
Two hundred million useless deaths.
Today, my People, I feel that April fourth, you are vanquished,
Twice dead in Martin Luther King.
Linguères and Signares, my beautiful giraffes, what good
Are your scarves and your silks, your flannels 50
And your finery, what good are your songs if not to magnify
MARTIN LUTHER KING, THE KING OF PEACE?
Burn your floats, Signares, and pull off your wigs, Linguères,
Handmaidens, and you my militant daughters, may you be ashes,
Close and lower your dresses so your ankles don‘t show. 55
Noble are all women who nourish their people by their polished hands
And rhythmic songs. For you must fear God, but God has already struck
Us with his terrifying left hand, Africa harder than the others,
And Senegal harder than Africa in nineteen hundred and sixty-eight!
It is the third year, the third wound, as it was in our mother Egypt. 60
Lord, last year you were never so angry as during the Great Famine
And Martin Luther King was no longer here to sing of your wrath
And appease it. In the sky were brief days of ashes, silent grey days
Upon the land. From the Almadies Point to the forts of Fongolimbi
And to the flaming sea of Mozambique, to Cape Despair, 65
I say the bush is red and the fields white and the woods
Like bulging matchboxes. Like great waves of nausea, you have raised
Hunger from the depths of our memories. See our lips without oil
And full of cracks, beneath the harmattan and the marshland swamps.
The sap has run dry at its source, the wells are empty, 70
Ringing on the lips of buds, the sap has not risen
To sing of the paschal joy but the insects
Weaken on flowers and absent leaves, and the bees are deadly.
God is an earthquake, a dry tornado, roaring in the day of his fury
Like the Ethiopian lion. The volcanoes have erupted in Eden, 75
Across three thousand kilometers, like fireworks celebrating
The festivals of sin, the festivals of Zeboiim, of Sodom, of Gomorrah,
The volcanoes have burned the lakes and plains. And the diseases,
And the herds, and men with them, because we didn‘t come to his aid,
We haven‘t mourned Martin Luther King. 80
I say these are not the times of tortures, garroting, barreling, dogs,
And quicklime, of crushed peppers and melted lard, the plunder,
Sling, and intrigues, buttocks exposed to the wind and fire,
No longer the bullwhip, powder up the ass, castration,
Amputation or crucifixion. You are skinned delicately, 85
Your heart slowly and relentlessly burned.
It is the postcolonial war rotten with sores, pity abolished
The code of honor and war where the Super Powers napalm you
Through third parties who are relatives. In the hell of petroleum
There are two and a half million wet corpses and not one satisfying 90
Flame to consume them all. And Nigeria, wiped off the face of the
Earth like Nigritia for seven times, yes seven times seventy years.
Lord let the voice of Martin Luther King
Fall on Nigeria and on Nigritia.
It was the fourth of April, nineteen hundred and sixty-eight, 95
A spring evening in a grey neighborhood, a district smelling
Of garbage mud where children played in the streets in spring,
And spring blossomed in the dark courtyards where blue murmuring
Streams played, a song of nightingales in the ghetto night of hearts.
Martin Luther King chose them, the motel, the district, 100
The garbage and street sweepers, with the eyes of his heart in those
Spring days, those days of passion wherever the mud of flesh
Would have been glorified in the light of Christ.
It was the evening when light is clearest and air sweetest,
Dusk at the heart‘s hour, and its flowering of secrets 105
Mouth to mouth, of organ and of hymns and incense.
On the balcony now haloed in crimson where the air
Is more limpid, Martin Luther stands speaking pastor to pastor:
―My Brother, do not forget to praise Christ in his resurrection
And let his name be praised!‖ 110
And now opposite him, in a house of prostitution, profanation,
And perdition, yes, in the Lorraine Motel—Ah, Lorraine, ah
Joan, the white and blue woman, let our mouths purify you
Like rising incense!—In that evil house of tomcats and pimps
A man stands up, a Remington rifle in his hands. 115
James Earl Ray sees the Reverend Martin Luther King,
Through his telescopic sight, sees the death of Christ: ―My brother,
Do not forget to magnify Christ in his resurrection this evening!‖
Sent by Judas, he watches him, for we have made the poor into wolves
Of the poor. He looks through his telescopic sight, sees only the tender 120
Neck so black and beautiful. He hates that golden voice modulating
The angels‘ flutes, the voice of bronze trombone that thunders on terrible
Sodom and on Adama. Martin looks ahead at the house in front, he sees
The skyscrapers of light and glass. He sees curly, blond heads, dark,
Kinky heads full of dreams like mysterious orchids, and the blue lips 125
And the roses sing in a chorus like a harmonious organ.
The white man looks hard and precise as steel. James Earl aims
And hits the mark, shoots Martin, who withers like a fragrant flower
And falls. ―My brother, praise His Name clearly, may our bones
Exult in the Resurrection!‖ 130
As the Reverend‘s heart evaporated like incense and his soul
Flew like a diaphanous rising dove, I heard behind my left ear
The slow beating of the drum. The voice and its sharp breath close to
My cheek and said: ―Take up your pen and write, Son of the Lion.‖
And I saw a vision. It was in summer on the southern mountains 135
As in Futa-Jallon, in the mildness of tamarind trees.
And on a hillock was seated the Being who is All Force, glimmering
Like a black diamond. His beard let roll the splendor of comets,
And at his feet under blue shadows, the streams of white honey
And cool fragrances of peace. Then I recognized 140
Around his Perfect Goodness the elect—black and white—mixed together,
All those for whom Martin Luther had prayed. Mix them so, Lord,
Beneath your eyes and white beard:
The middle class with the peaceful farmers, cane cutters
And cotton pickers, laborers with feverish hands, and they will make 145
The factories roar and in the evening get drunk from bitter
Bitterness. Whites and blacks, all sons of the same Mother Earth.
And they sing in several voices, singing Hosanna! Hallelujah!
As in the long-ago Childhood Kingdom when I would dream.
They sang of the innocence of the world and they danced the flowering, 150
Danced the rhythmic forces, who measured the Force of forces:
Justice gained, which is Bountiful Beauty.
And the syncopated tapping of their feet was a black and white
Symphony that pressed the flowers, crushed the grapes
For the marriage of souls: the Only Son with a myriad of stars. 155
I saw all this, and I saw George Washington and Phillis Wheatley,
Mouth of blue bronze announcing freedom—her song consumed her,
And Benjamin Franklin and the Marquis de Lafayette in his crystal
Wreath, Abraham Lincoln who gave his blood to America
Like a life-giving drink. And I saw Booker T. Washington, 160
The Patient One, and William E. B. Du Bois, the Untameable,
Who left to plant his tomb in Nigritia.
I heard the blues voice of Langston Hughes, young as Armstrong‘s
Trumpet. Turning around I saw near me John F. Kennedy, more handsome
Than the people‘s dream, and his brother Robert, armored 165
In fine steel. And I saw—let me sing—all the Just and the Good,
Which the cyclone of destiny had laid to rest, and they were standing
In the name of the poet‘s voice like tall slender trees lining
The way, and in the midst of them was Martin Luther King.
I sing of Malcolm X, the red angel of our night 170
And through Angela‘s eyes sing of George Jackson, shining like Love
Without wings or arrows, but not without torment.
I sing with my brother, Rise Up Negritude, a white hand
In his living hand, I sing of transparent America where light
Is a polyphony of colors, I sing of a paradise of peace. 175
Civil Rights Protests
Claudette Colvin Goes to Work
By Rita Dove
Another Negro woman has been arrested and thrown into jail because she refused to get up out of her seat on the bus and give
it to a white person. This is the second time since the Claudette Colbert [sic] case. . . . This must be stopped.
—BOYCOTT FLIER, DECEMBER 5, 1955
Menial twilight sweeps the storefronts along Lexington
as the shadows arrive to take their places
among the scourge of the earth. Here and there
a fickle brilliance—lightbulbs coming on
in each narrow residence, the golden wattage 5
of bleak interiors announcing Anyone home?
or I’m beat, bring me a beer.
Mostly I say to myself Still here. Lay
my keys on the table, pack the perishables away
before flipping the switch. I like the sugary 10
look of things in bad light—one drop of sweat
is all it would take to dissolve an armchair pillow
into brocade residue. Sometimes I wait until
it‘s dark enough for my body to disappear;
then I know it‘s time to start out for work. 15
Along the Avenue, the cabs start up, heading
toward midtown; neon stutters into ecstasy
as the male integers light up their smokes and let loose
a stream of brave talk: ―Hey Mama‖ souring quickly to
―Your Mama‖ when there‘s no answer—as if 20
the most injury they can do is insult the reason
you‘re here at all, walking in your whites
down to the stop so you can make a living.
So ugly, so fat, so dumb, so greasy—
What do we have to do to make God love us? 25
Mama was a maid; my daddy mowed lawns like a boy,
and I‘m the crazy girl off the bus, the one
who wrote in class she was going to be President.
I take the Number 6 bus to the Lex Ave train
and then I‘m there all night, adjusting the sheets, 30
emptying the pans. And I don‘t curse or spit
or kick and scratch like they say I did then.
I help those who can‘t help themselves,
I do what needs to be done . . . and I sleep
whenever sleep comes down on me. 40
By Rita Dove
“I’m just a girl who people were mean to on a bus. . . . I could have been anybody.”
—MARY WARE, NEE SMITH
Can‘t use no teenager, especially
no poor black trash,
no matter what her parents do
to keep up a living. Can‘t use
anyone without sense enough 5
to bite their tongue.
It‘s gotta be a woman,
someone of standing:
preferably shy, preferably married.
And she‘s got to know 10
when the moment‘s right.
Stay polite, though her shoulder‘s
aching, bus driver
the same one threw her off
twelve years before. 15
Then all she‘s got to do is
sit there, quiet, till
the next moment finds her—and only then
can she open her mouth to ask
Why do you push us around? 20
and his answer: I don’t know but
the law is the law and you
are under arrest.
She must sit there, and not smile
as they enter to carry her off; 25
she must know who to call
who will know whom else to call
to bail her out . . . and only then
can she stand up and exhale,
can she walk out the cell 30
and down the jail steps
into flashbulbs and
her employer‘s white
arms—and go home,
and sit down in the seat we have prepared for her. 35
At the Lincoln Monument In Washington
August 28, 1963
By Margaret Walker
There they stand together, like Moses standing with Aaron;
Whose rod is in his hand,
The old man Moses standing with his young brother, Aaron,
Old man with a dream he has lived to see come true.
And that firebrand standing close at hand, 5
Stretching forth a rod across the land,
Leading his people forth with Aaron at his side
In their marching out of Egypt,
To —the Red Sea
With the East wind sweeping back a Tide 10
Of the hosts of Pharaoh.
We woke up one morning in Egypt
And the river ran red with blood;
We woke up one morning in Egypt
And the houses of death were afraid. 15
Now the leaders of the marchers
Stand and count the uncountable;
Jacob 's house has grown into a Nation.
The slaves break forth from bondage,
And there are with them intermingled 20
All the wives and children of other nations,
All the heathen marriages with the peoples of the land;
They march out of Goshen
They overflow out of Egypt
The Red Sea cannot stop them 25
And here in the wilderness of a century of wandering
Where shall we lead them
If not to freedom?
So the leaders of the marchers
Stand and catechize the people 30
Write this word upon your hearts
And mark this message on the doors of your houses
See that you do not forget
How this day the Lord has set our faces toward Freedom
Teach these words to your children 35
And see that they do not forget them.
Recite them in your going out and your coming in
And speak them in the silence of the night.
Remember the covenant we have made together
Here in the eyes of our Liberator 40
Here in the witnessing presence of our God and fellowman.
Where shall we march
If not to Freedom
And to our Promised Land?
Little Rock and School Desegregation
The Chicago Defender Sends a Man to Little Rock
By Gwendolyn Brooks
In Little Rock the people bear
Babes, and comb and part their hair
And watch the want ads, put repair
To roof and latch. While wheat toast burns
A woman waters multiferns. 5
Time upholds or overturns
The many, tight, and small concerns.
In Little Rock the people sing
Sunday hymns like anything,
Through Sunday pomp and polishing. 10
And after testament and tunes,
Some soften Sunday afternoons
With lemon tea and Lorna Doones.
And I believe 15
Come Christmas Little Rock will cleave
To Christmas tree and trifle, weave,
From laugh and tinsel, texture fast.
In Little Rock is baseball; Barcarolle.
That hotness in July . . . the uniformed figure raw and implacable 20
And not intellectual,
Batting the hotness or clawing the suffering dust.
The Open Air Concert, on the special twilight green. . . .
When Beethoven is brutal or whispers to lady-like air.
Blanket-sitters are solemn, as Johann troubles to lean 25
To tell them what to mean. . . .
There is love, too, in Little Rock. Soft women softly
Opening themselves in kindness,
Or, pitying one‘s blindness,
Awaiting one‘s pleasure 30
Glory with anguished rose at the root. . . .
To wash away old semi-discomfitures.
They re-teach purple and unsullen blue.
The wispy soils go. And uncertain 35
Half-havings have they clarified to sures.
In Little Rock they know
Not answering the telephone is a way of rejecting life,
That it is our business to be bothered, is our business
To cherish bores or boredom, be polite 40
To lies and love and many-faceted fuzziness.
I scratch my head, massage the hate-I-had.
I blink across my prim and pencilled pad.
The saga I was sent for is not down.
Because there is a puzzle in this town. 45
The biggest News I do not dare
Telegraph to the Editor‘s chair:
―They are like people everywhere.‖
The angry Editor would reply
In hundred harryings of Why. 50
And true, they are hurling spittle, rock,
Garbage and fruit in Little Rock.
And I saw coiling storm a-writhe
On bright madonnas. And a scythe
Of men harassing brownish girls. 55
(The bows and barrettes in the curls
And braids declined away from joy.)
I saw a bleeding brownish boy. . . .
The lariat lynch-wish I deplored.
The loveliest lynchee was our Lord. 60
Black Power and the Black Panthers
By Gwendolyn Brooks
TO KEORAPETSE KGOSITSILE (WILLIE)
He is very busy with his looking.
To look, he knows, is to involve
subject and suppliant.
He looks at life–
Moves like into his hands– 5
Art is life worked with: is life
wheedled, or whelmed:
clandestine, but evoked. 10
Look! Look! to this page!
A horror here
walks toward you in working clothes.
hellishness among the half–men. 15
lenient dignity. He
sees pretty flowers under blood.
He teaches dolls and dynamite.
Because he knows 20
there is a scientific thinning of our ranks.
Not merely Medgar Malcolm Martin and Black Panthers,
but Susie. Cecil Williams. Azzie Jane.
strategy and the straight aim; 25
might of mind, Black flare–
volcanoing merit, Black
Black total. 30
He is no kitten Traveler
and no poor Knower of himself.
is a going to essences and to unifyings.
"MY NAME IS AFRIKA!" 35
Well, every fella's a Foreign Country.
This Foreign Country speaks to You.
Newsletter from My Mother
By Michael S. Harper
8:30 A.M., December 8, '69
4115 South Central
and some place on 55th Street
were all subject to siege
at 5:30 this morning. 5
The police arrived with search warrants.
"At the present time
and the house on 55th Street
have fallen. 10
"4115 South Central
is still resisting;
they have sandbagged
the place and are wearing
bullet-proof vests, 15
tear gas masks;
"the whole area is cordonned off,
Wadsworth School is closed;
the police are clearing a hotel
next door to get a better vantage. 20
"The police deny this is part
of a nationwide program to wipe
out the Panther Party;
one of the fellows here at work,
who lives in the area, 25
says that they were clearing the streets
last night, arresting people
on any pretext,
and that the jails are full.
"(I have to wait until my boss 30
starts her class in the conference
room so I can turn on the radio
and get the latest news.)
The Panthers are surrendering 35
1 at a time."
for Katherine Johnson Harper
The South and the Confederate Past
By Ishmael Reed
You can‘t have it both ways
A sleek red wing tipping
the 21st century
A bloody Confederate boot
in the 19th 5
You boast of all the
trappings of civilization
The Peabody Hotel with its
duck promenade and
chocolate minted 10
The Beale Street of
Your bar-b-cue beer
and The Blues 15
Your Civil Rights
Museum where you can
board a Montgomery
bus and sit in the back
and Graceland 20
Home of the man
who couldn‘t growl like
Big Mama Thornton
Your river is known 25
far and wide
They tell me that you
can get a direct flight
to Amsterdam from here
They show me the courtroom 30
where ―The Firm‖ was shot
So Memphis, why don‘t I
feel good about visiting here
Why with all of these things
going for you, do you 35
erect a statue to General Nathan
Founder of the Klan
Killer of Negroes
at Fort Pillow 40
What is wrong with
your heart, Memphis
that you would
honor such a man? 45
Will you one day build
a statue to
adorned with eight
strangled Angels? 50
Or what about
Will you erect one to
With the epitaph 55
―He served mankind‖
Rodney King Riots
Riot Act, April 29, 1992
I‘m going out and get something.
I don‘t know what.
I don‘t care.
Whatever‘s out there, I‘m going to get it.
Look in those shop windows at boxes 5
and boxes of Reeboks and Nikes
to make me fly through the air
like Michael Jordan
While I‘m up there, I see Spike Lee. 10
Looks like he‘s flying too
straight through the glass
that separates me
from the virtual reality
I watch everyday on TV. 15
I know the difference between
what it is and what it isn‘t.
Just because I can‘t touch it
doesn‘t mean it isn‘t real.
All I have to do is smash the screen, 20
reach in and take what I want.
Break out of prison.
South Central homey‘s newly risen
from the night of living dead,
but this time he lives, 25
he gets to give the zombies
a taste of their own medicine.
Open wide and let me in,
or else I‘ll set your world on fire,
but you pretend that you don‘t hear. 30
You haven‘t heard the word is coming down
like the hammer of the gun
of this black son, locked out of the big house,
while massa looks out the window and sees only smoke.
Massa doesn‘t see anything else, 35
not because he can‘t,
but because he won‘t.
He‘d rather hear me talking about mo‘ money,
mo‘ honeys and gold chains
and see me carrying my favorite things 40
from looted stores
than admit that underneath my Raiders‘cap,
the aftermath is staring back
unblinking through the camera‘s lens,
courtesy of CNN, 45
my arms loaded with boxes of shoes
that I will sell at the swap meet
to make a few cents on the declining dollar.
And if I destroy myself
and my neighborhood 50
―ain‘t nobody‘s business, if I do,‖
but the police are knocking hard
at my door
and before I can open it,
they break it down 55
and drag me in the yard.
They take me in to be processed and charged,
to await trial,
while Americans forget
the day the wealth finally trickled down 60
to the rest of us.
Chinese Immigration and Workers
By Cathy Song
He thinks when we die we‘ll go to China.
Think of it—a Chinese heaven
where, except for his blond hair,
the part that belongs to his father,
everyone will look like him. 5
China, that blue flower on the map,
bluer than the sea
his hand must span like a bridge
to reach it.
An octave away. 10
I‘ve never seen it.
It‘s as if I can‘t sing that far.
on the map, this black dot.
Here is where we live, 15
on the pancake plains
just east of the Rockies,
on the other side of the clouds.
A mile above the sea,
the air is so thin, you can starve on it. 20
No bamboo trees
but the alpine equivalent,
reedy aspen with light, fluttering leaves.
Did a boy in Guangzhou dream of this
as his last stop? 25
I‘ve heard the trains at night
whistling past our yards,
what we‘ve come to own,
the broken fences, the whiny dog, the rattletrap cars.
It‘s still the wild west, 30
mean and grubby,
the shootouts and fistfights in the back alley.
With my son the dreamer
and my daughter, who is too young to walk,
I‘ve sat in this spot 35
and wondered why here?
Why in this short life,
this town, this creek they call a river?
He had never planned to stay,
the boy who helped to build 40
the railroads for a dollar a day.
He had always meant to go back.
When did he finally know
that each mile of track led him further away,
that he would die in his sleep, 45
having seen Gold Mountain,
the icy wind tunneling through it,
these landlocked, makeshift ghost towns?
It must be in the blood, 50
this notion of returning.
It skipped two generations, lay fallow,
the garden an unmarked grave.
On a spring sweater day
it‘s as if we remember him. 55
I call to the children.
We can see the mountains
shimmering blue above the air.
If you look really hard
says my son the dreamer, 60
leaning out from the laundry‘s rigging,
the work shirts fluttering like sails,
you can see all the way to heaven.
Visions and Interpretations
By Li-Young Lee
Because this graveyard is a hill,
I must climb up to see my dead,
stopping once midway to rest
beside this tree.
It was here, between the anticipation 5
of exhaustion, and exhaustion,
between vale and peak,
my father came down to me
and we climbed arm in arm to the top.
He cradled the bouquet I'd brought, 10
and 1, a good son, never mentioned his grave,
erect like a door behind him.
And it was here, one summer day, I sat down
to read an old book. When I looked up
from the noon-lit page, I saw a vision 15
of a world about to come, and a world about to go.
Truth is, I've not seen my father
since he died, and, no, the dead
do not walk arm in arm with me.
If I carry flowers to them, I do so without their help, 20
the blossoms not always bright, torch-like,
but often heavy as sodden newspaper.
Truth is, I came here with my son one day,
and we rested against this tree,
and I fell asleep, and dreamed 25
a dream which, upon my boy waking me, I told.
Neither of us understood.
Then we went up.
Even this is not accurate.
Let me begin again: 30
Between two griefs, a tree.
Between my hands, white chrysanthemums, yellow
The old book I finished reading
I've since read again and again. 35
And what was far grows near,
and what is near grows more dear,
and all of my visions and interpretations
depend on what I see,
and between my eyes is always 40
the rain, the migrant rain.
I Ask My Mother to Sing
By Li-Young Lee
She begins, and my grandmother joins her.
Mother and daughter sing like young girls.
If my father were alive, he would play
his accordion and sway like a boat.
I've never been in Peking, or the Summer Palace, 5
nor stood on the great Stone Boat to watch
the rain begin on Kuen Ming Lake, the picnickers
running away in the grass.
But I love to hear it sung;
how the waterlilies fill with rain until 10
they overturn, spilling water into water,
then rock back, and fill with more,
Both women have begun to cry.
But neither stops her song.
For a New Citizen of These United States
By Li-Young Lee
Forgive me for thinking I saw
the irregular postage stamp of death;
a black moth the size of my left
thumbnail is all I've trapped in the damask.
There is no need for alarm. And 5
there is no need for sadness, if
the rain at the window now reminds you
of nothing; not even of that
parlor, long like a nave, where cloud-shadow,
wing-shadow, where father-shadow 10
continually confused the light. In flight,
leaf-throng and, later, soldiers and
flags deepened those windows to submarine.
But you don't remember, I know,
so I won't mention that house where Chung hid, 15
Lin wizened, you languished, and Ming-
Ming hush-hushed us with small song. And since you
don't recall the missionary
bells chiming the hour, or those words whose sounds
alone exhaust the heart—garden, 20
heaven, amen—I'll mention none of it.
After all, it was just our life,
merely years in a book of years. It was
1960, and we stood with
the other families on a crowded 25
railroad platform. The trains came, then
the rains, and then we got separated.
And in the interval between
familiar faces, events occurred, which
one of us faithfully pencilled 30
in a day-book bound by a rubber band.
But birds, as you say, fly forward.
So I won't show you letters and the shawl
I've so meaninglessly preserved.
And I won't hum along, if you don't, when 35
our mothers sing Nights in Shanghai.
I won't, each Spring, each time I smell lilac,
recall my mother, patiently
stitching money inside my coat lining,
if you don't remember your mother 40
preparing for your own escape.
After all, it was only our
life, our life and its forgetting.
Hawaii and Japanese Immigration
Pinoy at the Coming World
By Garrett Hongo
Waialua Plantation, 1919
I thought, when I left the fields
and hauling cane and hoeing out the furrows
for this job of counting and writing and palaver
in the rough, sing-song English of the store,
I had it made and could scheme a little, 5
put away something, so long as I made
the balance at the end of the day
and nobody squawked to the bosses
that I cheated or sassed them.
And I shamed no one, reading the paper 10
or some cowboy dime-novel like a haole
showing off my literacy as they shuffled into the store
dressed in their grimed khakis,
cuff and gloves sticky with juice,
and nettled head to toe with cane fiber. 15
I could speak Ilocano like a king or a muleteer,
a Visayan pidgin, a Portuguese,
a Chinese, and a Puerto Rican.
Simple words for service.
But for jokes, for talk story, 20
we used the English—chop suey at first—
then, year by year, even better,
smooth as love between old partners.
And the insults—bayow, salabit, bagoong!—
no matter if affectionate or joshing, 25
never entered my speech again
from the day I left the ditches,
tied on the apron, and stepped behind this counter.
No more ‗manong,‘ no more ‗rat-eater‘ or ‗fish-brain.‘
No more garbage-talk to anybody. 30
How I see it, we all pull a load,
glory across the same river.
So, when I brought the wife in and the babies
start to coming—American citizens every one,
born, not smuggled here—I had every reason to figure, 35
‗Pinoy, no worry, you going to the top.‘
Even when the strike came and the black market
started to cut me out, I wasn't surprised.
The union had told me to stay on,
keep open even though they picketed. 40
When they needed cigarettes, sugar, or coffee,
when they needed box matches to light
torches at the labor rally,
they still came to me, calling from the back door,
and I sold in secret, out of pity, 45
and, for the plantation, at a profit.
Nobody lost. And I had the good will,
fish or vegetables or papayas whenever anyone had extra.
They came to the back, just as during the strike,
handing things through the door in old rice sacks 50
and smiling, bowing if they were Japanese,
and running off down the street past the Cook pines
without much to say, bowing each time they glanced back,
framed in the green monkey-tails of the trees.
But none of us was ready for the flu that hit, 55
first the Mainland and all the reports of dead
on newspapers wrapped around the canned meats I stocked—
drawings of mourners joining hands in long processions
following a single cow draped in white,
a black parade on an unholy day— 60
then here at Pearl by cargo and troop ship,
through the military and workers at the docks,
finally to all of us here on the plantations,
diggers and lunas and storekeepers all alike,
sick with it, some of us writhing on the beaches, 65
sleeping naked and in the running wash from the waves,
shivering, trying to cool our fevers down.
My boys were worse with it at first,
all of them groaning like diseased cattle,
helpless and open-eyed all through the night. 70
But they slipped the worst punch
and came back strong, eating soup
and fruits and putting the weight back on.
The oldest even went back to school
and took over for us behind the counter 75
times when my wife left to nurse the sick
and I boarded the stage for Honolulu,
hoping to fetch medicines from the wholesalers
and maybe a vaccine from the doctors at Pearl.
But it's my youngest now that has it bad, 80
so weak in years English is her only tongue,
fevers all the time and a mask of sweat
always on her face. It's worse because
she doesn't groan or call out or say anything much,
only cries and coughs and rasps in her breathing 85
like a dull saw cutting through rotten wood.
We pray, bathe her face and neck and arms
in a cheesecloth soaked in witch hazel
we took from the store, light a few candles,
and call on the saints and the Immaculate Mother 90
to cure her and to ease her pain.
But I know it's near her time
and that no faith doctor or traveling hilot,
our village healers expert in herbs and massage,
will bring her back from this final sickness. 95
I wish only, now, that she'll be delivered somehow,
know, for a moment at least,
that the choir she might hear
from inside the church at the end of the street
singing its requiem for our plantation dead 100
is only an echo, remnant of some other,
initial song of praise
recommending us to the coming world
for which we ourselves are shadowy forecast.
Last night, when waiting was all there was to do, 105
I dressed myself in khakis again
and a pair of work boots so new
the laces were still full of wax
and soles like iron against the soft heels of my feet.
I closed up and walked past 110
the mill and the raw sugar bins,
by the union hall used for a morgue
and past the locomotive bedded down for the night.
I wanted to walk completely off plantation grounds
and get all the way out of town to where 115
sugar cane can't grow and no moon or stars
rose over pineapple fields. I wanted to get up
on a ridge someplace where kings
and their holy men might have sacrificed
or buried, in secret, some intruder's 120
unholy bones. I wanted rain to fall
and streams to churn and waterfalls, as they fell
from the Pali across mossy stone, to glow
with the homely, yellow light of mourning, our candles
lit for souls unwinding in their shrouds 125
and shrieking off the cliff-coasts of these islands.
I wanted the roar from the sea, from falling water,
and from the wind over mounds and stones
to be the echo of my own grief, keening within,
making pure my heart for the death I know is to come. 130
By Garrett Hongo
At the bend of the highway just past the beachside melon and papaya stands
Past the gated entrance to the Kuilima Hotel on the point where Kubota once loved to fish,
The canefields suddenly begin—a soft green ocean of tall grasses
And waves of wind rolling through them all the way to the Ko‗olau,
a velvet-green curtain of basalt cliffs covered in mosses. 5
Tanaka Store comes up then, makai side of the highway, towards the sea,
And, whatever it looks like now—curio conchs dangling from its porch rafters
Festooned with birdcages of painted bamboo, wooden wafers of old shave-ice cones and prices—
I think of stories and photos from nearly a century ago
When Gang No. 7 worked hoe-hana and happai-ko out near here, 10
Bending to weed the hoe rows or shouldering a 3 0 # bundle of sticky cane,
Trying not to recall the fresh tubs of cold tofu lying on the wet plank floors in its grocery aisles
Or the money they owed for bags of rice, cans of Crisco, and moxa pellets
They used for flaming the skin on their backs at night, relieving aches with flashes of pain,
Remembering fire was for loneliness, smoke was for sorrow. 15
And, if I see a puffer fish, dried and lacquered, full of spikes and pride,
Suspended over a woodframe doorway as I glance back while driving by,
Or if the tall television actor with long blond hair and a cowboy‘s gait
Walks from the parking lot toward the picnic tables of the decrepit shrimp shack
Where the old icehouse used to be, where the cameras and film crew now stand, 20
I‘m not going to lean forward into wanting or desire, amusements of my time,
But remember instead that Pine Boy died here one afternoon in 1925.
I know this because I count from the year my grandmother was born in 1910,
The year Twain died and the comet passed close to them sitting among the cane at night,
A pearly fireball and long trail of alabaster over the empty Hawaiian sea, 25
And forward to the story of how she was fifteen when the lunas called her to calm him.
Matsuo was her adopted brother, a foundling of Hawaiian blood raised Shigemitsu
And sent, at sixteen, to work the canefields with his brothers and uncles.
No incidents until the day the field bosses ordered cane fires to be lit,
Workers oiling the roots and grass, torchers coming through to light the cane, 30
Burn its leaves down to harvestable stalks that could be cut and stacked.
Something flamed in Matsuo, too, because he grabbed a luna and cut his throat,
Ran into the blazing fields, and could be heard whimpering jul’like one pig,
His cries coming through the rising smoke and crackle of the cane fires.
What words he said I‘ve never been told—only that he moved within the fields, 35
Staying ahead or within the fire, and could not be coaxed out
or pursued with dogs or on a horse.
Among the Gang, there was no one who doubted his own death
should they follow him.
But Tsuruko, his sister, was called, tita who had nursed with him, 40
Rushed out of school and brought in the manager‘s car out to the fields,
The man opening the door and taking her hand as if she haole wahine ladat!
As she stepped from the cab and onto the scorched plantation earth.
The image I have is of her walking over opened ground absolutely cleared of cane,
The brown and black earth mounded up around her as she stood among small hillocks 45
as if a score of graves had just been dug,
The soft, inconstant breezes pressing a thin cotton dress against her skin,
Her back to the crowd while she says something into the wind that only the cane and Matsuo could hear.
And then his crying ceased and he emerged magically from a curtain of smoke and cane, 50
His eyes tarred and patched with burnt oil and charcoaled with molasses.
He stood out for an instant, in front of wicking flames,
Then felt the bead of a rifle on him, and he slipped quickly back in,
The cane fires muffling whatever words he might have called as they took him.
The crouching lion of a lava bluff juts near the road, 55
And I know the jeep trail will come up next,
A cattle fence and white and brown military sign its marker.
It‘s where the radar station is, far past the fields and up-mountain
Where the sluice-waters start and the apples blossom,
Leaving white popcorn flowers dappling the mud with faint, 60
perishable relicts of rage and beauty.
American Involvement in World War I
A. E. F.
By Carl Sandburg
There will be a rusty gun on the wall, sweetheart,
The rifle grooves curling with flakes of rust.
A spider will make a silver string nest in the
darkest, warmest corner of it.
The trigger and the range-finder, they too will be rusty. 5
And no hands will polish the gun, and it will hang on the wall.
Forefingers and thumbs will point absently and casually toward it.
It will be spoken among half-forgotten, wished-to-be-forgotten things.
They will tell the spider: Go on, you‘re doing good work.
The Four Brothers
By Carl Sandburg
Notes for War Songs (November, 1917)
Make war songs out of these;
Make chants that repeat and weave.
Make rhythms up to the ragtime chatter of the machine guns;
Make slow-booming psalms up to the boom of the big guns.
Make a marching song of swinging arms and swinging legs, 5
On the roads from San Antonio to Athens, from Seattle to Bagdad—
The boys and men in winding lines of khaki, the circling squares of bayonet points.
Cowpunchers, cornhuskers, shopmen, ready in khaki; 10
Ballplayers, lumberjacks, ironworkers, ready in khaki;
A million, ten million, singing, "I am ready."
This the sun looks on between two seaboards,
In the land of Lincoln, in the land of Grant and Lee.
I heard one say, "I am ready to be killed." 15
I heard another say, "I am ready to be killed."
O sunburned clear-eyed boys!
I stand on sidewalks and you go by with drums and guns and bugles,
You—and the flag!
And my heart tightens, a fist of something feels my throat 20
When you go by,
You on the kaiser hunt, you and your faces saying, "I am ready to be killed."
They are hunting death,
Death for the one-armed mastoid kaiser.
They are after a Hohenzollern head:
There is no man-hunt of men remembered like this. 25
The four big brothers are out to kill.
France, Russia, Britain, America—
The four republics are sworn brothers to kill the kaiser.
Yes, this is the great man-hunt;
And the sun has never seen till now 30
Such a line of toothed and tusked man-killers,
In the blue of the upper sky,
In the green of the undersea,
In the red of winter dawns.
Eating to kill, 35
Sleeping to kill,
Asked by their mothers to kill,
Wished by four-fifths of the world to kill—
To cut the kaiser's throat,
To hack the kaiser's head, 40
To hang the kaiser on a high-horizon gibbet.
And is it nothing else than this?
Three times ten million men thirsting the blood
Of a half-cracked one-armed child of the German kings?
Three times ten million men asking the blood 45
Of a child born with his head wrong-shaped,
The blood of rotted kings in his veins?
If this were all, O God,
I would go to the far timbers
And look on the gray wolves 50
Tearing the throats of moose:
I would ask a wilder drunk of blood.
Look! It is four brothers in joined hands together.
The people of bleeding France,
The people of bleeding Russia, 55
The people of Britain, the people of America—
These are the four brothers, these are the four republics.
At first I said it in anger as one who clenches his fist in wrath to fling his knuckles into
the face of some one taunting;
Now I say it calmly as one who has thought it over and over again at night, among the
mountains, by the seacombers in storm.
I say now, by God, only fighters to-day will save the world, nothing but fighters will keep
alive the names of those who left red prints of bleeding feet at Valley Forge in
Christmas snow. 60
On the cross Of Jesus, the sword of Napoleon, the skull of Shakespeare, the pen of Tom
Jefferson, the ashes of Abraham Lincoln, or any sign of the red and running life
poured out by the mothers of the world,
By the God of morning glories climbing blue the doors of quiet homes, by the God
of tall hollyhocks laughing glad to children in peaceful valleys, by the God of new
mothers wishing peace to sit at windows nursing babies,
I swear only reckless men, ready to throw away their lives by hunger, deprivation,
desperate clinging to a single purpose imperturbable and undaunted, men with the
primitive guts of rebellion,
Only fighters gaunt with the red brand of labor's sorrow on their brows and labor's terrible
pride in their blood, men with souls asking danger—only these will save and keep
the four big brothers.
Good-night is the word, good-night to the kings, to the czars, 65
Good-night to the kaiser.
The breakdown and the fade-away begins.
The shadow of a great broom, ready to sweep out the trash, is here.
One finger is raised that counts the czar,
The ghost who beckoned men who come no more— 70
The czar gone to the winds on God's great dustpan,
The czar a pinch of nothing,
The last of the gibbering Romanoffs.
Out and good-night—
The ghosts of the summer palaces 75
And the ghosts of the winter palaces!
Out and out, goodnight to the kings, the czars, the kaisers.
Another finger will speak,
And the kaiser, the ghost who gestures a hundred million sleeping-waking ghosts,
The kaiser will go onto God's great dustpan— 80
The last of the gibbering Hohenzollerns.
Look! God pities this trash, God waits with a broom and a dustpan,
God knows a finger will speak and count them out.
It is written in the stars;
It is spoken on the walls; 85
It clicks in the fire-white zigzag of the Atlantic wireless;
It mutters in the bastions of thousand-mile continents;
It sings in a whistle on the midnight winds from Walla Walla to Mesopotamia:
Out and good-night.
The millions slow in khaki, 90
The millions learning Turkey in the Straw and John Brown's Body,
The millions remembering windrows of dead at Gettysburg, Chickamauga, and
Spottsylvania Court House,
The millions dreaming of the morning star of Appomattox,
The millions easy and calm with guns and steel, planes and prows:
There is a hammering, drumming hell to come. 95
The killing gangs are on the way.
God takes one year for a job.
God takes ten years or a million.
God knows when a doom is written.
God knows this job will be done and the words spoken: 100
Out and good-night.
The red tubes will run,
And the great price be paid,
And the homes empty,
And the wives wishing, 105
And the mothers wishing.
There is only one way now, only the way of the red tubes and the great price.
Maybe the morning sun is a five-cent yellow balloon,
And the evening stars the joke of a God gone crazy. 110
Maybe the mothers of the world,
And the life that pours from their torsal folds—
Maybe it's all a lie sworn by liars,
And a God with a cackling laughter says:
"I, the Almighty God, 115
I have made all this,
I have made it for kaisers, czars, and kings."
Three times ten million men say: No.
Three times ten million men say:
God is a God of the People. 120
And the God who made the world
And fixed the morning sun,
And flung the evening stars,
And shaped the baby hands of life,
This is the God of the Four Brothers; 125
This is the God of bleeding France and bleeding Russia;
This is the God of the people of Britain and America.
The graves from the Irish Sea to the Caucasus peaks are ten times a million.
The stubs and stumps of arms and legs, the eyesockets empty, the cripples, ten times a million.
The crimson thumb-print of this anathema is on the door panels of a hundred million homes. 130
Cows gone, mothers on sick-beds, children cry a hunger and no milk comes in the noon-time or
The death-yells of it all, the torn throats of men in ditches calling for water, the shadows and
the hacking lungs in dugouts, the steel paws that clutch and squeeze a scarlet drain day by
day—the storm of it is hell.
But look! child! the storm is blowing for a clean air.
Look! the four brothers march
And hurl their big shoulders 135
And swear the job shall be done.
Out of the wild finger-writing north and south, east and west, over the blood-crossed,
blood-dusty ball of earth,
Out of it all a God who knows is sweeping clean,
Out of it all a God who sees and pierces through, is breaking and cleaning out an old
thousand years, is making ready for a new thousand years.
The four brothers shall be five and more. 140
Under the chimneys of the winter time the children of the world shall sing new songs.
Among the rocking restless cradles the mothers of the world shall sing new sleepy-time songs.
X [my sweet old etcetera]
By E. E. Cummings
my sweet old etcetera
aunt lucy during the recent
war could and what
is more did tell you just
what everybody was fighting 5
isabel created hundreds
hundreds)of socks not to 10
mention shirts fleaproof earwarmers
etcetera wristers etcetera,my
mother hoped that
i would die etcetera
bravely of course my father used 15
to become hoarse talking about how it was
a privilege and if only he
could meanwhile my
self etcetera lay quietly
in the deep mud et 20
Your smile 25
eyes knees and of your Etcetera)
[―next to of course god america i‖ ]
By E. E. Cummings
―next to of course god america i
love you land of the pilgrims‘ and so forth oh
say can you see by the dawn's early my
country tis of centuries come and go
and are no more what of it we should worry 5
in every language even deafanddumb
thy sons acclaim your glorious name by gorry
by jingo by gee by gosh by gum
why talk of beauty what could be more beaut-
iful than these heroic happy dead 10
who rushed like lions to the roaring slaughter
they did not stop to think they died instead
then shall the voice of liberty be mute?‖
He spoke. And drank rapidly a glass of water
By Paul Engle
And so at last America came back.
Having looked so long at the enormous West
It heard the intolerable horns of war
And turning found with all a child's surprise
That there were men and nations to the east. 5
But in that brief look straight into the sun
The eyes were blinded and the brain struck mad.
I was just another of the boys joined up
Because the khaki uniforms were nice
And there were songs and music and some guy 10
With a loud mouth had told us we were lucky
To have this noble chance to save the world.
That Alexander and his ragtime band
Would march the honorable dead to heaven.
And so we came—the Swedes from Minnesota, 15
Blue blown out of the sky into their eyes,
The hunkies from the steel towns, all the Slavs
That couldn't learn commands but fought like hell,
The Ghetto Kikes who missed their koshered meat
And cussed the salt pork out in Yiddish, Wops 20
Who loved the Virgin Mary and the girl
At the cigar store with an equal passion,
And millions like me, had a decent job,
A steady girl, a Ford, on Saturdays
Went to a dance and Sunday morning slept, 25
With no hate for a country I'd not seen,
Couldn't have told a Froggie from a Hun,
But all the other boys were lining up
So I did too.
It is a strange thing now 30
To feel how restlessly the bones live out
Unfinished life. Here in the valley where
The lithe creek writhes through fields made doubly fertile
With earth's most nourishing and nervous rain
That fell from us into the eager ground, 35
The blue-smocked peasants reap the grain with scythes
Whose strokes cut through me here, remembering
The Colorado plain and the long wheat.
So like our fathers in the windy West
We found a patch of land and paid our life. 40
Yet the rain's taste is like American rain
And from this little distance under earth
The sun is no more angry and the moon
Moves through its phases in no other way
Than when it climbed along the Rockies' edge 45
And dropped into the prairie. if a man
Must take his little dreaming under earth
Where idiot day can no more mock it, shrieking
Its violent laughter of the livid light,
This valley is as good a place as any, 50
But now the heart must break at evening
Hearing the homeward children on the road
Shouting the words he cannot understand,
The little scraps of song, the running games,
And birds whose crying is a stranger thing. 55
Yet here deep under is my doom. I take it.
One man's life is over.
But if they come
To you mumbling in their moldy throats
That we have glory, honor or a peace 60
Or that their God will take us to His house
And that will be a greater thing than all
The women we have never touched, the hours
Of contemplation when the lonely mind
Hangs like a mote in moonlight and the winds, 65
The myriad lights of heaven and that inner
Radiance that is a more than light,
The mood and mystery of the lone self,
Wander around it till it is aware
Only of the tense energy of life 70
Not trembling, not with the breath's shudder nor
Even the heart's beat, but the enduring
Dream and image of our life, hurl back
The jagged words into their empty eyes
And hang them with the tough rope of their tongues. 75
If they say one brief word above us here
The total gathered yell of men who died
In all the hideous and howling ways
A human or wolf voice can rip the sky,
Or in a gasping quiet, the teeth clenched 80
In one white slavering and gritted grin,
Or crying "Mutter" in a scared child's voice,
Will break against their ears and through the head
Clamor and clang till echo breaks on echo
And the brain quiver, not to hear again. 85
Merchants in mystery, dealers in despair,
Who feared your markets or a square of land
Stolen in some far corner of the world,
Makers of armaments, all you who sat
In the cursed chair of government and watched 90
The leaping conflagration in the eyes
Of men flare up before it took the world
Yet would not act, or only with shrill words,
Know that the flowing lava of our pain
Will harden to gray granite in your hearts, 95
The fluent agony that through our nerves
Flowed more irresistibly than tide
Will be a grim and durable enough
Monument on which to scratch your name.
With that contempt which is a greater thing 100
Than any hate, with quiet tongue, I speak,
Having no love but for the man who killed me
And for his deadly hands.
I also talk
With the same tongue to you who are another 105
People, a new world, born with the bitter
Taste of our world's failure in your mouth.
Here I have lain and watched the pale earth writhe
Sick of an old wound, the fever of it,
Seen the first day that your eyes bore the light 110
Like living flame thrust through them and your skin
Burned with the biting acid of the air.
Yet I have learned so little, only death,
That is the one thing I understand.
It was not death that was my final doom 115
No larger than my childhood fear of night
Nor greater than the human curse of dream,
But it was living in a time when men
Held the heart no more than week-old meat,
A little rotten round the edge and fit 120
Only to be given to the dogs.
This I have found—living is a man
With calloused fingers quick to make a fist,
To strike what halt or hinder in its way,
And will give only angered restlessness. 125
Death is a woman with calm eyes and hands
Softer than the wavering touch of time
Who comes more naked than the simple light
To touch your face and give you from deep breasts
The white rich milk of her perpetual peace. 130
But lying here where change is more than change,
Is the progression and the pulse of earth,
I have felt new roots break soil and batter rock
And watched time grow big bellied with the future.
From here I call to you: 135
Quick now, before
The wind of sense blowing to the mind
Has moved so long across the tiring nerves
That the hands dull with what they touch and you
Are deafened with ears, blinded by your eyes, 140
And the heart hunger only for its pain,
Act while the iron of your will is hot
Burning the brain. O let your living be
The deep repudiation of our blood
To straighten what we twisted. In the world's 145
Booming blackness hang a little light,
The shining of your eyes. Although the sun
Bring to the earth only a deeper dark,
Its broad glare dropping one terrific shadow
Bruising the weary head, it is no end. 150
Be comforted with hope. Know a man may
With one struck match put out the moon and stars
Yet only for as long as the match burns.
We dead have found the past and other men
Will take the future but you have the now. 155
This is your heritage ripped for an hour
From the hard fingers of eternity.
Deep in the prism of your dreaming life
Take it, and as edged glass gives back the light,
The same lean rays bent to another way, 160
Hurl it far out.
And think a day of us,
Of all the hate and greed that put us here,
Of how the human groveling for gold
So yellowed the immortal sight of men 165
They were content to pile before their banks,
Their private wealth, their markets, stocks and bonds,
The bodies of eight million men, the life
Cut out of them, the heart gouged from the breast.
And the uncounted millions that are ghosts, 170
The pulse yet beating but the man not there,
The maimed and the blind, the twisted in the head,
Stretched on the agonizing rack of earth,
The nails of wind and sun pierced through their eyes,
Who haunt the waste and welter of the world 175
That will not see or hear them, having built
Another golden wall before its face.
Think one day of us, and our strange names
Carved in this rock— Pietro Pisacretto,
Mike Abbott, Patsey Gullo, Junior Smith 180
The little bugler, Joe Zak, Christ Veagules,
Willie Day, Walt Adams, Ike Goldberg,
From all lands gathered in America
Then driven back without the right to die
In the new earth they had too soon called home. 185
We beg you now, let the mind take that mood
Compounded equally of dream and iron
That will no longer let the lust for gold,
The savage childlike yearning after power,
The madness of all men to hide their lives 190
Beneath a pile of sticks and stones and those
Material creations of the hands
Desperately crushing from the kind
Heart all gentleness in the cruel will
To make it tower higher than another's— 195
O generosity like autumn harvest
That will give all men all the earth for home,
The strength of mind that will not once a week
Sing peace on earth, good will to man, and six
Days rob and sweat him, goad him on to war, 200
But will let each man do his work in peace.
Now you have seen, America, the world
Drop through shuddering space but you, so young,
Can fall as a cat, or rather like your trained
Football player, lightly, without bones, 205
And rise uninjured to run on again
With a new power driving in your legs.
And we will rise to give you with a cry
The pity tender in our fingertips
Against the grief and barriers to come. 210
Give us no thanks unless you say of one
Without name huddled in the unnamed earth,
He could find thrushes in the gloomy night,
Once he was kind to a dog, water and leaf
He loved to touch. 215
Poor sons of sorrow, come
More innocent than light into the world,
Who would have been by now the nicknamed friends
Of all the sons that we have never had,
Your eyes will crack as ours to see one night 220
Christ like a spear hurled in the hung earth's side.
It is a hard straight language that you speak,
America, full of tough ways a man
Can sink his teeth in like a hungry dog.
I come to you now with your own hard words. 225
We had our dreams, and then we marched across
The open wheat fields to the waiting wood
That suddenly broke out in hell and flame
And the gold wheat screamed redder than a heart
White that mad sergeant yelled, "Come on! Come on! 230
You bastards, do you want to live forever?"
We the Marines, the picked and healthy men,
We took the wood, walking on our dead,
As the live future will one day on you
Step into its being. So we did 235
Our job and died, and the world called us brave.
But in that forest fighting, hand to hand,
We ground a bayonet with hating hands
Deep in the guts of twenty centuries
And at the hard hilt twisted it. 240
No longer an excited dream of God,
Tiny motes deep in His twitching eye,
But be your human self and that alone,
And with your mortal eager hands build up 245
Between Nantucket Light and Frisco Bay
A land that will be spirit, bone and blood
Of all its men, belonging to all men,
Not to a few who signed a bond for it,
Till living will be peace for them as calm, 250
As clear upon the face as light on stone,
And in the turning of the world, the swing
Of time outward to eternity,
It will be part of one enormous whole
Rich with the grain, the fruit, the light of earth, 255
And in an age when men will pity us,
The childlike stupid way in which we died,
Christlike you will walk upon the waters
Not of Bethsaida but of Michigan.
Until you act, until you make your living 260
What I have said, my voice will cry to you:
I who have borne
The double weight,
Under the earth,
Over the air, 265
Felt the heart torn
With double fate,
Cry to your birth
I am in your blood, 270
Will give you help,
Will drive you on
Through the breath wail—
The horse's thud,
The eagle's yelp, 275
Will break the sun
Before you fail.
Cry in the night
For fear of dark,
Beat the noon's light 280
Being too stark,
Wherever you go
You will have found,
Winter on snow,
Summer on ground, 285
Where the wind blow
I will be your hound.
From Poem Out of Childhood (section II)
By Muriel Rukeyser (1913-1980)
In adolescence I knew travellers
speakers digressing from the ink-pocked rooms,
bearing the unequivocal sunny word.
Prinzip's year bore us : see us turning at breast
quietly while the air throbs over Sarajevo 5
after the mechanic laugh of that bullet.
How could they know what sinister knowledge finds
its way among our brains' wet palpitance,
what words would nudge and giggle at our spine,
what murders dance? 10
These horrors have approached the growing child;
now that the factory is sealed-up brick
the kids throw stones, smashing the windows,
membranes of uselessness in desolation.
We grew older quickly, watching the father shave 15
and the splatter of lather hardening on the glass,
playing in sandboxes to escape paralysis,
being victimized by fataller sly things.
"Oh, and you," he said, scraping his jaw, "what will you be?"
"Maybe : something : like : Joan : of : Arc...." 20
Allies Advance, we see,
Six Miles South to Soissons. And we beat the drums.
Watchsprings snap in the mind, uncoil, relax,
the leafy years all somber with foreign war.
How could we know what exposed guts resembled? 25
A wave, shocked to motion, babbles margins
from Asia to Far Rockaway spiralling
among clocks in its four-dimensional circles.
Disturbed by war we pedalled bicycles
breakneck down the decline, until the treads 30
conquered our speed and pulled our feet behind them,
and pulled our heads.
We never knew the war, standing so small
looking at eye-level toward the puttees, searching
the picture-books for sceptres, pennants for truth; 35
see Galahad unaided by puberty.
Ratat a drum upon the armistice,
Kodak As You Go : photo : they danced late,
and we were a generation of grim children
leaning over the bedroom sills, watching 40
the music and the shoulders and how the war was over,
laughing until the blow on the mouth broke night
wide out from cover.
The child's curls blow in a forgotten wind,
immortal ivy trembles on the wall : 45
the sun has crystallized these scenes, and tall
shadows remember time cannot rescind.
By Robinson Jeffers
It said "Come home, here is an end, a goal,
Not the one raced for, is it not better indeed? Victory you know requires
Force to sustain victory, the burden is never lightened, but final defeat
Buys peace: you have praised peace, peace without victory."
He said "It seems I am traveling no new way, 5
But leaving my great work unfinished how can I rest? I enjoyed a vision,
Endured betrayal, you must not ask me to endure final defeat,
Visionless men, blind hearts, blind mouths, live still."
It said "Yet perhaps your vision was less great
Than some you scorned, it has not proved even so practicable; Lenine 10
Enters this pass with less reluctance. As to betrayals: there are so many
Betrayals, the Russians and the Germans know."
He said "I knew I have enemies, I had not thought
To meet one at this brink: shall not the mocking voices die in the grave?"
It said "They shall. Soon there is silence." "I dreamed this end," he said, "when the prow 15
Of the long ship leaned against dawn, my people
Applauded me, and the world watched me. Again
I dreamed it at Versailles, the time I sent for the ship, and the obstinate foreheads
That shared with me the settlement of the world flinched at my threat and yielded.
That is all gone. . . . Do I remember this darkness?" 20
It said "No man forgets it but a moment.
The darkness before the mother, the depth of the return." "I thought," he answered,
"That I was drawn out of this depth to establish the earth on peace. My labor
Dies with me, why was I drawn out of this depth?"
It said "Loyal to your highest, sensitive, brave, 25
Sanguine, some few ways wise, you and all men are drawn out of this depth
Only to be these things you are, as flowers for color, falcons for swiftness,
Mountains for mass and quiet. Each for its quality
Is drawn out of this depth. Your tragic quality
Required the huge delusion of some major purpose to produce it. 30
What, that the God of the stars needed your help?" He said "This is my last
Worst pain, the bitter enlightenment that buys peace."
II [opening of the chambers close]
By E. E. Cummings
opening of the chambers close
quotes the microscopic pithecoid President
in a new frock
up over the tribune dances crazily 5
chatters about Peacepeacepeace(to
descend amid thunderous anthropoid applause)pronounced
by the way Pay the 10
extremely artistic nevertobeextinguished fla
-me of the(very prettily indeed)arra-
nged souvenir of the in spite of himself fa
-mous soldier minus his na-
me(so as not to hurt the perspective of the(hei 15
-nous thought)otherwise immaculately tabulated vicinity)invei-
gles a few mildly curious rai
-ned on people(both male and female
then, And every beast of the field 20
The Roaring ’20s: American Prosperity and Expansion
The Harding Administration
Two Poems about President Harding
By James Wright
One: His Death
In Marion, the honey locust trees are falling.
Everybody in town remembers the white hair,
The campaign of a lost summer, the front porch
Open to the public, and the vaguely stunned smile
Of a lucky man. 5
"Neighbor, I want to be helpful," he said once.
Later, "You think I'm honest, don't you?"
I am drunk this evening in 1961,
In a jag for my countryman, 10
Who died of crab meat on the way back from Alaska.
Everyone knows that joke.
How many honey locusts have fallen,
Pitched rootlong into the open graves of strip mines,
Since the First World War ended 15
And Wilson the gaunt deacon jogged sullenly
The cancerous ghosts of old con men
Shed their leaves. 20
For a proud man,
Lost between the turnpike near Cleveland
And the chiropractors' signs looming among dead mul-
There is no place left to go 25
"Warren lacks mentality," one of his friends said.
Yet he was beautiful, he was the snowfall
Turned to white stallions standing still
Under dark elm trees. 30
He died in public. He claimed the secret right
To be ashamed.
Two: His Tomb in Ohio
"... he died of a busted gut."
—Mencken , on Bryan ..
A hundred slag piles north of us,
At the mercy of the moon and rain,
He lies in his ridiculous
Tomb, our fellow citizen.
No, I have never seen that place, 5
Where many shadows of faceless thieves
Chuckle and stumble and embrace
On beer cans, stogie butts, and graves.
One holiday, one rainy week
After the country fell apart, 10
Hoover and Coolidge came to speak
And snivel about his broken heart.
His grave, a huge absurdity,
Embarrassed cops and visitors.
Hoover and Coolidge crept away 15
By night, and women closed their doors.
Now junkmen call their children in
Before they catch their death of cold;
Young lovers let the moon begin
Its quick spring; and the day grows old; 20
The mean one-legger who rakes up leaves
Has chased the loafers out of the park;
Minnegan Leonard half-believes
In God, and the poolroom goes dark;
America goes on, goes on 25
Laughing, and Harding was a fool.
Even his big pretentious stone
Lays him bare to ridicule.
I know it. But don't look at me.
By God, I didn't start this mess. 30
Whatever moon and rain may be,
The hearts of men are merciless.
The Town Marshal and Jack McGuire (from Spoon River Anthology)
By Edgar Lee Masters
The Town Marshal
The Prohibitionists made me Town Marshal
When the saloons were voted out,
Because when I was a drinking man,
Before I joined the church, I killed a Swede
At the saw-mill near Maple Grove. 5
And they wanted a terrible man,
Grim, righteous, strong, courageous,
And a hater of saloons and drinkers,
To keep law and order in the village.
And they presented me with a loaded cane 10
With which I struck Jack McGuire
Before he drew the gun with which he killed
The Prohibitionists spent their money in vain
To hang him, for in a dream
I appeared to one of the twelve jurymen 15
And told him the whole secret story.
Fourteen years were enough for killing me.
They would have lynched me
Had I not been secretly hurried away
To the jail at Peoria.
And yet I was going peacefully home,
Carrying my jug, a little drunk, 5
When Logan, the marshal, halted me
Called me a drunken hound and shook me
And, when I cursed him for it, struck me
With that Prohibition loaded cane—
All this before I shot him. 10
They would have hanged me except for this:
My lawyer, Kinsey Keene, was helping to land
Old Thomas Rhodes for wrecking the bank,
And the judge was a friend of
Rhodes And wanted him to escape, 15
And Kinsey offered to quit on
Rhodes For fourteen years for me.
And the bargain was made.
I served my time
And learned to read and write. 20
By Kenneth Fearing
Except for their clothing and the room,
Gonzetti‘s basement on MacDougal,
The men are a painting by Fanz Hals,
Flemish Drinkers or Burghers of Antwerp.
We have a speakeasy here, however, 5
Four men drinking gin, three of them drunk.
Outside is the street that sleeps and screams,
Beyond it are the other sleeping streets,
And above us, above the paper‘d ceiling,
Above Gonzetti‘s private roof, 10
Is a black, tremendous sky that crawls.
We have a Village speakeasy here,
One curtained room with ochre lights,
Four men drinking gin, three of them drunk.
Four new men are born in their brains 15
That would not show in a painting by Hals.
They do not hear each other now—
They listen to voices in themselves,
Mad with perfect sanity.
Hals could not show Gonzetti‘s room 20
Reeling and stretching out in space.
Hals could not show their brilliant eyes
Watching a thing beyond the walls
Step from air and beckon them
To follow through streets, and nights, and days . . . 25
We have a speakeasy here, tonight.
Gonzetti, for three dollars cash,
Is giving the drinkers ten thousand things
Not Hals or any man could show.
I [the season ’tis,my lovely lambs,]
By E. E. Cummings
the season 'tis,my lovely lambs,
of Sumner Volstead Christ and Co.
the epoch of Mann's righteousness
the age of dollars and no sense.
Which being quite beyond dispute 5
as prove from Troy(N.Y.)to Cairo
(Egypt)the luminous dithyrambs
of large immaculate unmute
(each manufacturing word by word 10
his own unrivalled brand of pyro
-technic blurb anent the(hic)
hero dead that gladly(sic)
in far lands perished of unheard
of maladies including flu) 15
my little darlings,let us now
passionately remember how—
braving the worst,of peril heedless,
each braver than the other,each
(a typewriter within his reach) 20
upon his fearless derrière
sturdily seated—Colonel Needless
To Name and General You know who
a string of pretty medals drew
(while messrs jack james john and jim 25
in token of their country's love
received my dears the order of
The Artificial Arm and Limb)
—or,since bloodshed and kindred questions
inhibit unprepared digestions, 30
come:let us mildly contemplate
beginning with his wellfilled pants
earth's biggest grafter,nothing less;
the Honorable Mr.(guess)
who,breathing on the ear of fate, 35
landed a seat in the legislat-
ure whereas tommy so and so
(an erring child of circumstance
whom the bulls nabbed at 33rd)
pulled six months for selling snow 40
Poem, Or Beauty Hurts Mr. Vinal
By E.E. Cummings
take it from me kiddo
my country, 'tis of
you, land of the Cluett
Shirt Boston Garter and Spearmint 5
Girl With The Wrigley Eyes (of you
land of the Arrow Ide
and Earl &
Collars) of you I 10
sing:land of Abraham Lincoln and Lydia E. Pinkham,
land above all of Just Add Hot Water And Serve—
from every B. V. D.
let freedom ring
amen. i do however protest, anent the un 15
-spontaneous and otherwise scented merde which
greets one (Everywhere Why) as divine poesy per
that and this radically defunct periodical. i would
suggest that certain ideas gestures
rhymes, like Gillette Razor Blades 20
having been used and reused
to the mystical moment of dullness emphatically are
Not To Be Resharpened. (Case in point
if we are to believe these gently O sweetly
melancholy trillers amid the thrillers 25
these crepuscular violinists among my and your
skyscrapers—Helen & Cleopatra were Just Too Lovely,
The Snail's On The Thorn enter Morn and God's
In His andsoforth
do you get me?) according 30
to such supposedly indigenous
throstles Art is O World O Life
a formula: example, Turn Your Shirttails Into
Drawers and If It Isn't An Eastman It Isn't A
Kodak therefore my friends let 35
us now sing each and all fortissimo A-
You. And there're a
all of you successfully if
delicately gelded (or spaded)
gentlemen (and ladies)—pretty 45
americans (who tensetendoned and with
upward vacant eyes, painfully
perpetually crouched, quivering, upon the 50
sternly allotted sandpile
emit a tiny violetflavoured nuisance: Odor?
comes out like a ribbon lies flat on the brush 55
Prosperity, Expansion, and Corruption
Shine, Perishing Republic
By Robinson Jeffers
While this America settles in the mould of its vulgarity, heavily thickening to empire,
And protest, only a bubble in the molten mass, pops and sighs out, and the mass hardens,
I sadly smiling remember that the flower fades to make fruit, the fruit rots to make earth.
Out of the mother; and through the spring exultances, ripeness and decadence; and home to the mother.
You making haste haste on decay: not blameworthy; life is good, be it stubbornly long or suddenly 5
A mortal splendor: meteors are not needed less than mountains: shine, perishing republic.
But for my children, I would have them keep their distance from the thickening center; corruption
Never has been compulsory, when the cities lie at the monster's feet there are left the mountains.
And boys, be in nothing so moderate as in love of man, a clever servant, insufferable master.
There is the trap that catches noblest spirits, that caught—they say—God, when he walked on earth. 10
The American Eagle
By D. H. Lawrence
The dove of Liberty sat on an egg
And hatched another eagle.
But didn‘t disown the bird.
Down with all eagles! cooed the Dove.
And down all eagles began to flutter, reeling from their perches: 5
Eagles with two heads, eagles with one, presently eagles with none
Fell from hooks and were dead.
Till the American Eagle was the only eagle left in the world.
Then it began to fidget, shifting from one leg to the other,
Trying to look like a pelican, 10
And plucking out of his plumage a few loose feathers to feather the nests of all
The new naked little republics come into the world.
But the feathers were, comparatively, a mere flea-bite.
And the bub-eagle that Liberty had hatched was growing a startling beg bird
On the roof of the world; 15
A bit awkward, and with a funny squawk in his voice,
His mother Liberty trying always to teach him to coo
And him always ending with a yawp
Coo! Coo! Coo! Coo-ark! Coo-ark! Quark!! Quark!!
YAWP ! ! ! 20
So he clears his throat, the young Cock-eagle!
Now if the lilies of France lick Solomon in all his glory;
And the leopard cannot change his spots;
Nor the British lion his appetite;
Neither can a young Cock-eagle sit simpering 25
With an olive-sprig in his mouth.
It‘s not his nature.
The big bird of the Amerindian begin the eagle,
Red Men still stick themselves over with bits of this fluff,
And feel absolutely IT. 30
So better make up your mind, American Eagle,
Whether you‘re a sucking dove, Roo—coo—ooo! Quark! Yawp!!
Or a pelican
Handing out a few loose golden breast-feathers, at moulting time;
Or a sort of prosperity-gander 35
Fathering endless ten-dollar golden eggs.
Or whether it actually is an eagle you are,
With a Roman nose
And claws not made to shake hands with,
And a Me-Almighty eye. 40
The new Proud Republic
Based on the mystery of pride.
Overweening men, full of power and life, commanding a teeming obedience.
Eagle of the Rockies, bird of men that are masters,
Lifting the rabbit-blood of the myriads up into something splendid, 45
Leaving a few bones;
Opening great wings in the face of the sheep-faced ewe
Who is losing her lamb,
Drinking a little blood, and loosing another royalty unto the world.
Is the you, American Eagle? 50
Or are you the goose that lays the golden egg?
Which is just a stone to anyone asking for meat.
And are you going to go on for ever
Laying that golden egg,
That addled golden egg? 55
Radical Left and Sacco and Vanzetti
[kumrads die because they're told)]
By E.E. Cummings
kumrads die because they're told)
kumrads die before they're old
(kumrads aren't afraid to die
and kumrads won't 5
believe in life)and death knows whie
(all good kumrads you can tell
by their altruistic smell
moscow pipes good kumrads dance)
kumrads enjoy 10
s.freud knows whoy
the hope that you may mess your pance
every kumrad is a bit
of quite unmitigated hate
(travelling in a futile groove 15
god knows why)
and so do i
(because they are afraid to love
Two Sonnets in Memory
By Edna St. Vincent Millay
(Nicola Sacco—Bartolomeo Vanzetti)
Executed August 23, 1927
As men have loved their lovers in times past
And sung their wit, their virtue and their graces,
So we have loved sweet Justice to the last,
That now lies here in an unseemly place.
The child will quit the cradle and grow wise 5
And stare on beauty till his senses drown;
Yet shall be seen no more by mortal eyes
Such beauty as here walked and here went down.
Like birds that hear the winter crying plain
Her courtiers leave to seek the clement south; 10
Many have praised her, we alone remain
To break a fist against the lying mouth
Of any man who says this was not so:
Though she be dead now, as indeed we know.
Where can the heart be hidden in the ground
And be at peace, and be at peace forever,
Under the world, untroubled by the sound
Of mortal tears, that cease from pouring never?
Well for the heart, by stern compassion harried, 5
If death be deeper than the churchmen say,—
Gone from this world indeed what's graveward carried,
And laid to rest indeed what's laid away.
Anguish enough while yet the indignant breather
Have blood to spurt upon the oppressor's hand; 10
Who would eternal be, and hang in ether
A stuffless ghost above his struggling land,
Retching in vain to render up the groan
That is not there, being aching dust's alone?
Stock Market Crash and the Great Depression
The Stock Market Crash
By Muriel Rukeyser
The concert-hall was crowded the night of the Crash
but the wives were away; many mothers gone sick to their beds
or waiting at home for later extras and latest telephone calls
had sent their sons and daughters to hear music instead.
I came late with my father; and as the car flowed stop 5
I heard the Mozart developing through the door
where the latecomers listened; water-leap, season of coolness,
talisman of relief; but they worried, they did not hear.
Into the halls of formal rows and the straight-sitting seats
(they took out pencils, they muttered at the program‘s margins) 10
began the double concerto, Brahms‘ season of fruit
but they could not meet it with love; they were lost with their fortunes.
In that hall was no love where love was often felt
reaching for music, or for the listener beside:
orchids and violins—precision dancers of pencils 15
rode down the paper as the music rode.
Intermission with its spill of lights found heavy
breathing and failure pushing up the aisles,
or the daughters of failure greeting each other under
the eyes of an old man who has gone mad and fails. 20
And this to end the cars, the trips abroad, the summer
countries of palmtrees, toy moneys, curt affairs,
ending all music for the evening-dress audience.
Fainting in telephone booth, the broker swears.
―I was cleaned out at Forty—‖ ―No golf tomorrow‖ ―Father!‖ 25
but fathers there were none, only a rout of men
stampeded in a flaming circle; and they return
from the telephones and run down the velvet lane
as the lights go down and the Stravinsky explodes
spasms of rockets to levels near delight, 30
and the lawyer things of his ostrich-feather wife
lying alone, and knows it is getting late.
He journeys up the aisle, and as Debussy begins,
drowning the concert-hall, many swim up and out,
distortions of water carry their bodies through 35
the deformed image of a crippled heart.
The age of the sleepless and the sealed arrives.
The music spent. Hard-breathing, they descend,
wait at the door or at the telephone.
While from the river streams a flaw of wind, 40
washing our sight; while all the fathers lie
heavy upon their graves, the line of cars progresses
toward the blue park, and the lobby darkens, and we
go home again to the insane governess.
The night is joy, and the music was joy alive, 45
alive is joy, but it will never be
upon this scene upon these fathers these cars
for the windows already hold photography
of the drowned faces the fat the unemployed—
pressed faces lie upon the million glass 50
and the sons and daughters turn their startled faces
and see that startled face.
Strikes during the Great Depression
Kentucky [Harlan, Kentucky, 1932: Coal Mine Strikes]
By Edwin Rolfe
They sprang up out of darkness, shouting!
—from a womb of darkness to a black world underground—
a challenge on their lips
and in the line of their backs,
suddenly erect after ages of stooping: 5
suddenly remembering Greene—the midnight encounters
among the hills, the wounded that their women
nursed back to life, back to courage;
the solitary stand against their masters
with only the blue grass, the trees and the hills to aid them— 10
and Daniel Boone: the axes clearing
the wilderness, the long alert rifles
levelled against the dark
before the soft men,
the stay-at-homes, buried them 15
under mountains of laws and greenbacks.
Asphyxiation of years in their memory,
and a golden moment of sun remembered—
their small farms sheltered by trees and brooks,
the long grass drying in the autumn days, 20
crisp in the sun over the rolling hills.
And then the little soft men wrote words on paper
and the soil was no longer theirs;
the stay-at-homes passed laws in their legislatures
and mines ulcerated the hills; 25
they built railroads spanning distant dots on the map
and levelled the woods; the tall slim pines
became a pattern of poles supporting a network of wires
and then the voices, the soft office voices
condemned them to underground imprisonment 30
and their children‘s children . . .
A hundred years is a long time.
Men die and their grandchildren totter of aged limbs.
But a century is long enough 35
for the blind to see and the sleepers to awake!
Out of darkness, out of the pits now—
foreigners only to the light of day—
claiming the mountains in the sudden glow
of battle, welded in a mass array, 40
This is out land, we planted its first seed!
These are our mines, our hands dig the coal!
These roads are ours, the wires across the land
are ours! THIS IS OUR EARTH! 45
Under the smoke of bullets and hunger,
the gray sky reddening to dawn,
gaps appear in their ranks, but others
spring to their places! One by one
the dead awaken, the old ones quicken 50
with anger and life. The moving ranks
surge like the smoke of the coal they dig
in solid, unconquerable phalanx!
Assassins‘ bullets, bankers‘ laws—
these cannot stop their sure advance! 55
Under the blood and the lead, their feet
pound the old mountains. Under the night
of stars of a fading era, they light
the blazing signals of a world in birth.
Conditions of Workers
By Paul Engle
Now, in this time, I have seen the living face
Bleached of its blood, gray, and strange things done
In the name of mercy and the good of state.
Yet over all the proud, outpouring sun.
I have watched black hair on my father's head 5
Fade like autumn corn, the white hair thicken.
And I have seen a country hard with health
Grow soft like too ripe fruit, the great heart sicken.
I have seen the poor grown poorer, the rich frightened,
The window break, the way of the known world alter, 10
Certainty run from our torn hands like blood,
And, in the plain field, the brute plow falter.
And I have watched the electric cities glow
With their impersonal and hiding light
Where women with the masklike faces walked 15
The worn and human-hunting ways of night.
I have known the mind bound like a dog, laid bare
To any stranger in cruel vivisection,
I have seen a man's eyes break in marvelous
Dread of his own dark act and its detection: 20
That terror of the too self-conscious man,
Who, looking lonely inward, sees with fear
Through the tall trees of memory his own
Taut face twitch like the white tail of a deer.
Great body of this age, the blood excited, 25
The pulse so rapid that the wrist is shaken,
Proud in its swagger of power, but beneath
The bone is hollow and the marrow taken.
Yet here, now, is my home. The squint of my eyes
Comes from the common light. I lift my face 30
Full to the day's drive and the wind blowing.
I drink the bubbling water of this place.
The shape of my living grows in the clear air:
The nerve's machine precision, the long hand
Empty of old skill, flexed knee aware 35
Of foot groping the changed, uncertain land.
Let it climb there clean in the day-rise, taking
The way and warp of its time. Give it the eyes
Of all men seeking quiet these days
And let its voice be frantic with their cries. 40
It is now the sun springs from the gnarled water
Over the western prairie. What man would,
Alone in dark house, turn away from light?
To live now, in the tangle of time, is good.
Hollywood in the 1930s and 1940s
Hollywood-Elegien Hollywood Elegies
Bei Bertolt Brecht By Bertolt Brecht
Trans. from German by John Willett
Das Dorf Hollywood ist entworfen nach den The village of Hollywood was planned according to
Vorstellungen the notion
Die man hierorts vom Himmel hat. Hierorts People in these parts have of heaven. In these parts
Hat man ausgerechnet, daß Gott They have come to the conclusion that God
Himmel und Hölle benötigend, nicht zwei Requiring a heaven and a hell, didn‘t need to
Establissements zu entwerfen brauchte, sondern Plan two establishments but 5
Nur ein einziges, nämlich den Himmel. Dieser Just the one: heaven. It
Dient für die Unbemittelten, Erfolglosen Serves the unprosperous, unsuccessful
Als Hölle. As hell.
Am Meer stehen die Öltürme. In den Schluchten By the sea stand the oil derricks. Up the canyons
Bleichen die Gebeine der Goldwäscher. Ihre Söhne The gold prospectors‘ bones lie bleaching. Their sons
Haben die Traumfabriken von Hollywood gebaut. Built the dream factories of Hollywood.
Die vier Städte The four cities
Sind erfüllt von dem Ölgeruch Are filled with the oily smell
Der Filme. Of films.
Die Stadt ist nach den Engeln genannt The city is named after the angels 15
Und man begegnet allenthalben Engeln. And you meet angels on every hand.
Sie riechen nach Öl und tragen goldene Pessare They smell of oil and wear golden pessaries
Und mit blauen Ringen um die Augen And, with blue rings round their eyes
Füttern sie allmorgendlich die Schreiber in ihren Feed the writers in their swimming pools every
Unter den grünen Pfefferbäumen Beneath the green pepper trees 20
Gehen die Musiker auf den Strich, zwei und zwei The musicians play the whore, two by two
Mit den Schreibern. Bach With the writers. Bach
Hat ein Strichquartett im Täschchen. Dante schwenkt Has written a Strumpet Voluntary. Dante wriggles
Den dürren Hinter. His shrivelled bottom.
Die Engel von Los Angeles The angels of Los Angeles 25
Sind müde vom Lächeln. Am Abend Are tired out with smiling. Desperately
Kaufen sie hinter den Obstmärkten Behind the fruit stalls of an evening
Verzweifelt kleine Fläschchen They buy little bottles
Mit Geschlechtsgeruch. Containing sex odours.
Über den vier Städten kreisen die Jagdflieger Above the four cities the fighter planes 30
Der Verteidigung in großer Höhe Of the Defense Department circle at a great height
Damit der Gestank der Gier und des Elends So that the stink of greed and poverty
Nicht bis zu ihnen heraufdringt. Shall not reach them.
The Spanish Civil War, American Volunteerism, and Franco
Letter from Spain
By Langston Hughes
Addressed to Alabama
November Something, 1937.
Dear Brother at home:
We captured a wounded Moor today.
He was just as dark as me.
I said, Boy, what you been doin‘ here
Fightin‘ against the free?
He answered something in a language 5
I couldn‘t understand.
But somebody told me he was sayin‘
They nabbed him in his land
And made him join the fascist army
And come across to Spain. 10
And he said he had a feelin‘
He‘d never get back home again.
He said he had a feelin‘
This whole thing wasn‘t right.
He said he didn‘t know 15
The folks he had to fight.
And as he lay there dying
In a village we had taken,
I looked across to Africa
And seed foundations shakin‘. 20
Cause if a free Spain wins this war,
The colonies, too, are free—
Then something wonderful‘ll happen
To them Moors as dark as me.
I said, I guess that‘s why old England 25
And I reckon Italy, too,
Is afraid to let a workers‘ Spain
Be too good to me and you—
Cause they got slaves in Africa—
And they don‘t want ‘em to be free. 30
Listen, Moorish prisoner, hell!
Here, shake hands with me!
I knelt down there beside him,
And I took his hand—
But the wounded Moor was dyin‘ 35
And he didn‘t understand.
To the Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade
By Genevieve Taggard
Say of them
They knew no Spanish
At first, and nothing of the arts of war
How to shoot, how to attack, how to retreat 5
How to kill, how to meet killing
Say they kept the air blue
Grousing and griping,
Arid words and harsh faces. Say 10
They were young;
The haggard in a trench, the dead on the olive slope
All young. And the thin, the ill and the shattered,
Sightless, in hospitals, all young.
Say of them they were young, there was much they did not 15
They were human. Say it all; it is true. Now say
When the eminent, the great, the easy, the old,
And the men on the make
Were busy bickering and selling, 20
Betraying, conniving, transacting, splitting hairs,
Writing bad articles, signing bad papers,
Passing bad bills,
Whimpering, meaching, garroting,—they 25
Knew and acted
understood and died.
Of if they did not die came home to peace
That is not peace.
Say of them 30
They are no longer young, they never learned
The arts, the stealth of peace, this peace, the tricks of fear;
And what they knew, they know.
And what they dared, they dare.
By Muriel Rukeyser
Coming to Spain on the first day of the fighting,
Flame in the mountains, and the exotic soldiers,
I gave up ideas of strangeness, but now, keeping
All I profoundly hoped for, I saw fearing
Travellers and the unprepared and the fast changing 5
Foothills. The train stopped in a silver country.
Coast-water lit the valleys of this country—
All mysteries stood human in the fighting.
We came from far. We wondered, were they changing,
Our mild companions, turning into soldiers? 10
But the cowards were persistent in their fearing.
Each of us narrowed to one wish he was keeping.
There was no change of heart here; we were keeping
Our deepest wish, meeting with hope this country.
The enemies among us went on fearing 15
The frontier was too far behind. The fighting
Was clear to us all at last. The belted soldiers
Vanished into white hills that dark was changing.
The train stood naked in flowery midnight changing
All complex marvellous hope to war, and keeping 20
Among us only the main wish, and the soldiers.
We loved each other, believed in the war; this country
Meant to us the arrival of the fighting
At home; we began to know what we were fearing.
As continents broke apart, we saw our fearing 25
Reflect our nations‘ fears; we acted as changing
Cities at home would act, with one wish, fighting
This threat or falling under it; we were keeping
The knowledge of fiery promises; this country
Struck at our lives, struck deeper than its soldiers. 30
Those who among us were sure became our soldiers.
The dreams of peace resolved our subtle fearing.
This was the first day of war in a strange country.
Free Catalonia offered that day our changing
Age‘s hope and resistance, held in its keeping 35
The war this age must win in love and fighting.
This first day of fighting showed us all men as soldiers.
It offered one wish for keeping. Hope. Deep fearing.
Our changing spirits awake in the soul‘s country.
To a Young American the Day after the Fall of Barcelona
By John Ciardi
Boy with honor in your heart,
The world is not the world you dream:
Recall the history of the Jews,
Hate screaming in the Evening News,
Eyes that beg, eyes that refuse, 5
Eyes that watch and scheme.
You, who fed on the pure stream
Of Aeschylean fire, have seen
Oedipus blinded, and the sun
Gleaming on Promethean spleen, 10
And learned to love the tragic day,
Burn your books and come away.
Throw away your little coin
Of childhood, boy, go down, go down
With whetted wits and treachery 15
And all resource of infamy
Against the enemy known.
Or cling to your bright innocence.
Reduce love to virginal
Small passion pure beyond all use, 20
Or to a dream of Grecian sun,
And leave your world to be undone.
Eisenhower’s Visit to Franco, 1959
By James Wright
... we die of cold, and not of darkness.
The American hero must triumph over
The forces of darkness..
He has flown through the very light of heaven
And come down in the slow dusk
Of Spain. 5
Franco stands in a shining circle of police.
His arms open in welcome.
He promises all dark things
Will be hunted down.
State police yawn in the prisons. 10
Antonio Machado follows the moon
Down a road of white dust,
To a cave of silent children
Under the Pyrenees.
Wine darkens in stone jars in villages. 15
Wine sleeps in the mouths of old men, it is a dark red color.
Smiles glitter in Madrid.
Eisenhower has touched hands with Franco, embracing
In a glare of photographers.
Clean new bombers from America muffle their engines 20
And glide down now.
Their wings shine in the searchlights
Of bare fields,
World War II
Isolationism and Pearl Harbor
By Robinson Jeffers
Strong enough to be neutral—as is now proved, now American power
From Australia to the Aleutian fog-seas, and Hawaii to Africa, rides every
wind—we were misguided
By fraud and fear, by our public fools and a loved leader‘s ambition,
To meddle in the fever-dreams of decaying Europe. We could have forced
peace, even when France fell; we chose
To make alliance and feed war. 5
Actum est. There is no returning now.
Two bloody summers from now (I suppose) we shall have to take up the
corrupting burden and curse of victory.
We shall have to hold half the earth: we shall be sick with self-disgust,
And hated by friend and foe, and hold half the earth—or let it go, and go
down with it. Here is a burden
We are not fit for. We are not like Romans and Britons—natural world-rulers, 10
Bullies by instinct—but we have to bear it. Who has kissed Fate on the
mouth, and blown out the lamp—must lie with her.
By Robinson Jeffers
Here are the fireworks. The men who conspired and labored
To embroil this republic in the wreck of Europe have got their bargain,—
And a bushel more. As for me, what can I do but fly the national flag from the top of the tower,—
America has neither race nor religion nor its own language: nation or nothing.
Stare, little tower, 5
Confidently across the Pacific, the flag on your head. I built you at the other war‘s end,
And the sick peace; I based you on living rock, granite on granite; I said, ―Look, you gray stones:
Civilization is sick: stand awhile and be quiet and drink the sea-wind, you will survive
But now I am old, and Oh stones be modest. Look, little tower: 10
This dust blowing is only the British Empire; these torn leaves flying
Are only Europe; the wind is the plane-propellers; the smoke is Tokyo. The child with the butchered
Was too young to be named. Look no farther ahead.
The war that we have carefully for years provoked
Catches us unprepared, amazed and indignant. Our warships are shot 15
Like sitting ducks and our planes like nest-birds, both our coasts ridiculously panicked,
And our leaders make orations. This is the people
That hopes to impose on the whole planetary world
An American peace.
(Oh, we‘ll not lose our war: my money on amazed Gulliver 20
And his horse pistols.)
Meanwhile our prudent officers
Have cleared the coast-long ocean of ships and fishing-craft, the sky of planes, the windows of light:
Make a great beauty. Watch the wide sea; there is nothing human; its gulls have it. Watch the wide sky
All day clean of machines; only at dawn and dusk one military hawk passes
High on patrol. Walk at night in the black-out,
The firefly lights that used to line the long shore
Are all struck dumb; shut are the shops, mouse-dark the houses. Here the prehuman dignity of night
Stands, as it was before and will be again. Oh beautiful
Darkness and silence, the two eyes that see God; great staring eyes. 30
The U.S. Alliance with the Soviet Union and the Teheran
By Robinson Jeffers
The persons wane and fade, they fade out of meaning. Personal greatness
Was never more than a trick of the light, a halo of illusion:—but who are these little smiling attendants
On a world's agony, meeting in Teheran to plot against whom what future? The future is clear enough,
In the firelight of burning cities and pain-light of that long battle-line,
That monstrous ulcer reaching from the Arctic Ocean to the Black Sea, slowly rodent westward: There
will be Russia 5
And America; two powers alone in the world; two bulls in one pasture. And what is unlucky Germany
Between those foreheads?
How rapidly civilization coarsens and decays; its better qualities, foresight, humaneness, disinterested
Respect for truth, die first; its worst will be last. —Oh well: The future! When man stinks, turn to God.
Internment of Japanese-Americans
In Response to Executive Order 9066:
All Americans of Japanese Descent Must Report to Relocation Centers
By Dwight Okita
Or course I‘ll come. I‘ve packed my galoshes
and three packets of tomato seeds. Denise calls them
love apples. My father says where we‘re going
they won‘t grow. 5
I am a fourteen-year-old girl with bad spelling
and a messy room. If it helps any, I will tell you
I have always felt funny using chopsticks
and my favorite food is hot dogs.
My best friend is a white girl named Denise— 10
we look at boys together. She sat in front of me
all through grade school because of our names:
O‘Connor, Ozawa. I know the back of Denise‘s head very well.
I tell her she‘s going bald. She tells me I copy on tests.
We‘re best friends. 15
I saw Denise today in Geography class.
She was sitting on the other side of the room.
―You‘re trying to start a war,‖ she said, ―giving secrets
away to the Enemy. Why can‘t you keep your big
mouth shut?‖ 20
I didn‘t know what to say.
I gave her a packet of tomato seeds
and asked her to plant them for me, told her
when the first tomato ripened
she‘d miss me. 25
For My Father
By Janice Mirikitani
He came over the ocean
carrying Mt. Fuji on
his back/Tule Lake on his chest
hacked through the brush
of deserts and made them grow 5
we stole berries
from the stem
we could not afford them
for breakfast 10
his eyes held
as he whipped us
the desert had dried 15
full berries 20
pointed at our eyes
they ate fresh
on corn flakes.
i wanted to scream
at your silence.
Your strength 30
was a stranger
i could never touch.
in your eyes
to shield 35
to shield desert-like wind
Something Whispered in the Shakuhachi
By Garrett Hongo
No one knew the secret of my flutes,
and I laugh now
because some said
I was enlightened.
But the truth is 5
I'm only a gardener
who before the War
was a dirt farmer and learned
how to grow the bamboo
in ditches next to the fields, 10
how to leave things alone
and let the silt build up
until it was deep enough to stink
bad as night soil, bad
as the long, witch-grey 15
hair of a ghost.
No secret in that.
My land was no good, rocky,
and so dry I had to sneak
water from the whites, 20
hacksaw the locks off the chutes at night,
and blame Mexicans, Filipinos,
or else some wicked spirit
of a migrant, murdered in his sleep
by sheriffs and wanting revenge. 25
Even though they never believed me,
it didn't matter—no witnesses,
and my land was never thick with rice,
only the bamboo
growing lush as old melodies 30
and whispering like brush strokes
against the fine scroll of wind.
I found some string in the shed
or else took a few stalks
and stripped off their skins, 35
wove the fibers, the floss,
into cords I could bind
around the feet, ankles, and throats
of only the best bamboos.
I used an ice pick for an awl, 40
a fish knife to carve finger holes,
and a scythe to shape the mouthpiece.
I had my flutes.
When the War came,
I told myself I lost nothing. 45
My land, which was barren,
was not actually mine but leased
(we could not own property)
and the shacks didn't matter.
What did were the power lines nearby 50
and that sabotage was suspected.
What mattered to me
were the flutes I burned
in a small fire
by the bath house. 55
All through Relocation,
in the desert where they put us,
at night when the stars talked
and the sky came down
and drummed against the mesas, 60
I could hear my flutes
wail like fists of wind
whistling through the barracks.
I came out of Camp,
a blanket slung over my shoulder, 65
found land next to this swamp,
planted strawberries and beanplants,
planted the dwarf pines and tended them,
got rich enough to quit
and leave things alone, 70
let the ditches clog with silt again
and the bamboo grow thick as history.
So, when it's bad now,
when I can't remember what's lost
and all I have for the world to take 75
I go out back of the greenhouse
at the far end of my land
where the grasses go wild
and the arroyos come up 80
with cat's-claw and giant dahlias,
where the children of my neighbors
consult with the wise heads
of sunflowers, huge against the sky,
where the rivers of weather 85
and the charred ghosts of old melodies
converge to flood my land
and sustain the one thicket
of memory that calls for me
to come and sit 90
among the tall canes
and shape full-throated songs
out of wind, out of bamboo,
out of a voice
that only whispers. 95
1. Gift Without Purchase
By Claire Kageyama-Ramakrishnan
This is for the child‘s awed gaze,
his fear of he landscape‘s vast alluviums,
for the dry lids and tears no cool cloth
swabs, for the rub and chill of ground
sediments, ash and sand, allergens— 5
mice dandruff and droppings, this is for
his attempt to breathe air, saccular
spasms inside his impenetrable chest,
this is for nightmares inside him, phlegm
plugging airways, his feverish forehead, 10
for the child‘s inflammatory response,
(the one you can‘t see) inside the branches
and whorls of his psyche, for the array
of pain in his trachea and stomach,
for the inexplicable rhythm coursing 15
below clavicle and sternum,
auricular, ventricular tunnels,
for spirals the microscope misses,
molecules between his heart, mind,
and spirit. This is for the grown child, 20
the beat of defeat he never explains.
Air War and the Fire Bombing of Cities
Eighth Air Force
By Randall Jarrell
If, in an odd angle of the hutment,
A puppy laps the water from a can
Of flowers, and the drunk sergeant shaving
Whistles O Paradiso!—shall I say that man
Is not as men have said: a wolf to man? 5
The other murderers troop in yawning;
Three of them play Pitch, one sleeps, and one
Lies counting missions, lies there sweating
Till even his heart beats: One; One; One.
O murderers! . . . Still, this is how it's done: 10
This is a war . . . But since these play, before they die,
Like puppies with their puppy; since, a man,
I did as these have done, but did not die—
I will content the people as I can
And give up these to them: Behold the man! 15
I have suffered, in a dream, because of him,
Many things; for this last saviour, man,
I have lied as I lie now. But what is lying?
Men wash their hands, in blood, as best they can:
I find no fault in this just man. 20
By Randall Jarrell
In the turret‘s great glass dome, the apparition, death,
Framed in the glass of the gunsight, a fighter‘s blinking wing,
Flares softly, a vacant fire. If the flak‘s inked blurs—
Distributed, statistical—the bomb‘s lost patterning
Are death, they are death under glass, a chance 5
For someone yesterday, someone tomorrow; and the fire
That streams from the fighter which is there, not there,
Does not warm you, has not burned them, though they die.
Under the leather and fur and wire, in the gunner‘s skull,
It is a dream: and he, the watcher, guiltily 10
Watches the him, the actor, who is innocent.
It happens as it does because it does.
It is unnecessary to understand; if you are still
In this year of our warfare, indispensable
In general, and in particular dispensable 15
As a cartridge, a life—it is only to enter
So many knots in a window, so many feet;
To switch on for an instant the steel that understands.
Do as they said; as they said, there is always a reason—
Though neither for you nor for the fatal 20
Knower of wind, speed, pressure: the unvalued facts.
(In Nature there is neither right nor left nor wrong.)
So the bombs fell: through clouds to the island,
The dragon of maps; and the island‘s fighters
Rose from its ruins, through blind smoke, to the flights— 25
And fluttered smashed from the machinery of death.
Yet inside the infallible invulnerable
Machines, the skin of steel, glass, cartridges,
Duties, responsibilities, and—surely—deaths,
There was only you; the ignorant life 30
That grew its weariness and loneliness and wishes
Into your whole wish: ―Let it be the way it was.
Let me not matter, let nothing I do matter
To anybody, anybody. Let me be what I was.‖
And you are home, for good now, almost as you wished; 35
If you matter, it is as little, almost, as you wished.
If it has changed, still, you have had your wish
And are lucky, as you figured luck—are, truly, lucky.
If it is different, if you are different,
It is not from the lives or the cities; 40
The world‘s war, just or unjust—the world‘s peace, war or peace;
But from a separate war: the shell with your name
In the bursting turret, the crystals of your blood
On the splints‘ wrapped steel, the hours wearing
The quiet body back to its base, its missions done; 45
And the slow flesh failing, the terrible flesh
Sloughed off at last—and waking, your leg gone,
To the dream, the old, old dream: it happens,
It happens as it does, it does, it does—
But not because of you, write the knives of the surgeon, 50
The gauze of the theatre, the bearded and aging face
In the magic glass; if you wake and understand,
There is always the nurse, the leg, the drug—
If you understand, there is sleep, there is sleep . . .
Reading of victories and sales and nations 55
Under the changed maps, in the sunlit papers;
Stumbling to the toilet on one clever leg
Of leather, wire, and willow; staring
Past the lawn and the trees to nothing, to the eyes
You looked away from as they looked away: the world outside 60
You are released to, rehabilitated
—What will you do now? I don’t know—
It is these. If, standing irresolute
By the whitewashed courthouse, in the leafy street,
You look at the people who look back at you, at home, 65
And it is different, different—you have understood
Your world at last: you have tasted your own blood.
The Angels at Hamburg
By Randall Jarrell
The caves emptied of their workers, turning
From spent mines to the ruins of factories,
The soul sleeps under the hive of the earth.
Freed for an hour from its deadly dreams
Of Good and Evil, from the fiery judge 5
Who walks like an angel through the guilty state
The world sets up within the laboring breast,
It falls past Heaven into Paradise:
Here man spins his last Eden like a worm.
Here is Knowledge, the bombs tempt fruitlessly. 10
In the darkness under the fiery missions
That fail, and are renewed by every season,
He is estranged from suffering, and willingly
Floats like a moon above the starving limbs
Oppressed with remembrance, tossed uncertainly 15
Under the angels‘ deadly paths—he whispers,
―My punishment is more than I can bear.‖
He knows neither good, nor evil, nor the angels,
Nor their message: There is no justice, man, but death.
He watches the child and the cat and the soldier dying, 20
Not loving, not hating their judges, who neither love nor hate;
In his heart Hamburg is no longer a city,
There is no more state.
The judges come to judge man in the night.
How bitterly they look on his desire! 25
Here at midnight there is no darkness,
At day no light.
The air is smoke and the earth ashes
Where he was fire;
He looks from his grave for life, and judgment 30
Rides over his city like a star.
Pilots, Man Your Planes
By Randall Jarrell
Dawn; and the jew‘s-harp‘s sawing seesaw song
Plucks at the starlight where the planes are folded
At the lee of the blank, wind-whipped, hunting road—
A road in air, the road to nowhere
Turreted and bucketed with guns, long undermined 5
With the thousand necessary deaths that breathe
Like fire beside a thousand men, who sleep
Hunched in the punk of Death: slow, dreaming sparks
Who burrow through the block-long, light-split gloom
Of their great hangar underground and oversea 10
Into the great tanks, dark forever; past the steam
Of turbines, laundries—under rockets,
Bakeries, war-heads, the steel watch-like fish,
To the hull‘s last plates and atmosphere:
The sea sways with the dazed, blind, groping sway 15
Of the raw soul drugged with sleep, the chancy life
Troubling with dreams its wars, its own earned sea
That stretches year on year, death after death,
And hemisphere on blind black hemisphere
Into the stubborn corners of its earth. 20
Here in the poor, bleak, guessing haze of dawn
The giant‘s jew‘s-harp screeches its two notes
Over and over, over and over; from the roar
Of the fighters waved into the blazing clouds
The lookout lifts his scrubbed tetanic stare 25
Into the East of light, the empty day.
But on the tubes the raiders oscillate
A mile in every nine or thirteen seconds
To the target‘s first premonitory bursts;
To the boy with a ball of coffee in his stomach, 30
Snapping the great light buckles on his groin,
Shifting his raft‘s hot-water-bottle weight
As he breasts the currents of the bellowing deck
And, locked at last into the bubble, Hope,
Is borne along the foaming windy road 35
To the air where he alone is still
Above the world‘s cold, absent, searching roll.
The carrier meshed in its white whirling wake,
The gray ship sparkling from the blue-black sea,
The little carrier—erupts in flak, 40
One hammering, hysterical, tremendous fire.
Flickering through flashes, the stained rolling clouds,
The air jarred like water tilted in a bowl,
The red wriggling tracers—colonies
Whose instant life annexes the whole sky— 45
Hunt out the one end they have being for,
Are metamorphosed into one pure smear
Of flame, and die
In the maniacal convulsive spin
Of the raider with a wing snapped off, the plane 50
Trailing its flaming kite‘s-tail to the wave.
A miss‘s near, near bloom, a hill of foam,
Is bulged skyward, crashes back; crest after crest
Patterns the ships‘ cat‘s-cradle wakes, the racing
Swells that hiss outward from a plane‘s quenched flame: 55
There is traced in the thousand meetings of the grave
Of matter and of matter, man and man,
The print of the running feet upon the waves. . . .
The Jill threads her long, blind, unbearable
Way into fire (the waves lick past her, her whole sky 60
Is tracer and the dirt of flak, the fire
Flung from the muzzles riddling sea and sky),
Comes on, comes on, comes on; and the fighter flames to her
Through his own flak, the hammering guns
Stitch one long line along his wing, his gear 65
Falls, his dive staggers as his tracer strikes,
And he breaks off and somersaults into the sea.
Under the canopy‘s dark strangling green,
The darkening canopy, he struggles free
To float into the choking white, to breathe— 70
His huge leg floating and immovable,
His goggles blackened with his own bright blood—
On the yellow raft, to see his carrier
Still firing, but itself a fire, its planes
Flung up like matches from the stern‘s white burst. 75
Now rockets arch above the deck‘s great blaze,
Shell break from it, trail after trail; its steel
Melts in steam into the sea, its tanks explode
In one last overwhelming sound; and silently
The ship, a flame, sinks home into the sea. 80
The pilot holds his striped head patiently
Up out of the dancing smother of the sea
And weeps with hatred, longing, agony—
The sea rises and settles; and the ship is gone.
The planes fly off looking for a carrier, 85
Destroyers curve in their long hunting arcs
Through the dead of the carrier: the dazed, vomiting,
Oil-blackened and fire-blistered, saved or dying men
Cling with cramped shaking fingers to the lines
Lowered from their old life: the pilot, 90
Drugged in a blanket, straining up to gulp
From the mug that scrapes like chalk against his mouth,
Knows, knows at last; he yawns the chattering yawn
Of effort and anguish, of hurt hating helplessness—
Yawns sobbingly, his head falls back, he sleeps. 95
By Robert Lowell
There is always enough daylight in hell to blind;
the flower of what was left grew sweeter for them,
two done people conversing with bamboo fans
as if to brush the firefall from the air—
Admiral Onishi, still a cult to his juniors, 5
the father of the Kamikazes . . . he became a fish hawk
flying our armadas down like game;
his young pilots loved him to annihilation.
He chats in the garden, the sky is zigzag fire.
One butchery is left, his wife keeps nagging him to do it. 10
Husband and wife taste cup after cup of Scotch;
how garrulously they patter about their grandchildren—
when his knife goes home, it goes home wrong. . . .
For eighteen hours you died with your hand in hers.
War in the Pacific
The Performance [battles for the Philippines]
By James Dickey
The last time I saw Donald Armstrong
He was staggering oddly off into the sun,
Going down, off the Philippine Islands.
I let my shovel fall, and put that hand
Above my eyes, and moved some way to one side 5
That his body might pass through the sun,
And I saw how well he was not
Standing there on his hands,
On his spindle-shanked forearms balanced,
Unbalanced, with his big feet looming and waving 10
In the great, untrustworthy air
He flew in each night, when it darkened.
Dust fanned in scraped puffs from the earth
Between his arms, and blood turned his face inside out,
To demonstrate his suppleness 15
Of veins, as he perfected his role.
Next day, he toppled his head off
On an island beach to the south,
And the enemy‘s two-headed sword
Did not fall from anyone‘s hands 20
At that miraculous sight,
As the head rolled over upon
Its wide-eyed face, and fell
Into the inadequate grave
He had dug for himself, under pressure. 25
Yet I put my flat hand to my eyebrows
Months later, to see him again
In the sun, when I learned how he died,
And imagined him, there,
Come, judged, before his small captors. 30
Doing all his lean tricks to amaze them—
The back somersault, the kip-up—
And at last, the stand on his hands,
Perfect, with his feet together,
His head down, evenly breathing, 35
As the sun poured up from the sea
And the headsmen broke down
In a blaze of tears, in that light
Of the thin, long human frame
Upside down in its own strange joy, 40
And, if some other one had not told him,
Would have cut off the feet
Instead of the head,
And if Armstrong had not presently risen
In kingly, round-shouldered attendance, 45
And then knelt down in himself
Beside his hacked, glittering grave, having done
All things in this life that he could.
By Derek Walcott
[for Tony Hecht]
I come up to a break
on the beach where a channel
of the river is pushed back
by the ancestral quarrel
of fresh water with salt. 5
Under it: scalloped sand.
Not caring who‘s at fault,
I turn and cross inland.
A sepia lagoon
bobbing with coconuts— 10
helmets from the platoon
of some Marine unit—
whose channel links those years
of boyhood photographs
in Life or Collier’s 15
to dim Pacific surf.
Sandpipers burst like white
notes from a ceremonial band,
circle, then, on wet sand,
discuss their cancelled flight. 20
The beach is hot, the fronds
of yellow dwarf palms rust,
the clouds are close as friends,
the sea has not learned rest,
exploding, but not in, 25
thank heaven, that rhetoric
all wars must be fought in,
I break a brittle stick
pointlessly and walk on,
holding the stick, until 30
it hefts like a weapon.
There is nothing to kill.
Guadalcanal and Guam—
they must now look like this
abandoned Navy base 35
camouflaged in gold palm.
Divisions, dates, and armour
marked here are not enough.
The surf, a plasterer,
smooths a fresh cenotaph. 40
I hurl the stick and brush
right hand against left hand.
Snipers prowl through the bush
of my dry hair. I stand,
not breathing, till they pass, 45
and the new world feels sure:
sand and sand-whitened grass,
then a jet‘s signature.
By Robinson Jeffers
Europe has run its course, and whether to fall by its own sickness or ours is not
Extremely important; it was a whittled forepeak and condensation of profuse Africa, which presently
Will absorb it again. (And if it had conquered eastward and owned the Urals, would yet be absorbing
Freedom and the lamp have been handed west. Our business was to feed and defend them; it was not
To meddle in the feuds of ghosts and brigands in historical graveyards. We have blood enough, but
not for this folly; 5
Let no one believe that children a hundred years from now in the future of America will not be sick
For what our fools and unconscious criminals are doing to-day.
But also it is ghastly beautiful.
The enormous weight is poised, primed and will slide. Enormous and doomed weight will reply. It is
That here are the very focus and violent peak of all human effort. (No doubt, alas, that more wasting
Wars will bleed the long future: the sky more crammed with death, the victims worse crushed: but
Again the like weights and prepared clash.) Admire it then; you cannot prevent it; give it for emotion
The aesthetic emotion.
I know a narrow beach, a thin tide-line
Of fallen rocks under the foot of the coast-range; the mountain is always sliding; the mountain goes up
Steep as the face of a breaking wave, knuckles of rock, slide-scars, rock-ribs, brush-fur, blue height,
To the hood of cloud. You stand there at the base, perched like a gull on a tilted slab, and feel
The enormous opposed presences; the huge mass of the mountain high overhanging, and the immense
Mass of the deep and sombre Pacific.—That scene, stationary,
Is what our invasion will be in action. Then admire the vast battle. Observe and marvel. Give it the
That you give to a landscape.
And this is bitter counsel, but required and convenient; for, beyond the
When the imbecility, betrayals and disappointments become apparent, —what will you have, but to
Admired the beauty? I believe that the beauty and nothing else is what things are formed for.
Certainly the world 25
Was not constructed for happiness nor love nor wisdom. No, not for pain, hatred and folly. All these
Have their seasons; and in the long year they balance each other, they cancel out. But the beauty
(May 8, 1944)
―Keeping Their World Large‖
By Marianne Moore
All too literally, their flesh and their spirit are our shield.
--New York Times, June 7, 1944
I should like to see that country‘s tiles, bedrooms,
and ancient wells: Rinaldo
Caramonica‘s the cobbler‘s, Frank Sblendorio‘s
and Dominick Angelastro‘s country— 5
the grocer‘s, the iceman‘s, the dancer‘s—the
beautiful Miss Damiano‘s; wisdom‘s
and all angels‘ Italy, this Christmas Day
this Christmas year.
A noiseless piano, an 10
innocent war, the heart that can act against herself. Here,
each unlike and all alike, could
so many—stumbling, falling, multiplied
till bodies lay as ground to walk on—
―If Christ and the apostles died in vain, 15
I‘ll die in vain with them‖
against this way of victory.
That forest of white crosses!
My eyes won‘t close to it.
All laid like animals for sacrifice— 20
like Isaac on the mount, were their own sacrifice.
Marching to death, marching to life?
―Keeping their world large,‖
whose spirits and whose bodies
all too literally were our shield, 25
are still our shield.
They fought the enemy,
we fight fat living and self-pity.
Shine, o shine,
unfalsifying sun, on this sick scene. 30
Praying (Attempt of June 8 ’03)
By Jorie Graham
One of us is awake, not the other, it seems to me here
in the dark—also can‘t tell if that‘s the radiator or the first
birds—the young soldier is once again being admitted
to hospital so they can repair him and return him to the theatre,
to make what operational?—why—why am I awake, or is it you, not me, that 5
is—if Orion had something in his pocket, if would fall out
over the house you said in your sleep, but it was true, I went
and looked, why is it so terrifying Orion‘s still here, this late in
the story, hunting all night, pack of hounds all over the sky,
also prey all over the sky, sometimes his prey by accident being his 10
hounds, yes—is it that we cannot tell each other apart, so we have to
something that will count as difference—real difference—how
different does it have to be, the difference, to count, to do its job 15
trying as it is to save us, or so history would have us believe—
and if I look now into that black up there am I to see
or now, from the as-yet-invisible marshes, where there‘s a shot, where the men
of Trevieres are 20
spending this night in
blinds, hunting, there, another shot,
where the children-turned-into-men of aligned and un-
aligned nations are making their treaties, taking their booty, all night—
declarations of loyalty floating in the air they are 25
toxic, barely sustainable—where
these yet more humans, pushed out, hard, into this, by mothers
passage of time 30
in which they now stand, aiming up into the air before dawn,
right up at those too still stars
scoured earlier-on by now dead boys, desperate, in these same marshes, hiding,
listening hard for
the enemy, for its tiniest sounds, listening 35
all night long, exhausted—strays from the 116th—
having all been dragged by riptide up to Dog Green (Omaha)
whereas they had been meant to meet H hour, miles away, down at Dog Red (still
others meant for Easy Green or Easy Red also thrown at Dog—mostly all still 40
alive—off schedule—including the
sweepers—all dragged down, freezing, waves huge—meant to land
where gun emplacements were less thick and channels between lines
could be read through the surface of 45
because mercifully the guns
could not be rotated
so much as an inch,
such that the stitchery of fire, once tracked on sand, or on 50
successive rows of flesh, lets you
gauge-out, for just a flash—if you
are someone granted that cracked
flash, two seconds, maybe three, of life—the
passage through—[there it is, the word mercy] [me shooting 55
the very sound up now
with faulty weapon] [―Now in my glass appears/
the soldier who is going to die./He smiles and moves about in ways/
his mother knows. I cry
NOW‖]. Are you awake, I listen for your breathing here, 60
I am beside myself, I am beside these words, as close
to it as I can be, not close enough though, not by a long shot, oh god
won‘t you leave us alone, you‘ve got us half scared to death—outside, all round, fog,
through which the soldiers and the hunters wade, heavy mist— 65
and there, again now, a shot—a hit or miss—how easy it is to make a ghost—
as here, don‘t you see, the minute I stop scribbling here
I will be gone—truth is a collective event—no that‘s not what he
said, he said
truth is a collective error—the spirit does or does not die 70
with the body, that being maybe the only real question left us,
besides ―us,‖ the other great mystery, whether any of us
can even touch an other one of us, even here, naked, trying to get back
to sleep, chairs and tables
pushing out void, taking up room, I tell it 75
as I see it says the young man holding the gun, while I
keep counting my numbers out—when will I have enough
to make it through, to fall asleep—as now again I
have to start over
where a shot from out there shatters 80
my count. . . Strange how the number drops out of mind.
As when I counted the stars, long nights, in childhood, out.
Loud tiny voice. So adamant, stern. Up into the hundreds, many
hundreds. Each star. Held firm. First in eye, then in mind. Then suddenly,
terrible, losing my place—ghastly, spilling, whole night sky 85
unraveling—and where was I reaching, panicky, trying to catch the outermost
number, the one I
just had—where was I—where is it—oh lord it is a
small thing, no?, to have to
begin the count 90
again—the stars, the butterflies, the flies, the scars,
the dead, the rooms, the sand, the words, the wounded, the roads, the missing limbs,
of the missing limbs, the missing, the starlings, the prayers, the in-
dividual secrets, the bullets, the days, from the beginning again, the 95
days. Start counting. Too much blood. Under the bridge.
Start. Start putting things back. To still us. Start.
Note: The quoted lines are from Keith Douglas, a poet who landed on D-Day but was killed on June 9, 1944.
By Jorie Graham
(German Cemetery; La Cambe, Normandy, 2003, Computer Terminal)
―To find a fallen person,‖ it says, ―push green key.‖
Fill in a name, last name, first name, I put in
Klein. 210 Kleins in the Soldatenfriedhof.
I scroll. Klein stays the same.
The first name changes, rank, row, plot. 5
No. The graveyard changes too. At 88 Klein‘s in
Colleville (US graveyard). At 93 he‘s in the British one (Bayeux).
Have you found your fallen person says the program
when I go back to the home page. No slot for
nationality. None for religion. Just date of 10
then rank, row, plot, and field come forth. I‘m staring at
screen. Keys very large for easy use.
Back through the doorway there‘s the 15
field. 21,222 German soldiers. Some named, some not.
Inside the office now a wide face looking up.
When is the last time a new man was found, I ask.
Here it is full, he says, people now go to Saint André.
So there are no new bodies being found? 20
Oh no. No, no. Just last month eight—
here look, pulling a red file from a stack.
Look—and it‘s open—here, you‘ll see.
A name, a question mark, a print of teeth of which two
(lost after death) marked ―lost after death.‖ A plastic 25
baggie holds an oval metal tag, almost
illegible, now placed into
my hand. The other baggie he snaps open: here:
a button: we mostly tell them from the buttons:
this was a paratrooper: you can see from 30
the size, the color of the casing. The sleeve
of something other than time, I think,
slides open to reveal, nested, as in a pod, this seed, hard, dark, how does he
make out its
identity—a paratrooper—a German one—each people‘s 35
buttons different—if it‘s a German, we get called—if he is ours
we begin work—whatever clothing still exists—part of
a lace, can get you back
the person—a metal clip—the stitching of a kind of 40
cloth. There were so many kinds of fiber then. Then
as much soil as we can get—bone-fragments when there are—
how fast flesh turns to soil again—that is why clothing is
Where there are teeth too it is good— 45
we will be able to notify the family.
There is great peace in knowing your person is found.
Mostly in Spring when the land is plowed.
Sometimes when they widen roads.
Many were put in with the apple trees. 50
One feels, from the way they are placed, the burying
was filled with kindness. I don‘t really know why, but it is
so. I turn the oval in my hand. Soil on it still, inside the chiseled number-
in the 3‘s and 8‘s, so that it‘s harder to make out the whole. 55
The boy is 17 he says.
What if he hadn‘t been found.
What if he is now found.
What does he re-enter.
Saint André de Champigny will receive 60
some earth, jaw, teeth, buttons, dog-tag, an
insignia, hair, bones of most of one
right hand. When more than one have been found
together, the official of the graves registration department
—this man with soft large hands holding the folder out— 65
portions out enough human remains
to make up as many people as possible.
The possible person: a tooth is enough. Anything
really, he says looking up, almost inaudibly. 70
With whom is he pleading.
Behind him now the field where in 1947 American bodies, and parts-of, put here
were dug up and moved for the final time
to their last resting place, to the American Normandy War Memorial— 75
and these available German parts and wholes pulled from their
holding grounds and placed in openings Americans
Forgive me says the man still in his seat,
I have been rude, I did not mean (gets up) 80
my name is ______, here is my card.
May I hold the button a moment longer?
You from the apple orchard,
you still not found in my field,
and the mole hacking through, 85
and the rabbits at dawn eating,
and the bird I cannot identify,
speak out—what do you hate—what do you hate—
Spoken from the Hedgerows 
By Jorie Graham
I was Floyd West (1st Division) I was born in Portia Arkansas Feb 6
1919 We went through Reykjavik Iceland through the North Atlantic through the wolf packs
That was 1942 I was Don Whitsitt I flew a B-26 medium bomber
Number 131657 called the Mississippi Mudcat I was a member of
The 387th Bomb Group and then later the 559th Bomb 5
Squadron. Picked up the Mudcat in Mt. Clemens Michigan
Flew over our whole group four squadrons sixteen planes each
from Hunter Field at Savannah Georgia then to Langley Field at
Norfolk Virginia from there to Grenier Field at Manchester New Hampshire
In each place stayed a day or two 10
From Grenier went on to port of embarkation
which was Presque Isle, Maine, then started across, first to Goose Bay, Labrador,
then to Bluie West One, Greenland, then over the cap to
Mick‘s Field, Iceland. Made landfall at Stornoway, Scotland, from there
down to Prestwick, north London, finally Station 162 at Chipping 15
Ongar. My name was Dan, 392nd Squadron of the 367th Fighter Group
March 21 boarded the Duchess of Bedford in NY,
an old English freighter which had been converted
to bring over the load of German prisoners, whom we replaced
going back to England. Slept below decks in hammocks. 20
April 3rd arrived at Scotland, and, following a beautiful trip through
the country, arrived a Stoney Cross, ten miles from the Channel—
it was a beautiful moonlit night. I was known as Bob. I was in
D Company. My number was 20364227. I was born Feb 3,
1925, Bristol, Tennessee. We embarked on the HMS 25
Queen Mary, stripped, painted dull gray, hammocks installed with
troops sleeping in shifts. The Queen was capable of making twenty-eight knots
and therefore traveled unescorted, since it could outrun any
sub. Walter, given name, 29th Division. We crossed on the Queen Mary. The
swimming pool was covered over, that‘s where most of us slept. 30
My name was Alan, Alan Anderson, 467th Anti-Aircraft Artillery. I was given
birth November 1, 1917, Winchester, Wisconsin. They took us to
Fort Dix for England. We took the northern route in the extreme rough sea of
January. It was thought that this would confuse the
German subs. It didnt‘ exactly work that way. 35
A convoy ahead of us by a few days was hit, many ships sank.
I saw the bodies of so many sailors and soldiers floating by us
with all the other debris and ice on the water. The name given me
was John, born September 13, ‘24, in Chattanooga, but raised
in Jacksonville. I was a person, graduated high school in ‘42, 40
crossed over on the Ile de France, a five-decker, ten thousand on board.
They loaded over twenty on the Queen Mary
there on the other side of the pier. My name was Ralph, Second Class Pharmacist‘s Mate,
July 4 received orders to Norfolk. There‘s no describing
crossing the Atlantic in winter. We couldn‘t stay in our bunks 45
without being strapped in and fastened to metal pipes on
each side. We had one meal a day. My name, Robert, was put to me
in Atchison, Kansas, United States, August 15, 1916, year of the
Lord we used to figure on, there, in the 149th Engineer Combat Batallion,
which arrived Liverpool, England, January 8 1944. It rained every day. 50
From there we were taken to the town of Paignton. The authorities
would go down the road, and the truck would stop, and they‘d say
―All right, three of you out here‖ and they‘d march you to a house and say to the owner,
―all right, these are your Americans. They are going to be staying with you.‖
Spoken from the Hedgerows 
By Jorie Graham
Keokuk was to be the first daylight mission using only the big wood
―english coffins‖—good weather all the way to
France—squadrons of Americans flying cover—seven minutes early our being
loose—enemy having by then almost a full day‘s
us—St. Come du Mont—Turqueville—so this time not firing on the tow—this
holding their fire, letting us pass over—we pass over—unloading then, 10
only then, into
us—us slowly descending—one shot taken by a
knee, bullets up through our feet, explosion of Jack‘s face, more sudden openings
in backs, shoulders, one in a neck, throat opens, I happen to see, I see an eye
pushed back, through the face, then on back through 15
the canvas skin, below can see
the ones just ahead of us skidding into huge rapid
trees, see fracturing of the wooden fuselage, impaling of the
men. Howitzers and jeeps fly into the
landscape. Crates of grenades. 20
Yet the weather over the Channel very good.
Excellent visibility. What are we all listening
for, it seems we
listening. Holding our weapons in front of us. 25
Told to wait. Waiting. Release altitude 750 feet. Re-
place. Gliding. Miles of silence. More.
Unknown to us release point
turns out to be directly over enemy strongpoint. 30
The tow alone takes 600 rounds.
We have neither darkness nor surprise to help us.
Shrapnel lacerates the canvas skins.
Equipment tears into bodies.
If a man jumps to the aid of his fellow 35
he unbalances the already wobbly craft.
Helmets flying everywhere. All round us pilots
aiming straight-in for crash landings.
Someone is shouting: escape from wreck, seek
cover, wait in the nearest ditch till dark. 40
But we are slaughtered in our seats.
Holding on to our rifles we are all slaughtered. The bullets burst up
through our boots. Heavy wind hits.
Scraps of canvas hang and slap
against the glider‘s tubular frame. 45
From next to the farmhouse, snipers empty their rifles into us.
The glider missions will continue tomorrow as scheduled.
I do not know who I am, but I am here, I tell you this.
Over the field, over the one still-active radio, President Roosevelt delivers
his Prayer 50
to the World: Almighty God: our sons, pride of our nation, our religion,
civilization, have set upon a mighty endeavor,
to set free a suffering humanity. Give strength, stoutness, steadfastness.
Success may not come with rushing speed. But we shall return 55
again and again. We know, by the grace and righteousness of
our cause, our sons will triumph.
They fight to liberate. They fight to let justice rise
among all Thy people. Some will never return.
Embrace these, Father, and receive them, 60
Thy heroic servants, into Thy Kingdom.
Fields heard what they could. Day heard what it could.
I do not know why I speak to you. I too
heard what I could.
Spoken from the Hedgerows 
By Jorie Graham
To bring back a time and place.
A feeling. As in "we are all in this
together." Or "the United States and her allies
fought for Freedom." To bring back.
The experience of killing and getting killed. 5
Get missed. Get hit. Sun—is it with us. Holiday,
are you with us on this beach today.
Hemisphere of one, my soul, paratrooper,
greatness I house in my body, deepset, my
hands on these triggers—who once could outrun 10
his brother—consumed with fellow-feeling like a madness that does not
lower its pitch—going to the meeting place,
the spire of the church in Vierville, seen on aerial maps, visible from
eighteen miles out, 15
if it weren't for fog, and smoke, and groundmist,
the meeting place, the appointed time surging in me,
needing to be pierced—but not me—not me—
only those to the left and right of me—
permit me to let you see me— 20
Me. Driven half mad but still in biography.
By the shared misery of. Hatred. Training. Trust. Fear.
Listening to the chatter each night of those who survived the day.
There is no other human relationship like it.
At its heart comradeship is an ecstasy. 25
You will die for an other. You will not consider it a personal
loss. Private Kurt Gabel, 513 Parachute Infantry Regiment—
"The three of us Jake, Joe and I became an entity.
An entity—never to be relinquished, never to be
repeated. An entity is where a man literally insists 30
on going hungry for another. A man insists on dying for
an other. Protect. Bail out. No regard to
consequence. A mystical concoction." A last piece
of bread. And gladly. You must understand what is meant by
gladly. All armies throughout history have tried 35
to create this bond among their men. Few succeeded as well
as the paratroop infantry of the U.S. Army,
Rifle Company E, 506th.
Fussell: It can't happen to me. It can happen to me. It is
going to happen to me. Nothing 40
is going to prevent it.
Webster (to his parents): I am living on borrowed time—
I do not think I shall live through the next jump.
If I don't come back, try not to take it too hard.
I wish I could persuade you to regard death 45
as casually as we do over here. In the heat of it
you expect it, you are expecting it, you are not surprised
by anything anymore, not surprised when your friend
is machine-gunned in the face. It's not like your life, at home,
where death is so unexpected. (And to mother): 50
would you prefer for someone else's son to die in the mud?
And there is no way out short of the end of war or the loss
of limb. Any other wound is patched up and you're sent back
to the front. This wound which almost killed him
healed up as well and he went back. 55
He never volunteered. One cannot volunteer.
If death comes, friend, let it come quick.
And don't play the hero, there is no past or future. Don't play
the hero. Ok. Let's go. Move out. Say goodbye.
Discovering the Holocaust
A Camp in the Prussian Forest
By Randall Jarrell
I walk beside the prisoners to the road.
Load on puffed load,
Their corpses, stacked like sodden wood,
Lie barred or galled with blood
By the charred warehouse. No one comes today 5
In the old way
To knock the fillings from their teeth;
The dark, coned, common wreath
Is plaited for their grave—a kind of grief.
The living leaf 10
Clings to the planted profitable
Pine if it is able;
The boughs sigh, mile on green, calm, breathing mile,
From this dead file
The planners ruled for them…. One year 15
They sent a million here:
Here men were drunk like water, burnt like wood.
The fat of good
And evil, the breast‘s star of hope
Were rendered into soap. 20
I paint the star I sawed from yellow pine—
And plant the sign
In soil that does not yet refuse
Its usual Jews
Their first asylum. But the white, dwarfed star— 25
This dead white star—
Hides nothing, pays for nothing; smoke
Fouls it, a yellow joke,
The needles of the wreath are chalked with ash,
A filmy trash 30
Litters the black woods with the death
Of men; and one last breath
Curls from the monstrous chimney…. I laugh aloud
Again and again;
The star laughs from its rotting shroud 35
Of flesh. O star of men!
Franklin Delano Roosevelt
When Death Came April Twelve 1945
By Carl Sandburg
Can a bell ring in the heart
telling the time, telling a moment,
telling off a stillness come,
in the afternoon a stillness come
and now never come morning? 5
Now never again come morning,
say the tolling bells repeating it,
now on the earth in blossom days,
in earthy days and potato planting,
now to the stillness of the earth, 10
to the music of dust to dust
and the drop of ashes to ashes
he returns and it is the time,
the afternoon time and never come morning,
the voice never again, the face never again. 15
A bell rings in the heart telling it
and the bell rings again and again
remembering what the first bell told,
the going away, the great heart still—
and they will go on remembering 20
and they is you and you and me and me.
And there will be roses and spring blooms
flung on the moving oblong box, emblems endless
flung from nearby, from faraway earth corners,
from frontline tanks nearing Berlin 25
unseen flowers of regard to The Commander,
from battle stations over the South Pacific
silent tokens saluting The Commander.
And the whitening bones of men at sea bottoms
or huddled and mouldering men at Aachen, 30
they may be murmuring,
―Now he is one of us,‖
one answering muffled drums
in the realm and sphere of the shadow battalions.
Can a bell ring proud in the heart 35
over a voice yet lingering,
over a face past any forgetting,
over a shadow alive and speaking,
over echoes and lights come keener, come deeper?
Can a bell ring in the heart 40
in time with the tall headlines,
the high fidelity transmitters,
the somber consoles rolling sorrow,
the choirs in ancient laments—chanting:
―Dreamer, sleep deep, 45
Toiler, sleep long,
Fighter, be rested now,
Commander, sweet good night.‖
By Robinson Jeffers
A great man must have a following, whether he gain it
Like Roosevelt by grandiose good intentions, cajolery
And public funds, or like Hitler by fanatic
Patriotism, frank lies, genius and terror, 5
Without great following no greatness; it is ever the greedy
Flame on a wick dipped in the fat of millions;
No man standing alone has ever been great;
Except, most rarely, his will, passion or intellect
Have come to posthumous power, and the naked spirit 10
Picked up a crown.
Yes. Alas then, poor ghost,
Nietzsche or Jesus, hermit, martyr, starved prophet,
Were you honest while you lived? You are not now.
You have found your following and it corrupts you; all greatness 15
Involves betrayal, of the people by a man
Or of a man by the people. Better to have stood
Forever alone. Better been mute as a fish,
Or an old stone on the mountain, where no man comes
But only the wilderness-eyeing hawk with her catch 20
And feeds in peace, delicately, with little beakfuls,
While far down the long slope gleams the pale sea.
Hiroshima and Nagasaki
1945: The Death of the Gods
By Randall Jarrell
In peace tomorrow, when your slack hands weigh
Upon the causes; when the ores are rust
And the oil laked under the mandates
Has puffed from the turbines; when the ash of life
Is earth that has forgotten the first human sun 5
Your wisdom found: O bringers of the fire,
When you have shipped our bones home from the bases
To those who think of us, not as we were
(Defiled, annihilated—the forgotten vessels
Of the wrath that formed us; of the murderous 10
Dull will that worked out its commandment, death
For the disobedient and for us, obedient)—
When you have seen grief wither, death forgotten,
And dread and love, the witnesses of men,
Swallowed up in victory: you who determine 15
Men‘s last obedience, yourselves determined
In the first unjudged obedience of greed
And senseless power: you eternal States
Beneath whose shadows men have found the stars
And graves of men: O warring Deities, 20
Tomorrow when the rockets rise like stars
And earth is blazing with a thousand suns
That set up there within your realms a realm
Whose laws are ecumenical, whose life
Exacts from men a prior obedience— 25
Must you learn from your makers how to die?
By Howard Nemerov
Feeble Caligula! to say
You wished mankind one only neck.
The dying guards might dance that day
At Auschwitz and at Maidanek,
Seeing their bloody seed begin to swell 5
Where the two cities fell.
That was our deed, without us done.
Great murder in the earth was set
That day to grow, and for us won
A present freedom to regret 10
Necessity, that once had made us, blind,
The saviors of mankind.
The pluming shadow of that plant,
A tragic actor now grown tall
To toppling, sounds that haughty cant 15
And birdlike flutes of sorrow, all
That power cracked at the root and manifest
In the burnt Phoenix‘ nest.
41 [whose are these(wraith a clinging with a wraith)]
By E. E. Cummings
whose are these(wraith a clinging with a wraith)
ghosts drowning in supreme thunder?ours
(over you reels and me a moon;beneath,
bombed the by ocean earth bigly shudders)
never was death so alive:chaos so(hark 5
—that screech of space)absolute(my soul
tastes If as some world of a spark
's gulped by illimitable hell)
and never have breathed such miracle murdered we
whom cannot kill more mostful to arrive 10
each(futuring snowily which sprints for the
crumb of our Now)twiceuponatime wave—
put out your eyes,and touch the black skin
of an angel named imagination
4 [In a surrealist year]
By Lawrence Ferlinghetti
In a surrealist year
of sandwichmen and sunbathers
dead sunflowers and live telephones
house-broken politicos with party whips
performed as usual 5
in the rings of their sawdust circuses
where tumblers and human cannonballs
filled the air like cries
when some cool clown
pressed an inedible mushroom button 10
and an inaudible Sunday bomb
catching the president at his prayers
on the 19th green
O it was a spring 15
of fur leaves and cobalt flowers
when cadillacs fell thru the trees like rain
drowning the meadows with madness
while out of every imitation cloud
dropped myriad wingless crowds 20
of nutless nagasaki survivors
And lost teacups
full of our ashes
High Noon at Los Alamos
By Eleanor Wilner
To turn a stone
with its white squirming
underneath, to pry the disc
from the sun‘s eclipse—white heat
coiling in the blinded eye: to these malign 5
necessities we come
from the dim time of dinosaurs
who crawled like breathing lava
from the earth‘s cracked crust, and swung
their tiny heads above the lumbering tons 10
of flesh, brains no bigger than a fist
clenched to resist the white flash
in the sky the day the sun-flares
pared them down to relics for museums,
turned glaciers back, seared Sinai‘s 15
meadows black—the ferns withered, the swamps
were melted down to molten mud, the cells
uncoupled, recombined, and madly
multiplied, huge trees toppled to the ground,
the slow life there abandoned hope, 20
a caterpillar stiffened in the grass.
Two apes, caught in the act of coupling,
made a mutant child
who woke to sunlight wondering, his mother
torn by the huge new head 25
that forced the narrow birth canal.
As if compelled to repetition
and to unearth again
white fire at the heart of matter—fire
we sought and fire we spoke, 30
our thoughts, however elegant, were fire
from first to last—like sentries set to watch
at Argos for the signal fire
passed peak to peak from Troy
to Nagasaki, triumphant echo of the burning 35
city walls and prologue to the murders
yet to come—we scan the sky
for that bright flash,
our eyes stared white from watching
for the signal fire that ends 40
the epic—a cursed line
with its caesura, a pause
to signal peace, or a rehearsal
for the silence.
The Testimony of J. Robert Oppenheimer
When I attained enlightenment,
I threw off the night like an old skin.
My eyes filled with light
and I fell to the ground.
I lay in Los Alamos, 5
while at the same time,
faster and faster,
till the earth, 10
till the morning
slipped away beneath me.
Some say when I hit
there was an explosion,
a searing wind that swept the dead before it, 15
but there was only silence,
only the soothing baby-blue morning
rocking me in its cradle of cumulus cloud,
There beyond the blur of mortality, 20
the roots of the trees of Life and Death,
the trees William Blake called Art and Science,
joined in a kind of Gordian knot
even Alexander couldn‘t cut.
To me, the ideological high wire 25
is for fools to balance on with their illusions.
It is better to leap into the void.
Isn‘t that what we all want anyway?—
to eliminate all pretense
till like the oppressed who in the end 30
identifies with the oppressor,
we accept the worst in ourselves
and are set free.
In high school, they told me
all scientists 35
start from the hypothesis ―what if‖
and it‘s true.
What we as a brotherhood lack in imagination
we make up for with curiosity.
I was always motivated 40
by a ferocious need to know.
Can you tell me, gentlemen,
that you don‘t want it too?—
the public collapse,
the big fall smooth as honey down a throat. 45
Anything that gets you closer
to what you are.
Oh, to be born again and again
from that dark, metal womb,
the sweet, intoxicating smell of decay 50
the imminent dead give off
rising to embrace me.
But I could say anything, couldn‘t I?
Like a bed we make and unmake at whim,
the truth is always changing, 55
always shaped by the latest
collective urge to destroy.
So I sit here,
gnawed down by the teeth
of my nightmares. 60
My soul, a wound that will not heal.
All I know is that urge,
the pure, sibylline intensity of it.
Now, here at parade‘s end
all that matters: 65
our military in readiness,
our private citizens
in a constant frenzy of patriotism
and jingoistic pride,
our enemies endless, 70
our need to defend infinite.
we do not regret or mourn,
but pick up the guns of our fallen.
Like characters in the funny papers, 75
under the heading
―Further Adventures of the Lost Tribe,‖
we march past the third eye of History,
as it rocks back and forth
in its hammock of stars. 80
We strip away the tattered fabric
of the universe
to the juicy, dark meat,
the nothing beyond time.
We tear ourselves down atom by atom, 85
till electron and positron,
we become our own transcendent annihilation.
Welcome to Hiroshima
By Mary Jo Salter
is what you first see, stepping off the train:
a billboard brought to you in living English
by Toshiba Electric. While a channel
silent in the TV of the brain
projects those flickering re-runs of a cloud 5
that brims its risen columnful like beer
and, spilling over, hangs its foamy head,
you feel a thirst for history: what year
it started to be safe to breathe the air,
and when to drink the blood and scum afloat 10
on the Ohta River. But no, the water‘s clear,
they pour it for your morning cup of tea
in one of the countless sunny coffee shops
whose plastic dioramas advertise
mutations of cuisine behind the glass: 15
a pancake sandwich; a pizza someone tops
with a maraschino cherry. Passing by
the Peace Park‘s floral hypocenter (where
how bravely, or with what mistaken cheer,
humanity erased its own erasure), 20
you enter the memorial museum
and though more glass are served, as on a dish
of blistered grass, three mannequins. Like gloves
a mother clips to coatsleeves, strings of flesh
hang from their fingertips; or as if tied 25
to recall a duty for us, Reverence
the dead whose mourners too shall soon be dead,
but all commemoration‘s swallowed up
in questions of bad taste, how re-created
horror mocks the grim original, 30
and thinking at last They should have left it all
you stop. This is the wristwatch of a child.
Jammed on the moment‘s impact, resolute
to communicate some message, although mute,
it gestures with its hands at eight-fifteen 35
and eight-fifteen and eight-fifteen again
while tables of statistics on the wall
update the news by calling on a roll
of tape, death gummed on death, and in the case
adjacent, an exhibit under glass 40
is glass itself: a shard the bomb slammed in
a woman‘s arm at eight-fifteen, but some
three decades on—as if to make it plain
hope‘s only as renewable as pain,
and as if all the unsung 45
debasements of the past may one day come
rising to the surface once again—
worked its filthy way out like a tongue.
I. Aerial Photographs Before the Atomic Bomb
By Toi Derricotte
Why did such terrible events
catch my eye? After Hiroshima,
I turned the picture in Life around
in circles, trying to figure out this huge
wheel in the middle of the air, how it 5
turned, a ferris wheel, its lights
burning like eyes.
The atom spinning
on course over the sleeping,
vulnerable planet. I turned it the way one might 10
turn a kaleidoscope or prism. Even then I
knew about the town lying under,
like a child sleeping under the
watchful gaze of a rapist, before the spasm
of stopped breath, the closure at the 15
scream of the throat, before the body is awakened
along its shocked spine to bursting
light, the legs closing, the arms,
like a chilled flower. That eye, that spinning eye
seeking the combustible. 20
This was a heat
I had felt already in our house on Norwood.
looked green, placid as a green field,
predictable as machinery—an antique clock. 25
This was the instant
the fiery atom stuck
as if under the control of the artist
before it spilled and became irretrievable. 30
Could it be sucked back
in its lead bag, the doors of the underbelly slammed,
and those men who went on to
suicide and madness, go on instead
to become lovers, priests, Buddhist 35
smilers and scholars, gardeners in the small plots
of contained passion?
All-Star Neutron Day, 9 August 1981
By Aaron Kramer
(On the morning of the annual all-star baseball
game, the president announces full production of
neutron weapons. The Asian sonnet form was cho-
sen to commemorate the destruction of Nagasaki on
9 August 1945.)
The mouths of Auschwitz‘s unholy pillars
sent sacrificial incense toward the skies.
Now men ask: From the womb of Bachs and Schillers
how could there be a leaping forth of killers
without one gasp, one turning down of eyes? 5
At 7:30, just as we were drinking
our orange juice, the pillar of the land
that was the womb of Whitman and Abe Lincoln
sent from his mouth a smoke. Men will be thinking:
With gasp, with lowered eyes, did no one stand? 10
Here‘s how it was: twelve hours went past; the smoke
had settled in all lungs; we settled too
and switched our tubes on; pandemonium broke
in Cleveland‘s ballpark—red and white and blue.
The Mikado and the Window
By G.T. Vaphopoulos
Trans. from Greek by Kimon Friar
In Japan the annual poetry competition given by the Emperor was a great success. The subject set was “The Window.” As many as
22,427 poems were submitted.
—Newspaper item, 1959
When he was brought the news about Hiroshima
the Emperor received it without showing in the least
that the explosion had gone off inside himself.
He rose with dignity. And to his courtiers
said that a new duty now awaited him. 5
At once, with small steps, as though he feared
that the shaky columns without him would topple,
he proceeded alone to the chamber of his ancestors.
All profoundly brooded on hara-kiri.
He toppled into the first chair he found 10
without caring at all that he might wrinkle
his priceless kimono, regardless of habit.
And behind his myopic glasses, which now had blurred,
his eyelids closed most heavily over his eyes.
Outside, the courtiers waited in profound meditation 15
and brooded on who perhaps would fist have the honor
of receiving in his hands the Emperor‘s entrails.
But he inside was brooding on other matters. Down deep,
he had never believed in his ancestral spirits.
What stupidity to say he was descended from the sun! 20
He was thinking that he was rather an artist: Poet
and Actor together. And the role of Emperor
suited him well during the palace presentations.
At rock bottom, he was not responsible for anything else.
His generals would have to account for the war. 25
And after all, the Japanese were not only warriors.
It was time to think a bit about poetry too.
Although in this chamber of his ancestors
all could be found in their original order,
the window showed him a new world outside. 30
And he thought: In this new role now
he must not forget this window, which had brought him
the great news of the greatest change of all.
And while all outside were waiting with patience and despair
to confront even the most bitter contingency, the one dressed 35
in the clothing of the most terrifying certainty,
they suddenly saw their Emperor approaching them,
wearing a very smart suit of American cut.
Pretending not to understand their astonishment
as he advanced, he said: ―Gentlemen, I beg of you, 40
please close that window that looks out toward the East,
because the rising sun now hurts my eyes.
Let‘s open this one that looks out toward the West.
It‘s been a long time since we‘ve seen such peaceful landscape.
Please have the Samurai‘s gold-trimmed swords 45
placed in showcases, as best suited for works of art.
And let all my followers, whose hearts sway
tenderly to the musical verses of the haiku,
arrange to buy fountain pens—Parkers, of course.
The High Desire of his Majesty is for the poets of Japan 50
to sing now of this window brought us by change.‖
(Twenty-two thousand and more poets of Japan
responded to that High Desire of his Majesty.
And while in the ears of the hanged generals
the wind whispered the song of eternal peace, 55
for the great imperial window of the Emperor
more than twenty-two cases of fountain pens sang.)
Victory in the Pacific
By John Ciardi
On the tallest day in time the dead came back.
Clouds met us in the pastures past a world.
By short wave the releases of a rack
Exploded on the interphone‘s new word.
Halfway past Iwo we jettisoned to sea 5
Our gift of bombs like tears and tears like bombs
To spring a frolic fountain daintily
Out of the blue metallic seas of doom.
No fire-shot cloud pursued us going home.
No cities cringed and wallowed in the flame. 10
Far out to sea a blank millennium
Changed us alive, and left us still the same.
Lightened, we banked like jays, antennae squawking.
The four wild metal halos of our props
Blurred into time. The interphone was talking 15
Abracadabra to the cumulus tops:
Dreamboat three-one to Yearsend—loud and clear,
Angels one-two on course at one-six-nine.
Magellan to Balboa. Propwash to Century.
How do you read me? Bombay to Valentine. 20
Fading and out. And all the dead were homing.
(Wisecrack to Halfmast. Doom to Memory.)
On the tallest day in time we saw them coming,
Wheels jammed and flaming on a metal sea.
Atomic Bomb Testing and Anti-Nuclear Protests
Fallout of the West, 1951
By Claire Kageyama-Ramakrishnan
At night the pilots
armed the air
dropped barrels of
like seeds showering
like garlic fields
lined with marigolds 10
to ward off insects.
their flight. The children
birthed without limbs,
heat radiating 15
a fallout of waste
in the atmosphere
above the bay.
Cancer rooted deep
in the almond trees— 20
inched through ribbons
and coils, strands of
each child‘s DNA
that could stretch beyond
the reservation, 25
beyond the mountains,
and the next state.
Protesting at the Nuclear Test Site
By Denise Levertov
A year before, this desert
had raised its claws to me,
importunate and indifferent, half-naked beggar
displaying sores at the city gates.
Now again, in the raw glare 5
of Lent. Spikes, thorns, spines.
Where was the beauty others perceived?
I could not.
But when the Shoshone elder spoke,
last year and now once more, 10
slowly I began to see what I saw as ugly were marks
of torture. When he was young this was desert, too,
but of different aspect, austere but joyful.
A people's reverence illumined stony ground.
Now, as my mind knew but imagination strained to acknowledge, 15
deep, deep and narrow the holes were bored
into the land's innards, and there, in savage routine,
Hiroshima blasts exploded, exploded, rape
repeated month after month for years.
What repelled me here was no common aridity 20
unappealing to lovers of lakes and trees,
but anguish, lineaments drab with anguish. This terrain
turned to the human world a gaze
of scorn, victim to tormentor.
revulsion unstiffened itself, I learned
almost to love
the dry and hostile earth, its dusty growth
of low harsh plants, sparse in unceasing wind;
could almost have bent 30
to kiss that leper face.
Dom Helder Camara at the Nuclear Test Site
By Denise Levertov
Dom Helder, octagenarian wisp
of human substance arrived from Brazil,
raises his arms and gazes toward
a sky pallid with heat, to implore
—then waves a ‗goodbye for now‘
to God, as to a compadre .
‗The Mass is over, go in peace
to love and serve the Lord‘: he walks
down with the rest of us to cross 10
the cattle-grid, entering forbidden ground
where marshals wait with their handcuffs.
After hours of waiting,
penned into two wire-fenced enclosures, sun
climbing to cloudless zenith, till everyone 15
has been processed, booked, released to trudge
one by one up the slope to the boundary line
back to a freedom that‘s not so free,
we are all reassembled. We form
two circles, one contained in the other, to dance 20
clockwise and counterclockwise
like children in Duncan‘s vision.
But not to the song of ashes, of falling:
we dance in the unity that brought us here,
instinct pulls us into the ancient 25
rotation, symbol of continuance.
Light and persistent as tumbleweed,
but not adrift, Dom Helder, too,
faithful pilgrim, dances,
dances at the turning core. 30
Ode for the American Dead in Asia
By Thomas McGrath
God love you now, if no one else will ever,
Corpse in the paddy, or dead on a high hill
In the fine and ruinous summer of a war
You never wanted. All your false flags were
Of bravery and ignorance, like grade school maps: 5
Colors of countries you would never see—
Until that weekend in eternity
When, laughing, well armed, perfectly ready to kill
The world and your brother, the safe commanders sent
You into your future. Oh, dead on a hill, 10
Dead in a paddy, leeched and tumbled to
A tomb of footnotes. We mourn a changeling: you:
The bee that spins his metal from the sun,
The shy mole drifting like a miner ghost
Through midnight earth—all happy creatures run 15
As strict as trains on rails the circuits of
Blink instinct. Happy in your summer follies,
You mined a culture that was mined for war:
The state to mold you, church to bless, and always
The elders to confirm you in your ignorance. 20
No scholar put your thinking cap on nor
Warned that in dead seas fishes died in schools
Before inventing legs to walk the land.
The rulers stuck a tennis racket in your hand,
An Ark against the flood. In time of change 25
Courage is not enough: the blind mole dies,
And you on your hill, who did not know the rules.
Wet in the windy counties of the dawn
The lone crow skirls his draggled passage home:
And God (whose sparrows fall aslant his gaze, 30
Like grace or confetti) blinks and he is gone,
And you are gone. Your scarecrow valor grows
And rusts like early lilac while the rose
Blooms in Dakota and the stock exchange
Flowers. Roses, rents, all things conspire 35
To crown you death with wreaths of living fire.
And the public mourners come: the politic tear
Is cast in the Forum. But, in another year,
We will mourn you, whose fossil courage fills
The limestone histories: brave: ignorant: amazed: 40
Dead in the rice paddies, dead on the nameless hills.
On a Certain Engagement South of Seoul
By Hayden Carruth
A long time, many years, we‘ve had these wars.
When they were opened, one can scarcely say.
We were high school students, no more than sophomores,
When Italy broke her peace on a dark day,
And that was not the beginning. The following years 5
Grew crowded with destruction and dismay.
When I was nineteen, once the surprising tears
Stood in my eyes and stung me, for I saw
A soldier in a newsreel clutch his ears
To hold his face together. Those that paw 10
The public‘s bones to eat the public‘s heart
Said far too much, of course. The sight, so raw
And unbelievable, of people blown apart
Was enough to change us without that bark and whine.
We grew disconsolate. Each had his chart 15
To mark on the kitchen wall the battle-line,
But many were out of date. The radio
Droned through the years, a faithful anodyne.
Yet the news of this slight encounter somewhere below
Seoul stirs my remembrance: we were a few, 20
Sprawled on the stiff grass of a small plateau,
Afraid. No one was dead. But we were new—
We did not know that probably none would die.
Slowly, then, all vision went askew.
My clothing was outlandish; earth and sky 25
Were metallic and horrible. We were unreal,
Strange bodies and alien minds; we could not cry
For even our eyes seemed to be made of steel;
Nor could we look at one another, for each
Was a sign of fear, and we could not conceal 30
Our hatred for our friends. There was no speech.
We sat alone, all of us, trying to wake
Some memory of the selves beyond our reach.
That place was conquered. The nations undertake
Another campaign now, in another land, 35
A stranger land perhaps. And we forsake
The miseries there that we can‘t understand
Just as we always have. Yet still my glimpse
Of a scene on the distant field can make my hand
Tremble again. How quiet we are. One limps, 40
One cannot walk at all, or one is all right,
But one has this experience that crimps
Forgetfulness, especially at night.
Is this a bond? Does this make us brothers?
Or does it bring our hatred back? I might 45
Have known, but now I do not know. Others
May know. I know when I walk out-of-doors
I have a sorrow not wholly mine, but another‘s.
A Korean Woman Seated by a Wall
By William Meredith
Suffering has settled like a sly disguise
On her cheerful old face. If she dreams beyond
Rice and a roof, now toward the end of winter,
Is it of four sons gone, the cries she has heard,
A square farm in the south, soured by tents? 5
Some alien and untranslatable loss
Is a mask she smiles through at the weak sun
That is moving north to invade the city again.
A poet penetrates a dark disguise
After his own conception, little or large. 10
Crossing the scaleless asia of trouble
Where it seems no one could give himself away,
He gives himself away, he sets a scale.
Hunger and pain and death, the sorts of loss,
Dispute our comforts like peninsulas 15
Of no particular value, places to fight.
And what is it in suffering dismays us more:
The capriciousness with which it is dispensed
Or the unflinching way we see it home?
She may be dreaming of her wedding gift; 20
A celadon bowl of a good dynasty
With cloud and heron cut in its green paste,
It sleeps in a hollow bed of pale blue silk.
The rice it bought was eaten the second winter.
And by what happier stove is it unwrapped 25
In the evening now and passed around like meat,
Making a foliage in the firelight?
She shifts the crate she sits on as the March
Wind mounts from the sea. The sun moves down the sky
Perceptibly, like the hand of a public clock, 30
In increments of darkness though ablaze.
Ah, now she looks at me. We are unmasked
And exchange what roles we guess at for an instant.
The questions Who comes next and Why not me
Rage at and founder my philosophy. 35
Guilt beyond my error and a grace past her grief
Alter the coins I tender cowardly,
Shiver the porcelain fable to green shards.
By Myung Mi Kim (b. 1957)
Is distance. If she knows it
Casting and again casting into the pond to hook the same turtle
Beset by borders conquered, disfigured
One house can be seen
Then another thatched roof 5
On this side of the sea the rancor of their arrival
Where invasion occurs according to schedule
Evacuees, a singular wave set against stubbled bluffs
Rigor of those who carry households on their backs
Above: victims. 10
Below: Chonui, a typical Korean town. In the distance,
a 155-mm shell has exploded.
Of elders who would have been sitting in the warmest part
of the house with comforters draped around their shoulders
peeling tangerines 15
Of an uncle with shrapnel burrowing into shinbone
for thirty years
A wave of much white cloth
Handful of millet, a pair of never worn shoes, one chicken
grabbed by the neck, ill-prepared for carrying, 20
Not to have seen it yet inheriting it
Drilled at the core for mineral yield and this, once depleted,
never to be replaced
At dawn the next morning, firing his machine gun, Corporal Leonard H. 25
was shot and instantly killed while stopping the Reds‘ last attempts
to overrun and take the hilltop
The demoralized ROK troops disappeared but the handful of Americans,
completely surrounded, held out for seven hours against continuous
attack, until all ammunition was exhausted 30
General D.‘s skillful direction of the flight was fully as memorable
as his heroic personal participation with pistol and bazooka
Shooting Stars 35
They could handle them if they would only use the weapons we have
given them properly, said Colonel Wright
Lockheed F-04 Starfire
Lockheed F-803 40
Bell H-13 Sioux
More kept coming. More fell
Is distance. If she could know it
Citizens to the streets marching 45
Their demands lettered in blood
The leader counters them
With gas meant to thwart any crowd‘s ambition
And they must scatter, white cloths over their faces
Every month on the 15th, there is an air raid drill sometime during 50
the day, lasting approximately 15 minutes. When the siren goes off,
everyone must get off the streets. An all clear siren marks the
end of the drill.
And how long practice how long drill to subvert what borders are
What must we call each other if we meet there 55
Brother sister neighbor lover go unsaid what we are
Tens of thousands of names
Go unsaid the family name
Sun, an affliction hitting white
Retinue of figures dwindling to size 60
The eye won‘t be appeased
His name stitched on his school uniform, flame
Flame around what will fall as ash
Kerosene soaked skin housing what will burn
Fierce tenement of protest 65
Faces spread in a field
On the breeze what might be azaleas in full bloom
Composed of many lengths of bone
By Suji Kwock Kim (b. 1968)
In the dream vultures circle above my mother‘s cousin.
Eye the gash blown in his belly
by Soviet T-34 tanks or U.S. rocket-launchers
shooting at each other blind across the Naktong River—
a million refugees caught in the crossfire, 5
crossing far as the eye can see.
Vultures smell the kill.
My mother screams when one drops
on his chest, thrashing for foothold,
his small body shaking beneath its wings, 10
talons ripping away strips
of flesh like bandages.
She beats it with her walking stick
until it flies hissing to another corpse.
Then another one lands, then another, then another, 15
her beating the stick until they fly away too,
not for good, swarming again and again to his half-gnawed body,
wave after wave.
Her mother shouts at her to leave him.
Digs her nails into her arm and drags her on. 20
My mother can‘t see his face anymore
for their jaws, chewing on twisted entrails,
insides pulled out like ropes from the mast of the spine,
all the bleeding sinews and nerves, strange jellies,
all the hieroglyphs of generation. 25
Why won‘t they speak.
I know you were real, even if I can only see you
in dreams, I see
we‘ll never meet.
It‘s humiliating to wake up 30
alive, fifty years later, when I couldn‘t have saved you.
I couldn‘t have saved a dog.
For the birds change their faces
and wear the faces of soldiers.
Fragments of the Forgotten War
By Suji Kwock Kim (b. 1968)
FOR MY FATHER
You whom I could not protect,
when will I forget you:
when will I forget the Northern soldiers who took you away for questioning,
so we never saw you again?
We three sons fled south in January 1951 5
without you, with a million others
on Shinjangno, the old Imperial Highway between P‘yongyang and Seoul—
I felt artillery crash miles away in the soles of my feet, the ground shuddering.
I heard the drone and snarl of engines as B-29 bombers swarmed toward us
like a war in heaven but not heaven, 10
a war between gods who weren‘t gods,
now missiles whistling on their search-and-destroy,
now the endless columns of refugees screaming in terror,
now delayed-fuse demolition bombs exploding all around us,
blowing craters larger than houses, 15
now firing white phosphorous flares 3000 feet high,
while we knelt like beggars before the blasts,
using the dead as shields, corpse-greaved,
covering our faces from the blizzard of shrapnel,
blizzard of limbs and flaming skin, 20
of all who left this world in a grave of smoke.
I‘ll never forget the smell of burning flesh.
I‘ll never forget the stench of open sores, pus, gangrene;
the smell of people rotting who hadn‘t died yet:
or the cries of the wounded moaning without morphine, 25
a boy sinking his teeth into his arm
to take his mind off the gash that ripped his stomach,
biting down and down until you saw bone glinting through
like teeth in a mass grave.
At night we fought for the few standing barns, shacks, outhouses. 30
Without fuel we burned shit for heat
until the light from our fires drew bombers.
We caught fever and frostbite from walking hundreds of miles
walking through Taejon, the Chollas, Taegu, Chinju. 35
When food ran out we ate cattle feed,
ate bark, ate lice from our own bodies
until our gums bled,
until we could only shit water by the time we got to Pusan.
What I wouldn‘t give to bring back that miserable village I hated as a boy. 40
Sometimes in my dreams you hoot like a soul-owl,
What have you done with your life,
who will you become, who, who, who?
I can only speak to you in broken things,
I can only speak in bullets, grenade-shards, mortar casings and ROKA barricades: 45
I know I‘m orphaned,
I know you suffered, but I‘ll never know how.
I think of the loneliness of the dying,
the bodies I saw along the way, rotting separately:
I think of that boy biting his arm 50
who didn‘t live through the night,
wild dogs gnawing at his skull in the morning, his whole face and ―exit wound‖:
I think of a carcass foaming with maggots, the bone black with hatching flies.
President Lyndon Johnson and Vietnam
By Aaron Kramer
Hushabye, baby, no sense weeping:
if one more village burns while you‘re sleeping
next year will come, or the year after
Ladybird Johnson with speeches and laughter.
Into the grave that once was a country, 5
into hushed forests, with vultures for sentry,
past orphans‘ eyes, like an Angel of Mercy,
Ladybird Johnson will come with a curtsy.
Magic white fingers this lady possesses;
love of all landscape this lady professes. 10
She shall advance, while the cameras follow,
through the black fields, the cities bombed hollow.
Ladybird Johnson, with wand like a witch‘s,
soon will make whole the wounds of our hutches,
soon will make green the woods and the meadows 15
under which live the loves of our widows.
Hushabye, baby, no sense weeping:
if one more village burns while you‘re sleeping
next year will come, or the year after
Ladybird Johnson with speeches and laughter. 20
A Miltonic Sonnet for Mr. Johnson on His Refusal of Peter Hurd’s Official Portrait
By Richard Wilbur
Heir to the office of a man not dead
Who drew our Declaration up, who planned
Range and Rotunda with his drawing-hand
And harbored Palestrina in his head,
Who would have wept to see small nations dread 5
The imposition of our cattle-brand,
With public truth at home mistold or banned,
And in whose term no army‘s blood was shed,
Rightly you say the picture is too large
Which Peter Hurd by your appointment drew, 10
And justly call that Capitol too bright
Which signifies our people in your charge;
Wait, Sir, and see how time will render you,
Who talk of vision but are weak of sight.
6 January 1967
The Tet Offensive
The Way of Tet
By Bruce Weigl
Year of the monkey, year of the human wave,
the people smuggled weapons in caskets through the city
in long processions undisturbed
and buried them in Saigon graveyards.
At the feet of their small Buddhas 5
weary bar girls burned incense
before the boy soldiers arrived
to buy them tea and touch them
where they pleased. Twenty years
and the feel of a girl‘s body 10
so young there‘s no hair
is like a dream, but living is a darker thing,
the iron burning bee who drains the honey,
and he remembers her
twisting in what evening 15
light broke into the small room in the shack
in the labyrinth of shacks
in the alley where the lost and corrupted kept house.
He undressed her for the last time,
each piece of clothing 20
a sacrifice she surrendered to the war
the way the world had become.
Tomorrow blood would run in every province.
Tomorrow people would rise from tunnels everywhere
and resurrect something ancient from inside them, 25
and the boy who came ten thousand miles to touch her
small self lies beside the girl whose words he can‘t understand,
their song a veil between them.
She is a white bird in the bamboo, fluttering.
She is so small he imagines 30
he could hold all of her
in his hands and lift her to the black
sky beyond the illumination round‘s white light
where she would fly from her life
and the wounds from the lovers would heal, 35
the broken skin grow back.
But he need only touch her, only
lift the blanket from her shoulders
and the automatic shape of love unfolds,
the flare‘s light burning down on them, 40
lost in a wave that arrives
after a thousand years of grief
at their hearts.
U. S. Bombing of Vietnam and Cambodia
Driving through Minnesota during the Hanoi Bombings
By Robert Bly
We drive between lakes just turning green;
Late June. The white turkeys have been moved
A second time to new grass.
How long the seconds are in great pain!
Terror just before death, 5
Shoulders torn, shot
From helicopters. ―I saw the boy
being tortured with a telephone generator,‖
The sergeant said.
―I felt sorry for him 10
And blew his head off with a shotgun.‖
These instants become crystals,
The grass cannot dissolve. Our own gaiety
Will end up 15
In Asia, and you will look down in your cup
Our own cities were the ones we wanted to bomb!
Therefore we will have to 20
Go far away
For the suffering of the stringy-chested
And the short rice-fed ones, quivering
In the helicopter like wild animals, 25
Shot in the chest, taken back to be questioned.
Bomb Crater Sky
By Lam Thi My Da
Trans. from Vietnamese by Martha Collins and Thuy Dinh
They say that you, a road builder
Had such love for our country
You rushed out and waved your torch
To call the bombs down on yourself
And save the road for the troops 5
As my unit passed on that worn road
The bomb crater reminded us of your story
Your grave is radiant with bright-colored stones
Piled high with love for you, a young girl
As I looked in the bomb crater where you died 10
The rain water became a patch of sky
Our country is kind
Water from the sky washes pain away
Now you lie down deep in the earth
As the sky lay down in that earthen crater 15
At night your soul sheds light
Like the dazzling stars
Did your soft white skin
Become a bank of white clouds?
By day I pass under a sun-flooded sky 20
And it is your sky
And that anxious, wakeful disc
Is it the sun, or is it your heart
Lighting my way
As I walk down the long road? 25
The name of the road is your name
Your death is a young girl's patch of blue sky
My soul is lit by your life
And my friends, who never saw you
Each has a different image of your face 30
Her Life Runs like a Red Silk Flag
By Bruce Weigl
Because this evening Miss Hoang Yen
sat down with me in the small
tiled room of her family house
I am unable to sleep.
We shared a glass of cold and sweet water. 5
On a blue plate her mother brought us
cake and smiled her betel-black teeth at me
but I did not feel strange in the house
my country had tried to bomb into dust.
In English thick and dazed as blood 10
she told me how she watched our planes
cross her childhood‘s sky,
all the children of Hanoi
carried in darkness to mountain hamlets, Nixon‘s
Christmas bombing. She let me hold her hand, 15
her shy unmoving fingers, and told me
how afraid she was those days and how this fear
had dug inside her like a worm and lives
inside her still, won‘t die or go away.
And because she‘s stronger, she comforted me, 20
said I‘m not to blame,
the million sorrows alive in her gaze.
With the dead we share no common rooms.
With the frightened we can‘t think straight;
no words can bring the burning city back. 25
Outside on Hung Dao Street
I tried to say good-bye and held her hand
too long so she looked back through traffic
towards her house and with her eyes
she told me I should leave. 30
All night I ached for her and for myself
and nothing I could think or pray
would make it stop. Some birds sang morning
home across the lake. In small reed boats
the lotus gatherers sailed out 35
among their resuming white blossoms.
By Bruce Weigl
Through dark tenements and fallen temples
we wander into Old Hanoi,
oil lamps glowing in small
storefronts and restaurants
where those, so long ago my enemy, 5
sit on low chairs and praise the simple evening.
On one block
the rich steam from pho,
their morning and evening soup, rises,
on another 10
brown smoked ducks are strung up in a row.
The people talk and smoke,
men hold each other‘s hands again in that old way
their black and white laughter all around us, 15
kick the weighted feather
with such grace into the air
because the bombs have stopped. And further
to the Long Bien bridge
where we meet a man 20
hung across his back‘s yoke
to bring cool water to his corn
in the moonlight.
When we ask our questions 25
he points to a stone and stick
house beyond the dikes
one thousand meters from the bridge
our great planes
could not finally knock down. 30
He doesn‘t say
how he must have huddled
those nights with his family,
how he must have spread himself
over them 35
until the village bell
called them back to their beds.
There are questions which
people who have everything
ask people who have nothing 40
and they do not understand.
(Hanoi, December 1985)
By Anne Sexton
We are America.
We are the coffin fillers.
We are the grocers of death.
We pack them in crates like cauliflowers.
The bomb opens like a shoebox. 5
And the child?
The child is certainly not yawning.
And the woman?
The woman is bathing her heart.
It has been torn out of her 10
and because it is burnt
and as a last act
she is rinsing it off in the river.
This is the death market.
where are your credentials?
Where Is Vietnam?
By Lawrence Ferlinghetti
Meanwhile back at the Ranch the then President also known
as Colonel Cornpone got out a blank Army draft and began to
fill in the spaces with men and Colonel Cornpone got down to
the bottom of the order where there is a space to indicate just
where the troops are to be sent and Colonel Cornpone got a far-
away look in his eye and reached out and started spinning a 5
globe of the world and his eye wandered over the spinning sur-
face of the world and after a long time he said I See No Relief
so they brought him a relief map of the world and he looked at
it a long time and said Thank You Gentlemen I see it all very
clearly now yes indeed everything stands out very clearly now 10
and I can see the oceans themselves rolling back and Western
Civilization still marching Westward around the world and the
New Frontier now truly knows no boundaries and those there
Vietnamese don't stand a Chinaman's chance in Hell but still
there's all these Chinamen who think they do and also think 15
they can actually reverse the Westward march of civilization
and actually reverse the natural Westward spin of our globe
but Gentlemen these are not War Games this is not Space
Angels this is the real thing Gentlemen and I know right ex-
actly where this here Vietnam is Gentlemen and I want to make 20
doubly sure that all our own people know right exactly where
this here Vietnam is Gentlemen in case any of you should hap-
pen to get cornered by some eggheads or someone And just then
Ladybird came running and Colonel Cornpone stepped into
the cloakroom and whispered to her The world really does 25
rotate Westward don't it? and she being smarter than he as is
usually the case whispered back that this here Vietnam was not
a place but a state of mind and Colonel Cornpone got that old
faraway look again and stepped back onto the front porch and
sat there rocking for a long time and then said Gentlemen I am 30
a family man and this is for real and I am hereby ordering the
complete and final liberation of Vietmind I mean Vietnam for
the roots of the trouble are found wherever the landless and
oppressed the poor and despised stand before the gates of op-
portunity and are not allowed across the Frontier into the 35
Great Society which seems to lie out before me like a land of
dreams and so Gentlemen here we go fasten your seatbelts we
are powerful and free and united there ain't much we can't do
and so Gentlemen let me point out to you exactly where it is
we all are going on this here globe because Gentlemen even 40
though I am reputed never to have been out of the United
States I do know right where we are going on the brink of Viet-
mind I mean Vietnam and even though we don't want to stop
the world spinning in the right direction even for an instant I
do want to slow it down just long enough for me to put my fin- 45
ger for you right on this here sore spot which is Vietmine I
mean Vietnam and Colonel Cornpone put out his hand to slow
down the world just a bit but this world would not be slowed
down a bit this world would not stop spinning at all and Texas
and Vietnam spun on together faster and faster slipping away 50
under Colonel Cornpone's hand because the surface of this
world had suddenly become very very slippery with a strange
kind of red liquid that ran on it across all the obscene bound-
aries and this world went on spinning faster and faster in the
same so predestined direction and kept on spinning and spin- 55
ning and spinning and spinning!
(1966; pub. 1973)
Third World Calling
By Lawrence Ferlinghetti
This loud morning
sensed a small cry in
caught somewhere on 5
an inner page
decide to travel for lunch &
end up in an automat
White House Cafeteria 10
looking thru a little window
put a nickle in the slot
and out comes
Taking a tour 15
of the rest of that building
I hear a small cry
beyond the rice paddies
between floors where
the escalator sticks 20
and remember last night's dream of
attending my own funeral
at a drive-in mortuary
not really believing
I was that dead 25
Someone throwing rice
All the windows dry
Tipped the coffin open & laughed
and out falls 30
the bargain tragedian
with a small cry
followed by sound of Che Guevara singing 35
in the voice of Fidel
Far over the Perfume River
the clouds pass
carrying small cries
The monsoon has set in 40
the windows weep
back up to
on a flatbed truck 45
and unload the small brown bodies
fresh from the blasted fields!
My Lai Massacre
From ―Letters to Dr. Y.‖
By Anne Sexton
I‘m dreaming the My Lai soldier again,
I‘m dreaming the My Lai soldier night after night.
He rings the door like the Fuller Brush Man
and wants to shake hands with me
and I do because it would be rude to say no 5
and I look at my hand and it is green
And they won‘t come off,
they won‘t. He apologizes for this over and over.
The My Lai soldier lifts me up again and again 10
and lowers me down with the other dead women and babies
saying, It’s my job. It’s my job.
Then he gives me a bullet to swallow
like a sleeping tablet.
I am lying in this belly of dead babies 15
each one belching up the yellow grasses of death
and their mothers tumble, eyeballs, knees, upon me,
each for the last time, each authentically dead.
The soldier stands on a stepladder above us
pointing his red penis right at me and saying, 20
Don’t take this personally.
December 17, 1969
Combat, Casualties, and the Vietnam War Memorial
By Michael Collier
The shape of it bending like an eel
or disfigured quarter moon, pink and green
and brown, like a rainbow trout. The wall
along my bed covered with the map I cut
from the newspaper, and next to it the fishing 5
calendar from Abonauder‘s Texaco. The square
cages of days with their numerals and effigies
of moon and fish shaded to indicate the shape
of the moon, the hunger of the fish.
The white bread stripped of its crust, dampened, 10
then dusted with flour, compressed into a tight ball,
wrapped in foil and chilled all night.
A piece of it pressed and shaped on the tip
of an Eagle Claw hook, then lowered into the nesting holes
of blue gill. The plastic bobber floating 15
on the surface like a silent doorbell. A whole world
of cause and effect, framed day-by-day and week-by-week.
The passage of time as a kind of game in which
I transferred numbers from the newspaper
to the calendar. The body counts and their categories 20
of NVRA, Marines, Montagnards.
And each morning I put a bold X through the previous
day not to erase or forget it but to connect
the corners, make four triangles of the square.
And it was rare if not impossible to catch 25
the blue gill that swam and swam around
the tidy pebble craters of their nests,
or coax them out except in hostile swerves
and feints toward the bait that hung
like a balloon of gravity over their homes, 30
a suspicious egg pouch or cocoon, something
a storm might have dislodged from the bank
and blown like a feared gift into the water,
a thing swallowed whole then run with
until the line played out and the hook set fast. 35
Song of Napalm
By Bruce Weigl
for my wife
After the storm, after the rain stopped pounding,
We stood in the doorway watching horses
Walk off lazily across the pasture‘s hill.
We stared through the black screen,
Our vision altered by the distance 5
So I thought I saw a mist
Kicked up around their hooves when they faded
Like cut-out horses
Away from us.
The grass was never more blue in that light, more 10
Scarlet; beyond the pasture
Trees scraped their voices into the wind, branches
Crisscrossed the sky like barbed wire
But you said they were only branches.
Okay. The storm stopped pounding. 15
I am trying to say this straight: for once
I was sane enough to pause and breathe
Outside my wild plans and after the hard rain
I turned my back on the old curses. I believed
They swung finally away from me ... 20
But still the branches are wire
And thunder is the pounding mortar,
Still I close my eyes and see the girl
Running from her village, napalm
Stuck to her dress like jelly, 25
Her hands reaching for the no one
Who waits in waves of heat before her.
So I can keep on living,
So I can stay here beside you,
I try to imagine she runs down the road and wings 30
Beat inside her until she rises
Above the stinking jungle and her pain
Eases, and your pain, and mine.
But the lie swings back again.
The lie works only as long as it takes to speak 35
And the girl runs only as far
As the napalm allows
Until her burning tendons and crackling
Muscles draw her up
into that final position 40
Burning bodies so perfectly assume. Nothing
Can change that; she is burned behind my eyes
And not your good love and not the rain-swept air
And not the jungle green
Pasture unfolding before us can deny it. 45
Life at War
By Denise Levertov
The disasters numb within us
caught in the chest, rolling
in the brain like pebbles. The feeling
resembles lumps of raw dough
weighing down a child‘s stomach on baking day. 5
Or Rilke said it, ‗My heart. . .
Could I say of it, it overflows
with bitterness . . . but no, as though
its contents were simply balled into
formless lumps, thus 10
do I carry it about.‘
The same war
We have breathed the grits of it in, all our lives,
or lungs are pocked with it, 15
the mucous membrane of our dreams
coated with it, the imagination
filmed over with the gray filth of it:
the knowledge that humankind,
delicate Man, whose flesh 20
responds to a caress, whose eyes
are flowers that perceive the stars,
whose music excels the music of birds,
whose laughter matches the laughter of dogs,
whose understanding manifests designs 25
fairer than the spider‘s most intricate web,
still turns without surprise, with mere regret
to the scheduled breaking open of breasts whose milk
runs out over the entrails of still-alive babies,
transformation of witnessing eyes to pulp-fragments, 30
implosion of skinned penises into carcass-gulleys.
We are the humans, men who can make;
whose language imagines mercy,
lovingkindness; we have believed one another
mirrored forms of a God we felt as good— 35
who do these acts, who convince ourselves
it is necessary; these acts are done
to our own flesh; burned human flesh
is smelling in Viet Nam as I write.
Yes, this is the knowledge that jostles for space 40
in our bodies along with all we
go on knowing of joy, of love;
our nerve filaments twitch with its presence
day and night,
nothing we say has not the husky phlegm of it in the saying, 45
nothing we do has the quickness, the sureness,
the deep intelligence living at peace would have.
By Denise Levertov
Because in Vietnam the vision of a Burning Babe
is multiplied, multiplied,
the flesh on fire
not Christ‘s, as Southwell saw it, prefiguring
the Passion upon the Eve of Christmas, 5
but wholly human and repeated, repeated,
infant after infant, their names forgotten,
their sex unknown in the ashes,
set alight, flaming but not vanishing,
not vanishing as his vision but lingering, 10
cinders upon the earth or living on
moaning and stinking in hospitals three abed;
because of this my strong sight,
my clear caressive sight, my poet‘s sight I was given
that it might stir me to song, 15
There is a cataract filming over
my inner eyes. Or else a monstrous insect
has entered my head, and looks out
from my sockets with multiple vision, 20
seeing not the unique Holy Infant
burning sublimely, an imagination of redemption,
furnace in which souls are wrought into new life,
but, as off a beltline, more, more senseless figures aflame.
And this insect (who is not there— 25
it is my own eyes do my seeing, the insect
is not there, what I see is there)
will not permit me to look elsewhere,
or if I look, to see except dulled and unfocused
the delicate, firm, whole flesh of the still unburned. 30
Bashing the Babies
By John Ciardi
Sometimes you have hardly been born
when a king starts having dreams about you.
His troops get drunk then—they have to—
and a baby-crop sub-generation is torn
out if its mothers screams and bashed: 5
orders are orders.
You yourself were rushed
out of the kingdom and lived to become a reader.
(I am a poet, and talk poetry. A man,
and talk chances. A son, and live as I can. 10
And was a soldier, killing for my leader.
And was taken by wrong parents, though their flight
is proof they could be sometimes, someways, right.)
I submit we should do or at least say
something deliberate and reasoned now 15
about the bashed babies. That it was they,
not we. That the feast is ours, you
its superintendent. I? —no one comes through
that infantry untouched. I am in this, too—
a father, a son, where every day 20
half-masted smokes wave masses, and the press
wires back body counts to the nearest guess.
It is Easter. I rise fat, rich,
hand out chocolate eggs, later drink coffee,
smoke. My dog gulps the poverty 25
of India heaped in an aluminum dish:
meat, egg, milk, cereal, bone meal,
cod liver oil.
How shall we not feel
something for the babies who could not leave town? 30
who were not German Shepherds? who were hit
by their eggs and burned?
A few, of course, make out:
some mothers are shrewd hiders, some have known
a trooper—the occupied live as they can— 35
and even a drunken trooper is partly, in secret, a man.
But that evades the question. Being neither drunk
nor presently commanded, having run out
and made it to luck and, possibly, dispassion---what
do we do now? After creative funk? 40
After picketing flags? After burning the first draft
of everyone's card? After turning right? left?
We are—I believe you—one another's question.
How do we ask ourselves? Half-masted purple
burns from crosses. A genuflection 45
dips dark, rises golden. The spring-wound people
of Godthank heap flowers
in stone arches. "Come walk green,"
say the bashing bells of Sunday. "This world, ours
shines for you questioner. What will you mean 50
by what you ask us? What shall we
mean by what we answer? What are we born to be?"
"I am a ghost, and talk vapors. An easy man
tossing a stick for a dog on an Easter lawn,
and talk my own babies, that they grew 55
chocolate-lucky. Your man, and talk you,
because we were together and got away
without being bashed, and would like to have
something to say.
Any suggestions?—Well, have a good day. 60
The Vietnam Wall
By Alberto Rios
Have seen it
And I like it: The magic,
The way like cutting onions
It brings water out of nowhere.
Invisible from one side, a scar 5
Into the skin of the ground
From the other, a black winding
An archaeologist can explain. 10
The walk is slow at first,
Easy, a little black marble wall
Of a dollhouse,
A smoothness, a shine
The boys in the street want to give. 15
One name. And then more
Names, long lines, lines of names until
They are the shape of the U.N. Building
Taller than I am: I have walked
Into a grace. 20
And everything I expect has been taken away, like that, quick:
The names are not alphabetized.
They are in the order of dying,
An alphabet of—somewhere—screaming.
I start to walk out. I almost leave 25
But stop to look up names of friends,
My own name. There is somebody
Little kids do not make the same noise
Here, junior high school boys don't run 30
Or hold each other in headlocks.
No rules, something just persists
Like pinching on St. Patrick's Day
Every year for no green.
No one knows why. 35
Flowers are forced
Into the cracks
Men have cried
At this wall. 40
By Yusef Komunyakaa
My black face fades,
hiding inside the black granite.
I said I wouldn't,
dammit: No tears.
I'm stone. I'm flesh. 5
My clouded reflection eyes me
like a bird of prey, the profile of night
slanted against morning. I turn
this way— the stone lets me go.
I turn that way—I'm inside 10
the Vietnam Veterans Memorial
again, depending on the light
to make a difference.
I go down the 58,022 names,
half-expecting to find 15
my own in letters like smoke.
I touch the name Andrew Johnson;
I see the booby trap's white flash.
Names shimmer on a woman's blouse
but when she walks away 20
the names stay on the wall.
Brushstrokes flash, a red bird's
wings cutting across my stare.
The sky. A plane in the sky.
A white vet's image floats 25
closer to me, then his pale eyes
look through mine. I'm a window.
He's lost his right arm
inside the stone. In the black mirror
a woman's trying to erase names: 30
No, she's brushing a boy's hair.
A Note to Olga
By Denise Levertov
Of lead and emerald
that knocks my breastbone,
slung round my neck
on a rough invisible rope 5
that rubs the knob of my spine.
Though I forget you
a red coal from your fire
burns in that box.
On the Times Square sidewalk 10
we shuffle along, cardboard signs
—Stop the War—
slung round our necks.
hurry about, 15
shoulder to shoulder,
Your high soprano
sings out from just
in back of me— 20
We shall—I turn,
you're, I very well know,
and your voice, they say,
grew hoarse 25
from shouting at crowds . . .
sounds then hoarsely
from somewhere in front,
the paddywagon 30
you that is lifted
limp and ardent
off the dark snow
and shoved in, and driven away. 35
By Denise Levertov
i At the Justice Department
November 15, 1969
Brown gas-fog, white
beneath the street lamps.
Cut off on three sides, all space filled
with our bodies.
Bodies that stumble 5
in brown airlessness, whitened
in light, a mildew glare,
hand in hand, blinded, retching.
Wanting it, wanting 10
to be here, the body believing it‘s
dying in its nausea, my head
clear in its despair, a kind of joy,
knowing this is by no means death,
is trivial, an incident, a 15
fragile instant. Wanting it, wanting
with all my hunger this anguish,
this knowing in the body
the grim odds we‘re
up against, wanting it real. 20
Up that bank where gas
curled in the ivy, dragging each other
up, strangers, brothers
and sisters. Nothing
will do but 25
to taste the bitter
taste. No life
other, apart from.
The March 1
By Robert Lowell
[FOR DWIGHT MACDONALD]
Under the too white marmoreal Lincoln Memorial,
the too tall marmoreal Washington Obelisk,
gazing into the too long reflecting pool,
the reddish trees, the withering autumn sky,
the remorseless, amplified harangues for peace— 5
lovely to lock arms, to march absurdly locked
(unlocking to keep my wet glasses from slipping)
to see the cigarette match quaking in my fingers,
then to step off like green Union Army recruiters
for the first Bull Run, sped by photographers, 10
the notables, the girls . . . fear, glory, chaos, rout . . .
our green army staggered out on the miles-long green fields,
met by the other army, the Martian, the ape, the hero,
his new-fangled rifle, his green new steel helmet.
The March 2
By Robert Lowell
Where two or three were flung together, or fifty,
mostly white-haired, or bald, or women . . . sadly
unfit to follow their dream, I sat in the sunset
shade of our Bastille, the Pentagon,
nursing leg- and arch-cramps, my cowardly, 5
foolhardy heart; and heard, alas, more speeches,
though the words took heart now to show how weak
we were, and right. An MP sergeant kept
repeating, ―March slowly through them. Don‘t even brush
anyone sitting down.‖ They tiptoed through us 10
in single file, and then their second wave
trampled us flat and back. Health to those who held,
health to the green steel head . . . to your kind hands
that helped me stagger to my feet, and flee.
For the Student Strikers
By Richard Wilbur
Go talk with those who are rumored to be unlike you,
And whom, it is said, you are so unlike.
Stand on the stoops of their houses and tell them why
You are out on strike.
It is not yet time for the rock, the bullet, the blunt 5
Slogan that fuddles the mind toward force.
Let the new sound in our streets be the patient sound
Of your discourse.
Doors will be shut in your faces, I do not doubt.
Yet here or there, it may be, there will start, 10
Much as the lights blink on in a block at evening,
Changes of heart.
They are your houses; the people are not unlike you;
Talk with them, then, and let it be done
Even for the grey wife of your nightmare sheriff 15
And the guardsman‘s son.
written for the Wesleyan Strike News
The Cold War
By W. E. B. Du Bois
It was the end of a long, dark day; a day of sorrow and suffering. I was very, very weary. As the night fell and
the silence of death rose around me, I sat down and lay my face in my hands and closed my eyes. I heard my
own voice speaking:
Crucify us, Vengeance of God
As we crucify two more Jews,
Hammer home the nails, thick through our skulls,
Crush down the thorns,
Rain the red bloody sweat 5
Thick and heavy, warm and wet.
We are the murderers hurling mud
We the witchhunters, drinking blood
To us shriek five thousand Blacks
Lynched without trial 10
And hundred thousands mobbed
The millions dead in useless war.
But this, this awful deed we do today
This senseless, blasphemy of birth
Fills full the cup! 15
Hail Hell and glory to Damnation!
O blood-stained nation,
Stretch forth your hand! Grasp it, Judge
Wrap it in your blood-red gown
And Lawyer in your sheet of shame, 20
Proud pardoners of petty thieves
Cautious rabbis of just Jehovah,
And silent priests of the piteous Christ;
Crawl wedded liars, hide from sight,
In the dirt of all the night, 25
And hold high vigil at the dawn!
For yonder, two pale and tight-lipped children
Stagger across the world, bearing their dead
There lifts a light upon the Sea
With grim color, crooked form and broken lines; 30
With thunderous throb and roll of drums
Now out beyond the plain
Streams the thick sunshine, sheet on sheet
Of billowing light 35
Above the world loom vast sombre hills
Limned in lurid lightings:
While from beneath the hideous sickened earth,
The Sea rains up flood on flood to cleanse the heavens.
Twixt Sun and Sea, 40
Rises the Great Black Throne.
Sternly the pale children march on
Bearing high on their hands, Father and Mother
The drums roll until the Land quivers with pain
And slowly yawns: 45
The children prone bow down
They bow and kneel and lie;
They lay within the earth's deep breast
The beautiful young mother and her mate
Straight up from the endless depths 50
Rise then the Bearers of the Pall
Sacco and Vanzetti, old John Brown and Willie McGee.
They raise the crucified aloft.
The purple curtains of Death unwind.
Hell howls, Earth screams and Heaven weeps. 55
High from above its tears
Drops down a staircase from the Sun
Around it with upstretched hands
Surge of triumph and dirge of shame,
Gather the mighty Dead: 60
Buddha, Mahmoud, and Isiah,
Jesus, Lincoln, and Toussaint
Savonarola and Joan of Arc;
And all the other millions,
In throng on throng unending, weeping, singing, 65
With music rising heaven-high,
And bugles crying to the sky
With trumpets, harps, and dulcimers
With inward upward swell of utter song.
Then through their ranks, resplendent robes of silken velvet, 70
Broidered with flame, float down;
About the curling gown,
Drop great purple clouds, burgeon and enthrall,
Swirl out and grandly close, until alone
Two golden feet appear, 75
As of a king descending his throne.
In the great silence and embracing gloom,
We the murderers
Groan and moan:
"Hope of the Hopeless 80
Hear us pray!
America the Beautiful,
This day! This day!
Who was enthroned in sunlit air?
Who has been crowned on yonder stair? 85
Or Black Despair?"
The Threat of Nuclear War
By Michael Collier
When the fire bell rang its two short, one long
electric signal, the boys closest to the wall
of windows had to raise the blinds and close
the sashes, and then join the last of our line
as it snaked out the classroom onto the field 5
of asphalt where we stood, grade-by-grade,
until the principal appeared with her gold Timex.
We learned early that catastrophe must always
be attended in silence, that death prefers us
orderly and ordered, and that rules will save us 10
from the chaos of our fear, so that even
if we die, we die together, which was the calm
almost consoling thought I had each time
the yellow C.D. siren wailed and we would tuck
ourselves beneath our sturdy desktops. 15
Eyes averted from the windows,
We‘d wait for the drill to pass or until
the nun‘s rosary no longer clicked and we could hear
her struggling to free herself from the leg-well
of her desk, and then her call for us to rise 20
and, like herself, brush off the dust gathered
on our clothes. And then the lessons resumed.
No thought of how easily we interred ourselves,
though at home each would dream the mushroom cloud,
the white cap of apocalypse whose funnel stem 25
sucked glass from windows, air from lungs,
and made all these rehearsals the sad and hollow
gestures that they were, for we knew it in our bones
that we would die, curled in a last defense—
head on knees, arms locked around legs— 30
the way I‘ve seen it since in nursing homes
and hospices: forms bedsheets can‘t hide,
as if in death the body takes on the soul‘s
compact shape, acrobatic, posed to tumble free
of the desktop or bed and join the expanse 35
and wide scatter of debris.
Duck ’n’ Cover, 1953
By Peter Balakian
A shadow of a bough
hangs on the wall like a headless mutt.
Tic-Tac-Toe of the windows,
then maples like gold lamps.
We start with ―My country ‘tis of thee,‖ 5
and end with the Lord our Shepherd.
Out of the light blue
that siren makes us deaf.
Kimchee makes my father sick.
We know what to do. 10
We don‘t stumble on a shoe,
or move our pencils from the beveled grooves.
The nap of my crew cut bristles my knees.
I look at shoes and the shadows of leaves.
The light spills like a brook 15
into the seams of rocks.
Korea‘s a sky-blue thumb on our map above the sink.
The floorboards shine like honey.
Patent leather. Saddles. Bucks. Buster Browns.
There‘s a saying that passes among us like water— 20
put your head between your legs and kiss your ass good-bye.
The Y in my alphabet soup floated toward the Yalu.
Then we sit again on our maple chairs
bright as yellow jackets.
By Robert Lowell
Back and forth, back and forth
goes the tock, tock, tock
of the orange, bland, ambassadorial
face of the moon
on the grandfather clock. 5
All autumn, the chafe and jar
of nuclear war;
we have talked our extinction to death.
I swim like a minnow
behind my studio window. 10
Our end drifts nearer,
the moon lifts,
radiant with terror.
is a diver under a glass bell. 15
A father‘s no shield
for his child.
We are like a lot of wild
spiders crying together,
but without tears. 20
Nature holds up a mirror.
One swallow makes a summer.
It‘s easy to tick
off the minutes,
but the clockhands stick. 25
Back and forth!
Back and forth, back and forth—
my one point of rest
is the orange and the black
oriole‘s swinging nest! 30
Freies Geleit (Aria II) Safe Conduct (Aria II)
Bei Ingeborg Bachmann By Ingeborg Bachmann
Trans. from German by Peter Filkins
Mit schlaftrunkenen Vögeln With birds drunk with sleep
und winddurchschossenen Bäumen and trees shot through with wind
steht der Tag auf, und das Meer the day awakens, and the sea empties
leert einen schäumenden Becher auf ihn. a foaming cup to honor it.
Die Flüsse wallen ans große Wasser, Rivers surge towards the wide water, 5
und das Land legt Liebesversprechen and the land lays loving vows
der reinen Luft in den Mund of pure air inside the mouth
mit frischen Blumen. with its fresh flowers.
Die Erde will keinen Rauchpilz tragen, The Earth will have no mushroom cloud,
kein Geschöpf ausspeien vorm Himmel, nor spit out any creature towards heaven, 10
mit Regen und Zornesblitzen abschaffen with rain and thunderbolts it abolishes
die unerhörten Stimmen des Verderbens. the unbearable voice of destruction.
Mit uns will sie die bunten Brüder In us it wants the lively brothers
und grauen Schwestern erwachen sehn, and to see the gray sisters awakened,
den König Fisch, die Hoheit Nachtigall the King of Fish, the Royal Nightingale, 15
und den Feuerfürsten Salamander. and, Prince of Fire, the Salamander.
Für uns pflanzt sie Korallen ins Meer. For us it plants coral in the sea.
Wäldern befieht sie, Ruhe zu halten, It orders forests to maintain the quiet,
dem Marmor, die schöne Ader zu schwellen, for marble to swell its beautiful veins,
noch einmal dem Tau, über die Asche zu gehn. and once more for dew to settle on ashes. 20
Die Erde will ein freies Geleit ins All Earth wants safe conduct in its orbit,
jeden Tag aus der Nacht haben, each day we have in the face of night,
daß noch tausend und ein Morgen wird so that from ancient beauty renewed graces
von der alten Schönheit jungen Gnaden. on a thousand and one mornings will arise.
Neu unter dem Himmel New Under the Sky
Bei Ingeborg Bachmann By Ingeborg Bachmann
Trans. from German by Peter Filkins
Denkt daran, daß die Raketen, auch die raschen Consider what it means that your rockets,
erfundenen the missiles that were so quickly installed
Geschosse bald unmodern sein werdern will soon become outmoded,
daß ihr nach Mond ein anderes Gestirn that as you place another star, like the moon,
an die Brust nehmen werdet und uns fragen upon your breast you might ask us: 5
werdet: Habt ihr nichts Neues zu singen? Have you nothing to sing?
Denkt daran, daß dieser Zwist von Ost Consider what it means that this quarrel between East
und West bald ganz lächerlich sein wird and West will soon become ridiculous
und ihr werdet uns wieder fragen: damals, and you‘ll ask us once again: Even then,
habt ihr denn nicht begriffen, es war did you not grasp that it was 10
der Rede wert, versöhnt rascher, worth talking, that you should reconcile more quickly,
eh die Zeit es versöhnt nach viel Tränen before time does it for you after many tears
und Toden. Sagt etwas, ihr and many deaths? Say something, you makers of
das mit Zeit geht wie der große Liebes- that fits the times like the wings of love
und Todesflügel Sterbevogel neben and death of the mortal bird next to 15
der Arbeit. Gerechtigkeit ist, wenn one‘s work. Justice is when
jeder recht arbeitet und dabei denkt each works for the good and therefore thinks
so vernünftig ist, daß sein Gefühl so rationally that his feelings
nicht zurückfällt ins Jahr Tausend. don‘t regress to the year one thousand.
Die Dichtung ist das bleibende Brot Poetry is the bread that remains 20
für Menschen for humans.
es war dieser gemeinen Reden und Ängst nicht wert It was not worth all this talk and fear.
Neu unterm Himmel wäre Andres, richtig zu fühlen Something new under the sky would be to feel at
Ändert euch, verwendet ein neues Gefühl, macht peace.
diese Erfindung, macht den Raketen Ehre, Change yourselves, tap a new feeling, make this
erfindet den Menschen, einen, fähig invention stand up to rockets, 25
vernünftig in den Himmel zu greifen invent the human, one capable
und nach Wolken und Rosen wie Flammen of reaching reasonably for the sky,
aufgingen und Verlust auf Herrschaft for clouds and roses, the way flames
der über sich selbst herrscht rise up, or desire for a master
der über sich selbst herrscht who masters himself, 30
und einen Kreuzzug nur mehr and crusade only for
für das auferstandene Wort führt the word that rises from the dead
das heißt Menschlickeit which means the human.
Erfindet ruhig weiter, wir erfinden Just continue to invent, for we do not
ja nicht mehr gern, like to invent anymore. 35
wir vertrauen euch, aber uns nicht mehr. We trust you, but not ourselves any longer.
The Hunt for Communists—Martin Dies, HUAC, and
The Soul of Martin Dies
By Aaron Kramer
Jehovah sits upon his throne
of icicle and ivory stone.
An angel, playing on a lyre,
accompanies the blessed choir.
But suddenly the marble hall 5
is shaken by a bugle-call.
An Entrance-Guard arrives and speaks:
―A mortal soul has tried for weeks
to crash the gate. I must confess
it seems to have the wrong address.‖ 10
Jehovah says, ―Well, send it in.‖
A spirit, with transparent skin,
is brought before the throne, in view
of mighty God. ―And who are you?‖
―I am the soul of Martin Dies.‖ 15
Jehovah narrows both his eyes,
―I never heard of you.‖ The soul
replies ―My name is on the scroll
of Liberty. My hair turned grey
with worry for the U. S. A. 20
I pointed out how Moscow planned
to ravage all the virgin land,
how stealthily, by low intrigues
they made a dozen fronts and Leagues
to catch the working men, and fool 25
believing minds in home and school.
I heard a hundred-odd reports
of honest gentlemen, all sorts
of information—Lord, I tried
to rouse each town and country-side 30
against the plot that Moscow brewed.‖
The Lord said ―Sorry to intrude,
but I have heard you long enough.
Some things, more urgent than your stuff,
are waiting for attention. Go 35
to Hell! This place, I‘ll have you know,
takes no subversive souls.‖ And God
leapt up, and beat him with His rod,
and chased him to the Heaven‘s edge,
and hurled the spirit off a ledge. 40
A million miles poor Martin fell,
and crashed into the roof of Hell.
The scarlet Satan saw him drop
and helped the screaming soul to stop.
He spoke ―Good evening; what‘s your name?‖ 45
―Dies . . . Martin Dies . . .‖ ―I‘m glad you came;
your colleague, William Randolph Hearst,
has told me why you should be cursed.
He spoke about the work you did
to murder the New Deal, and rid 50
the U. S. A. of anyone
who might refuse to take a gun.
Although your work did not succeed,
I laud your talent to mislead,
and know that every damned soul 55
bids welcome to the flaming hole!‖
And now the Devil tried to pin
a medal on the spirit‘s skin.
But from the scarlet Satan turned
the soul of Dies, ―I won‘t be burned 60
with reds!‖ he screamed and ran away.
Within a cloud of harmless grey
between the Devil and the Lord
the soul has taken room and board.
And you can always see him there 65
declaiming in the hot, hot air.
By Aaron Kramer
Forgive me, dear, if I did not gasp.
Being the father‘s no easy task.
Next time you show me your toothless friend,
I promise: my hair will stand on end!
He really deserves the see me afraid— 5
he‘s the best jack-o-lantern that ever was made.
Don‘t think I‘m a stranger to Halloween:
I‘ve known how to make old ladies scream;
they‘d look out the window, and there I stood
moaning and groaning—in a white hood. 10
They‘d open the door, and there I grinned—
my witch‘s hair blown wild by the wind.
At midnight, when all on the list had been shocked,
we beat a retreat to our fort in the rocks.
There we joined hands, and mumbled the word 15
that only seven had every heard;
and while October flew off in a gale
we quaked in the dark at a ghostly tale.
I‘d like to be able to quake and gasp
at a story of ghosts, at a Halloween mask; 20
I‘d like us seven, turned women and men,
to huddle away from October again!
But Willie now is a ghost himself,
and Jean keeps hers on a secret shelf.
Philip‘s haunted—having grown rich; 25
and sweet, plump Ruth‘s being burned as a witch.
Mary and Bob have made friends with fear:
a black cat crosses their path each year.
—I, too, have been sometimes afraid to dream:
all year, one year, it was Halloween. . . . 30
By Aaron Kramer
We‘re called in; they‘ve called us in.
Not the hailstones did us in.
Open the mailbox—out pops a crow:
―You‘re called in. They want you in.‖
What for? We rush about: 5
wake from their folders the stapled, the labeled;
shock from their shoebox the summed, the canceled.
Empty the closets! Empty the bureaus!
We‘re called in; they‘ve called us in.
Breakfast of hemlock, dinner of stone, 10
night of wind accusing through teeth:
―Behind that wall, what were you up to?‖
O stapled, o labeled, o dated and numbered,
o alphabetized, o crowded in,
innocence unto innocence, 15
like boxcar pilgrims headed for Auschwitz:
Astound the roads! make pale whatever
has called us in, whatever peeks
through blinds, whatever waits at checkpoints,
whatever picks from a desk without looking 20
one right rubber-stamp out of a hundred!
Let it see, not the dread that roars through our pupils
but a calendar year of innocence, stapled
in cartons, labeled in shopping bags!
We‘re called in; they‘ve called us in. 25
What for? No asking now.
They‘ll do the asking, we the stammering.
But our innocence—what of that?
But the hailstones—what of that?
Who‘ll ever call us in for that? 30
hold out a hand, a trophy in it?
They call our name . . . they hold our year
like testicles in the palm of your hand.
By Edwin Rolfe
The girl lashed to the stake
and the figures around the pyramid
of faggots and horror are weirdly alike
in the seething glow of the fire.
The one on the stake writhes in agony of pain, 5
the others in agony of obscene pleasure.
One burns in her flesh,
the others in flesh-lust.
One loses, horribly, her life;
the others everything except their lives. 10
―Witch! Witch! Witch!‖ shouts the circle of frenzied faces
at the burning woman on the stake,
past loneliness, past agony, past everything.
The repeated word is a roll call of those present,
naming not her on the stake 15
(nor Him on the Cross)
but themselves. Malibu
August 29, 1949
Little Ballad for Americans—1954
By Edwin Rolfe
Brother, brother, best avoid your workmate—
Words planted in affection can spout a field of hate.
Housewife, housewife, never trust your neighbor—
A chance remark may boomerang to five years at hard labor.
Student, student, keep mouth shut and brain spry— 5
Your best friend Dick Merriwell‘s employed by the F.B.I.
Lady, lady, make your phone calls frugal—
The chief of all Inquisitors has ruled the wire-tap legal.
Daughter, daughter, learn soon your heart to harden—
They‘ve planted stoolies everywhere; why not in kindergarten? 10
Lovers, lovers, be careful when you‘re wed—
The wire-tap grows in living-room, in auto, and in bed.
Give full allegiance only to circuses and bread;
No person‘s really trustworthy until he‘s dead.
By Edwin Rolfe
Dear wife after less than half an hour
of simple questions and answers
the grand jury indicted me
they even had photostats of my cancelled checks
photostats of my signatures 5
photographs of me among others
in that demonstration at the city hall.
So now I suppose I shall have to stand trial
what the outcome will be I cannot say.
To say I am bewildered by what has happened 10
is to understate it. Nevertheless
my confusion is less now than when the hearing started.
Now, before I return
there are a few things I would like you to do:
first, cancel our checking account 15
(from now on when I give I‘ll give in cash
and the bank can not, I see now, be trusted).
Second, send the children up to Jim‘s
in the country until this blows over;
I don‘t want them to face the cruelty 20
of their classmates, possibly even their teachers.
And third—and this is most important—
find out who those people were—
the people who asked me to sign that letter,
who asked me for that small contribution, 25
who prompted me to join the demonstration.
By the time I return
I want to know them better
I have lots of questions to ask
many things to find out 30
and they‘re the ones I have a hunch
who can tell me everything I want to know.
Are You Now or Have You Ever Been
By Edwin Rolfe
I admit it: there was a moment of pity
a vulnerable second of sympathy
my defenses were down
and I signed the letter asking clemency
for the six Negroes the letter 5
hereinafter known as Exhibit A
I signed the letter yes
the signature is indubitably mine
and later this at another time
I wrote a small check yes small 10
since my income is small
perhaps ten dollars not more
for the fund these people were collecting
to keep the refugees alive
and then again in a moment of weakness 15
I promised and kept my promise
to join the demonstration at the city hall
protesting the raising of rents
no you needn‘t show me the photograph
I was there I admit it I was there 20
but please believe me
everything I did was done through weakness if you will
but it‘s strange how weakness of this kind snowballs
before they approached me with that innocent petition 25
I was may it please the court exactly
like you like every other man
I lived my own life solely suffered
only my own sorrows and enjoyed my own triumphs
small ones I grant you 30
asked nothing from
gave nothing to
except myself my wife my children
so there you have it 35
it is all true
Exhibits A and B and C
and the witnesses don‘t lie
I wanted to help those six men stay alive
I thought them innocent 40
I honestly believed the rents were too high
(no, I own no tenements)
and the anguish of the refugees starving far from home
moved me I admit more than it should have
perhaps because I still retain 45
a fleeting childhood picture of my great grandfather‘s face
he too was a refugee
The Hungarian Revolution and U.S. Involvement
By E. E. Cummings
a monstering horror swallows
this unworld me by you
as the god of our fathers' fathers bows
to a which that walks like a who
but the voice-with-a-smile of democracy 5
announces night & day
"all poor little peoples that want to be free
just trust in the u s a"
suddenly uprose hungary
and she gave a terrible cry 10
"no slave's unlife shall murder me
for i will freely die"
she cried so high thermopylae
heard her and marathon
and all prehuman history 15
and finally The UN
"be quiet little hungary
and do as you are bid
a good kind bear is angary
we fear for the quo pro quid" 20
uncle sam shrugs his pretty
pink shoulders you know how
and he twitches a liberal titty
and lisps "I'm busy right now"
so rah-rah-rah democracy 25
let's all be as thankful as hell
and bury the statue of liberty
(because it begins to smell)
The U.S. in a Divided Berlin
Das deutsche Wunder The German Miracle
Bei Ingeborg Bachmann By Ingeborg Bachmann
Trans. from German by Filkins
Frühmorgens, wenn Early in the morning, when
Fruchtliferwagen durch die Stadt fruit wagons rumble
poltern, wenn die S-Bahn through the city, when the subway
durch dein Bett fährt travels through your bed
und die Einflugschneise and the incoming flight lanes 5
tiefer hängt als sonst, are lower than usual,
mußt du, du mußt you must, you must
du kannst nicht schlafen, you cannot sleep.
frühmorgens, wenn die Early in the morning, when the
Amerikaner im geteilten Americans in divided 10
Berlin das Manöver beginnen, Berlin begin their maneuvers,
wenn die Schüsse fallen, als when shots fire as if
ging es an, it was starting,
mußt du, aber du mußt nicht you must join in, but need not,
du kannst auch schlafen. for you may also sleep. 15
Frühmorgens, wenn es hell Early in the morning, when
ist und im Tiergarten it‘s bright and in the park
die Generäle ihren Bauch the generals stretch out
vorstrecken, auf den Ton their stomachs, when the alarm
gefallen ist, mußt du sounds, you must 20
schließlich einmal wieder einschlafen. finally sleep once again.
Du schläfst, schläfst, es ist You sleep, sleep, it is part
eine Geschichte, Geschichte nicht, of a story, not history.
deutbar. Da schläfst du besser ein. Therefore it‘s better you sleep.
Geheimdienste Secret agents, 25
wenn die ersten when the first
Worte laut werden, dann words are spoken, then
aber schläfst you sleep,
für Worte having no use 30
nichts übrig for words.
Frühmorgens Early in the morning
wenn die Prozesse when the trials
beginnen und die begin and the
sanften Gesichter soft faces 35
der Mörder und of the murderers and
die urteilsprechenden the sentencing
Richter einander judges avoid
vermeiden, each other,
wenn ein Flugzeug- when an airplane 40
flügel dein wing grazes
Haar streift, your hair,
wenn du when you
deinen Korridor find
findest, in your corridor 45
den Tod, in into death, into
die Abgeschiedenheit seclusion,
ins Vergessen into forgetting,
dann schläfst then you will
du, beim Gong- sleep at the strike 50
schlag, und of the gong, as
sie sprechen über they speak
den Schlaf wie about sleep like
über ein Wunder. a miracle.
The Cold War and the Race to Space
Venus and the Ark
By Anne Sexton
The missile to launch a missile
was almost a secret.
Two male Ph.D.‘s were picked
and primed to fill it
and one hundred 5
carefully counted insects,
three almost new snakes,
coiled in a cube,
exactly fifty fish creatures
in tanks, the necessary files, 10
twenty bars of food, ten brief cures,
special locks, fourteen white rats,
fourteen black rats, a pouch of dirt,
were all stuffed aboard before
the thing blasted from the desert. 15
And the missile that launched
a missile launched out
into a marvelous scientific balloon
that rolled and bobbed about
in the mists of Venus; suddenly 20
sank like a sweet fat grape,
oozing past gravity to snuggle
down upon the triumphant shape
of space. The two men signaled
Earth, telling their Continent 25
VENUS IS GREEN. And parades assembled,
the loud earth tellers spent
all fifteen minutes on it, even
shortened their weather forecast.
But rival nations, angry and oily, 30
fired up their best atom blast
and the last Earth war was done.
The place became crater on each side,
sank down to its first skull,
shedding forests, oceans, dried 35
bones and neons, as it fell through
time like a forgotten pitted stone.
These two men walked hopefully out
onto their hot empty planet
with machines, rats, tanks, 40
boxes, insects and the one odd set
of three almost new snakes,
to make the tests they were meant to do.
But on the seventh month the cages
grew small, too small to interview, 45
too tight to bear. The rats were gray
and heavy things where they ran
against wire and the snakes built eggs
on eggs and even the fish began
to bump in water as they spawned 50
on every side of each other‘s swim.
And the men grew listless; they opened
the pouch of dirt, undid each locked bin
and let every creature loose
to live on Venus, or anyhow hide 55
under rocks. Bees swarmed the air,
letting a warm pollen slide
from their wings and onto the grass.
The fish flapped to a small pool
and the rats untangled their hairs 60
and humped over the vestibule
of the cramped balloon. Trees sprang
from lichen, the rock became a park,
where, even at star-time, things brushed;
even in the planet‘s new dark 65
crotch, that air snag where snakes
coupled and rats rubbed in disrepair,
it grew quick and noisy with
a kind of wonder in the lonely air.
Old and withered, two Ph.D.‘s 70
from Earth hobbled slowly back
to their empty balloon, crying alone
for sense, for the troubling lack
of something they ought to do,
while countless fish slapped 75
and the waters grew, green came
taller and the happy rats sped
through integrated forests,
barking like dogs at the top
of the sky. But the two men, 80
that last morning of death, before
the first of light, watched the land
of Venus, its sweetless shore,
and thought, ―This is the end.
This is the last of a man like me.‖ 85
Until they saw, over the mists
of Venus, two fish creatures stop
on spangled legs and crawl
from the belly of the sea.
And from the planet park 90
they heard the new fruit drop.
The Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan and the American Response
July 6, 1980
By Adam Zagajewski
Trans. from Polish by Renata Gorczynski
A world power, prompted by concern
for its security, occupies
the neighboring country. A million refugees,
women, children, old people among them, are camping
close to the border of their native land. 5
Men armed with nineteenth-century
rifles go to the mountains in order to fight
the invader who longs for security.
The president of another world power
smiles sadly. For three weeks, 10
Europeans feverishly discuss
the development of events. Young
German leftists protest against
armaments and in case of war they plan
the formation of small, mobile 15
self-defense units armed with those nineteenth-century
rifles. An American conductor urges us
to listen to Beethoven‘s music in the last
few days before the end of the world. A retired
bank employee presents on television 20
tapes with the recorded voices
of the dead. The dead don‘t have much
to say, they tell their names,
weep, or greet us with birdlike
screeches, short as sighing. 25
You and I sit in front of the open window,
we look at the dark green leaves of a maple tree,
it‘s Sunday, it‘s raining, we laugh at
the omniscience of journalists, at the vanity
of politicians, we‘re unprotected 30
and calm; it appears to us we understand
more than the others.
Reagan and the Soviet Union
Образ Рейгана в Советской литературе Reagan's Image in Soviet Literature
митрий лександрови ригов By Dmitri Aleksandrovich Prigov
Trans. from Russian by Tatiana Tulchinsky et al.
Рейган Почто тревожите прах мой? Reagan Why do you agitate my soul?
Милицанер По то, что хотим оценку дать! Policeman 'Cuz we want to appraise it!
Рейган То дело Божье, но не человечье! Reagan That is God's affair not man's!
Милицанер А Бог нас на то здесь Policeman But that's what God went and put
и поставил! us here for!
Рейган Не губите бедную душу! Reagan Don't destroy my poor spirit! 5
Милицанер Ты сам ее загубил! Policeman You destroyed it yourself!
Рейган Спасите, научите! Reagan Help me! Teach me!
Милицанер Нет! Ты от века таким замыслен! Policeman No! You were planned this way
А мы лишь оценку даем. from the ages! All we do are appraisals.
Вот избран новый Президент So they've picked a brand-new president 10
Соединенных Штатов Of the United States
Поруган старый Президент And they've dishonored the former president
Соединенных Штатов Of the United States
А нам-то что—ну, Президент But what's it to us, like, a President
Ну, Съединенных Штатов Like, the United States 15
А интересно все ж—Президент But even so it's interesting—a President
Соединенных Штатов Of the United States
Не хочет Рейган нас кормить Reagan doesn't want to feed us
Ну что же—сам и просчитается Well, OK, it's really his mistake
Ведь это там у них считается It's only over there that they believe 20
Что надо кушать, чтобы жить You've got to eat to live
А нам не нужен хлеб его But we don't need his bread
Мы будем жить своей идеею We'll live on our idea
Он вдруг спохватится: It'll come to him quite suddenly:
А где они Hey, where are they?—
А мы уж в сердце у него But we've already gotten to his heart 25
Трудно нам с Рейганом жить It's tough for us to live with Reagan—
Хочет все нас победить He always wants to beat us
Безумный! Победи себя! Beat yourself, you crazy man!
А не то так обернется If not, then things will come to such a pass
С нашей помощью придется That you will have to beat yourself 30
Побеждать тебе себя With help from me
The End of the Cold War
Good-bye Hello in the East Village 1993
By Molly Peacock
Three tables down from Allen Ginsberg we sit
in JJ‘s Russian Restaurant. My old friend,
who‘s struggled for happiness, insists
on knowing why I‘m happy. An end
to my troubles of the century? ―Listen, Molly, if I 5
didn‘t know you so well, I‘d think you were
faking this good cheer,‖ she says, her eyes
bright openings like a husky‘s eyes in its fur.
(My friend is half an orphan. It‘s cold in here.)
The East Village shuffles past JJ‘s window, 10
and we hear Allen order loudly in the ear
of the waitress, ―Steamed only! No cholesterol!‖
―I could tell you it‘s my marriage, Nita,
and how much I love my new life in two countries,
but the real reason,‖ I beam irresistibly at a 15
dog walker with 8 dogs on leashes in the freezing
evening outside JJ‘s window where we sit,
―is that I‘m an orphan. It‘s over. They‘re
both dead.‖ Her lids narrow her eyes to a slit
of half-recognition. ―I couldn‘t say this,‖—there! 20
the waitress plunks two bowls of brilliant magenta
borscht, pierogi, and hunks of challah
—―to just anybody,‖—jewel heaps of food on Formica
—only to you, who wouldn‘t censure me,
since you‘ve witnessed me actually fantasize 25
chopping their heads from their necks from their limbs
to make a soup of the now dead Them to feed
the newly happily alive Me.
An old order is dimmed,
just as the U.S., its old enemy 30
the U.S.S.R. vaporized, disarms itself,
nearly wondering what a century‘s fuss
was all about . . . what was my fuss about?
But even a struggle to the death is levelled
in the afterlife of relief. A bevel 35
in the glass of America has connected
along a strip of this life to the window
of JJ‘s restaurant connecting Nita and me, wed
to the nightlife on Second Avenue, though
in reflection only, the reflection that now perfectly 40
joins Ginsberg with his steamed vegetables
and us with our steamy borscht and pierogi
to the ice-pocked sidewalk, God‘s table,
full of passersby, pointing occasionally to Allen,
joined now by an Asian boy, but more often 45
just hurrying past in the cold as we eat
the food of a previous enemy
and find it brightly delicious—it is meet
and right so to do—in the world now ours,
the century‘s hours hurtling behind 50
like snow-wake off an empty dogsled.
Old friends, we rest, not talking, well fed,
since at this cold dark moment things are fine.
1950s—Culture and Prosperity
God and the Fifties
By Pier Giorgio Di Cicco
It was shady deals and
Connie Francis on jukebox
junipers and chevy convertibles
parked outside Dino's restaurant;
it was brighter skies, manageable 5
skyscrapers, gang-fights and Kennedy;
it was gambling at Atlantic City with
the Four Seasons, it was crabs and
Johnny Unitas and Connie Arena who
teased my heart through ten school 10
years, her father practicing race-track
cornet every day driving us nuts on
such bored summers of tee-shirts
with cigarette packs at the sleeve and
Beachboys and weights. 15
It was romance, people taking
Peyton Place seriously, of miniature golf
and trampolines, of barbecuing with the
mob on Chesapeake Bay, of drums and
Brylcream and hairspray and the 20
scents of night in parked cars and alleyways.
It was the girls I never had and did have,
and Ben Hur at the Paramount, Rome Adventure
at the Patterson, Sandra Dee walking
around everywhere, and Frankie and Dion, 25
it was October skies falling
with promise and spring like an unhatched
easter egg, Christmas with train-sets out of Ideal
magazine, Nat Cole singing White Christmas
ending gang-fights and hits for the night. 30
It was sneaking out to a night of
tire screech and bushes and hushed love.
Of holding hands forever until time whacked you
in the back of the head, time, the real ruffian,
not Butch, not the Dundalk boys, but time, that guy 35
who said we had forever to comb our bangs and
get the Orioles tickets and cruise the Fatima dance;
it was time. It was time beyond waiting for your date
and plotting the jump on suckers, and waiting for
three o-clock school bells. It was time like a foreign 40
animal that killed us.
But there was God too, beyond the maverick
and the delinquent, the crazy, the dice, the
fighting, the lunacy of girls behind the bowling alley,
under the fabric of fat ladies in salons and stevedores, 45
and black vendors at Fell's Point; inside the dance of
music of the Rat Pack and the myths of Liberty Bells
and Camelot and Sun Valley and Niagara moons,
and death arriving at Johns Hopkins and bocce balls
on August nights in the mesh of living, the haphazard 50
desperate living, to satisfy, to have, to love, to hold
your dream to the words of your favourite song, there
was this God, holding the foreign animal back, holding him
by his heels, holding him back from
the kisses of Vivian, holding him back, holding him 55
back from the good and the bad, God and his
inimitable good nature, leaving us with illusion,
that grandest of gifts, the illusion of everything
like the taste of a candy-apple.
It was that, the rich, confused, carnival feel 60
of rooms that were scary and perfumed, and it was
something any real God would have given us and we took it
in stride, and sang him easter songs and
carols and went on living.
We took nothing seriously, 65
and he wanted it that way, the God we had,
talking in chrome glint and pastels and
sunsets that had lyrics.
It was the sense of that, of a juggler who
dropped a ball and laughed, of a father 70
whose business was letting us out.
There was this God,
and shady deals and Fabian,
and terror in the schoolyard and things we
later called scars but were like the 75
Colorado River carving the heart.
There was this God
who saw romance in the meanest efforts
to love him. There was this
God who made all things His in 80
By Howard Nemerov
Sees boom in religion, too
Atlantic City, June 23, 1957 (AP).—President Eisenhower’s pastor said tonight that Americans are
living in a period of “unprecedented religious activity” caused partially by paid vacations, the eight-hour day
and modern conveniences.
“These fruits of material progress,” said the Rev. Edward L. R. Elson of the National Presbyterian
Church, Washington, “have provided the leisure, the energy, and the means for a level of human and spiritual
values never before reached.”
Here at the Vespasian-Carlton, it‘s just one
religious activity after another; the sky
is constantly being crossed by cruciform
airplanes, in which nobody disbelieves
for a second, and the tide, the tide 5
of spiritual progress and prosperity
miraculously keeps rising, to a level
never before attained. The churches are full,
the beaches are full, and the filling-stations
are full, God‘s great ocean is full 10
of paid vacationers praying an eight-hour day
to the human and spiritual values, the fruits,
the leisure, the energy, and the means, Lord,
the means for the level, the unprecedented level,
and the modern conveniences, which are also full. 15
Never before, O Lord, have the prayers and praises
from belfry and phonebooth, from ballpark and barbecue
the sacrifices, so endlessly ascended.
It was not thus when Job in Palestine
sat in the dust and cried, cried bitterly; 20
when Damien kissed the lepers on their wounds
it was not thus; it was not thus
when Francis worked a fourteen-hour day
strictly for the birds; when Dante took
a week‘s vacation without pay and it rained 25
part of the time, O Lord, it was not thus.
But now the gear mesh and the tires burn
and the ice chatters in the shaker and the priest
in the pulpit, and Thy Name, O Lord,
is kept before the public, while the fruits 30
ripen and religion booms and the level rises
and every modern convenience runneth over,
that it may never be with us as it hath been
with Athens and Karnak and Nagasaki,
nor Thy sun for one instant refrain from shining 35
on the rainbow Buick by the breezeway
or the Chris Craft with the uplift life raft;
that we may continue to be the just folks we are,
plain people with ordinary superliners and
disposable diaperliners, people of the stop‘n‘shop 40
‘n‘pray as you go, of hotel, motel, boatel,
the humble pilgrims of no deposit, no return
and please adjust thy clothing, who will give to Thee,
if Thee will keep us going, our annual
Miss Universe, for Thy Name‘s Sake, Amen. 45
1960s—Culture and Events
John F. Kennedy and Robert Kennedy
For John F. Kennedy His Inauguration
By Robert Frost
Gift Outright of “The Gift Outright”
With Some Preliminary History in Rhyme
Summoning artists to participate
In the august occasions of the state
Seems something artists ought to celebrate.
Today is for my cause a day of days.
And his be poetry's old-fashioned praise 5
Who was the first to think of such a thing.
This verse that in acknowledgement I bring
Goes back to the beginning of the end
Of what had been for centuries the trend;
A turning point in modern history. 10
Colonial had been the thing to be
As long as the great issue was to see
What country'd be the one to dominate
By character, by tongue, by native trait,
The new world Christopher Columbus found. 15
The French, the Spanish, and the Dutch were downed
And counted out. Heroic deeds were done.
Elizabeth the First and England won.
Now came on a new order of the ages
That in the Latin of our founding sages 20
(Is it not written on the dollar bill
We carry in our purse and pocket still?)
God nodded his approval of as good.
So much those heroes knew and understood,
I mean the great four, Washington, 25
John Adams, Jefferson, and Madison
So much they saw as consecrated seers
They must have seen ahead what not appears,
They would bring empires down about our ears
And by the example of our Declaration 30
Make everybody want to be a nation.
And this is no aristocratic joke
At the expense of negligible folk.
We see how seriously the races swarm
In their attempts at sovereignty and form. 35
They are our wards we think to some extent
For the time being and with their consent,
To teach them how Democracy is meant.
"New order of the ages" did they say?
If it looks none too orderly today, 40
'Tis a confusion it was ours to start
So in it have to take courageous part.
No one of honest feeling would approve
A ruler who pretended not to love
A turbulence he had the better of. 45
Everyone knows the glory of the twain
Who gave America the aeroplane
To ride the whirlwind and the hurricane.
Some poor fool has been saying in his heart
Glory is out of date in life and art. 50
Our venture in revolution and outlawry
Has justified itself in freedom's story
Right down to now in glory upon glory.
Come fresh from an election like the last,
The greatest vote a people ever cast, 55
So close yet sure to be abided by,
It is no miracle our mood is high.
Courage is in the air in bracing whiffs
Better than all the stalemate an's and ifs.
There was the book of profile tales declaring 60
For the emboldened politicians daring
To break with followers when in the wrong,
A healthy independence of the throng,
A democratic form of right divine
To rule first answerable to high design. 65
There is a call to life a little sterner,
And braver for the earner, learner, yearner.
Less criticism of the field and court
And more preoccupation with the sport.
It makes the prophet in us all presage 70
The glory of a next Augustan age
Of a power leading from its strength and pride,
Of young ambition eager to be tried,
Firm in our free beliefs without dismay,
In any game the nations want to play. 75
A golden age of poetry and power
Of which this noonday's the beginning hour.
The Day Kennedy Died
By Leon Stokesbury
Suppose that on the day Kennedy died
you had a vision. But this was no inner movie
with a discernible plot or anything like it.
Not even very visual when you get down
to admitting what actually occurred. 5
about two-thirds of the way through 4th period
Senior Civics, fifteen minutes before
the longed-for lunchtime, suppose you stood up
for no good reason-no reason at all really—
and announced, as you never had before, 10
to the class in general and to yourself
as well, ―Something. Something is happening.
I see. Something coming. I can see. I…‖
And that was all. You stood there: blank.
The class roared. Even Phyllis Hoffpaur, girl 15
most worshipped by you from afar that year,
turned a vaguely pastel shade of red
and smiled, and Richard Head, your best friend,
Dick Head to chosen few, pulled you down
to your desk whispering, ―Jesus, man! Jesus 20
Christ!‖ Then you went numb. You did not know
for sure what had occurred. But less than one hour
later, when Stella (despised) Vandenburg, teacher
of twelfth grade English, came sashaying
into the auditorium, informing, left and right, 25
as many digesting members of student body
as she could of what she had just heard,
several students began to glance at you,
remembering what you‘d said. A few pointed,
whispering to their confederates, and on that 30
disturbing day they slinked away in the halls.
Even Dick Head did not know what to say.
In 5th period Advanced Math, Principal
Crawford played the radio over the intercom
and the school dropped deeper into history. 35
For the rest of the day, everyone slinked away—
except for the one moment Phyllis Hoffpaur
stared hard, the look on her face asking,
assuming you would know, ―Will it be ok?‖
And you did not know. No one knew. 40
Everyone staggered back to their houses
that evening aimless and lost, not knowing,
certainly sensing something had been
changed forever. Silsbee High forever!
That is our claim! Never, no never! 45
Will we lose our fame! you often sang.
But this was to be the class of 1964,
afraid of the future at last, who would select,
as the class song, Terry Stafford‘s Suspicion.
And this was November—even in Texas 50
the month of failings, month of sorrows—
from which there was no turning.
It would be a slow two-months slide until
the manic beginnings of the British Invasion,
three months before Clay‘s ascension to the throne, 55
but all you saw walking home that afternoon
were the gangs of gray leaves clotting the curbs
and culverts, the odors of winter forever
in the air: cold, damp, bleak, dead, dull:
dragging you toward the solstice like a tide. 60
For Robert Kennedy 1925-1968
By Robert Lowell
Here in my workroom, in its listlessness
of Vacancy, like the old townhouse we shut for summer,
airtight and sheeted from the sun and smog,
far from the hornet yatter of his gang—
is loneliness, a thin smoke thread of vital 5
air. But what will anyone teach you now?
Doom was woven in your nerves, your shirt,
woven in the great clan; they too were loyal,
and you too were loyal to them, to death.
For them like a prince, you daily left your tower 10
to walk through dirt in your best cloth. Untouched,
alone in my Plutarchan bubble, I miss
you, you out of Plutarch, made by hand—
forever approaching your maturity.
Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society
The Night before Christmas (from The Great Society)
By Howard Nemerov
I am buying presents for everyone.
It is very late, but better late,
They say, than never. I want
Everyone to be happy, but admit
I frequently do not do enough 5
To implement this wish. Now
It is late, December Twenty-Fourth
Darkens, and I, with others
Scourged by the same conviction
Of an absolute delinquency, 10
Am walking the cold avenue
Between the lines of brilliant windows
Filled with impersonal satisfactions.
I clutch my money, I shudder with cold,
I go on attempting to buy 15
The happiness of others.
(An ox at a crèche looks out,
And I look in. A small doll
In the cradle has closed eyes.
You will be crucified, Baby, 20
I croon, before going on,
And we will buy you, Baby,
Cathedrals for Christmas.)
Lovers, relations, friends,
And business acquaintances, 25
I swear to express my love
Somehow. Say what you want,
Say what would make you happy,
Before I spill my money in
The dark river as it ebbs 30
To sea, that its hurrying current
May devalue these my dollars
In depths beyond redemption,
And in the dragon‘s treasury
The price of prices be forgot, 35
And the potlatch of time.
By Peter Balakian
In the mud of a tire rut,
we were the filaments.
We said if Mrs. Agnew could make music
on Spiro‘s flute
we said the clubs in the hands of the Chicago cops 5
The trees shook with the throb of steel.
What did we do to be so red, white, and blue?
We were inexorable
like the dialectic unraveling from Hanoi 10
to the Jacksonian grass.
We were the inebriates of vitamin C and cocaine,
the daughters of the gray flannel suit.
And when the shaman spread his yellow robe like the sun
he was all teeth and amp 15
and what were we?
By Allen Ginsberg
Under silver wing
San Francisco's towers sprouting
thru thin gas clouds,
Tamalpais black-breasted above Pacific azure
Berkeley hills pine-covered below— 5
Dr Leary in his brown house scribing Independence
typewriter at window
silver panorama in natural eyeball—
Sacramento valley rivercourse's Chinese 10
dragonflames licking green flats north-hazed
State Capitol metallic rubble, dry checkered fields
to Sierras- past Reno, Pyramid Lake's
blue Altar, pure water in Nevada sands'
brown wasteland scratched by tires 15
Jerry Rubin arrested! Beaten, jailed,
Leary out of action—"a public menace...
persons of tender years...immature
judgement...pyschiatric examination..." 20
i.e. Shut up or Else Loonybin or Slam
Leroi on bum gun rap, $7,000
lawyer fees, years' negotiations—
SPOCK GUILTY headlined temporary, Joan Baez'
paramour husband Dave Harris to Gaol 25
Dylan silent on politics, & safe—
having a baby, a man—
Cleaver shot at, jail'd, maddened, parole revoked,
Vietnam War flesh-heap grows higher,
blood splashing down the mountains of bodies 30
on to Cholon's sidewalks—
Blond boys in airplane seats fed technicolor
Murderers advance w/ Death-chords
Earplugs in, steak on plastic
served—Eyes up to the Image— 35
What do I have to lose if America falls?
my body? my neck? my personality?
(June 19, 1968)
The Undermining of the Defense Economy
By James Wright
Stairway, face, window,
Running over the public buildings.
Maple and elm.
In the autumn 5
Of early evening,
Lies on its side,
Turning yellow as the face
Of a discharged general. 10
It's no use complaining, the economy
Is going to hell with all these radical
Girls the color of butterflies
That can't be sold. 15
Only after nightfall,
Little boys lie still, awake,
Delicate little boxes of dust.
1970s and Beyond—Culture and Events
The Nixon Era
Last Days Painting (August 1973)
By Peter Balakian
The plain air above the Palisades,
the blue anonymous egg,
can you make chromos by electric light?
I couldn‘t tell sun from stone,
Tenafly‘s vanished light 5
from the rambles around Hoboken—
for instance Lancon, Lemud, Daumier, Gavarni
and Bodmer remind one more of piano playing.
Millet is perhaps a solemn organ.
Against the static clouds, 10
a gull in the bourbon light
a nude descending
the sky comes to its knees on the rocks,
and if the things that emerge
are black and gray 15
and if the unpretentious gulls fly into them
I could be chalk.
Descending: surveillance of the visible
like Nixon, and the face caught on
the horizontal band of the old Magnavox. 20
You could say that somewhere between
Masaccio and Alexander Portnoy is the truth.
I lost my head up there
in a satiny roundel, like the sun‘s pucker.
I wanted to make the crêpe de chine 25
of her slip into a cloud
unraveling in summer rain
so she could really fly.
Descending: Watergate, denouement, worm‘s eye.
envy the Japanese the extreme clearness 30
which everything has in their work, simple as breathing.
Can‘t trust what‘s in a tube.
Take gum resin from a plum tree.
Cut it up, put it in an earthenware pot,
add water and put in the sun. 35
Stir carefully, strain though a cloth and grind
all pigments with it. Saffron: from the dried stigma
of a crocus. Theophilus used the pigment for making tin look
like gold, but clear yellow glass too.
That‘s what I wanted. Clear yellow glass, 40
so that things could be seen like the steel
of a Chevy in the cement and iron of the
collapsed West Side Highway
or the rusty light gleaming
from the sterns of the Cunar liners 45
in the filthy harbor;
it‘s why I believe in Heade;
his canvas as if the world were a glass
dish, silvered by an amalgam
let down into the well until it grazed 50
the surface of something
and everything came back like a raised ornament:
trees, rocks, a boy, a canoe, a straw hat.
Heade‘s America: Vietnam reversed.
Fifty years hence nobody will wish to go back 55
to this period, or if there follows a time
of antiquated decay or so-called
time of perukes and crinolines,
people will be too dull to think about
it at all; if there comes a change for the better, tant mieux. 60
If you look at van der Weyden‘s sky
behind the cross, it‘s a void—
a place of the Buddha, as if our inspiration
reflex were reversed and the self
imploding with nothingness could see. 65
Today I‘m a bright casualty
on the verge of something new
as when desire marries the skyline,
clean, and unaugmented, like the hem
of God‘s robe—where the world 70
is no longer the tooth of a gargoyle.
The Drug Crisis
II Drug Merchants
By Michael S. Harper
"Jazz ain't enough anymore, poetry neither "
We watch this mark make time
an image of hair
thumb women making bread
from grain at the backyard..
The fruit trees 5
hammer his name
in their thumping
and the bush comes out.
that of drugs, 10
that of love,
handclasped in a star,
jazz ain't enough 15
making the bread
the bread comes out,
thumping army bush, 20
machine on machine.
Drug Merchant got
won't let him go
watch this mark 25
learn to count,
Levine, Levine, Levine.
It Goes by Many Names
By Jimmy Santiago Baca
And behind the eyeball it sucks it empty,
scrapes it dry of sight like a kitchen pan, scoured silver
and hard. But not like before, when the heart would pick up
its drumsticks and pound the eyes like drums, or scoop
up water from rivers in healthy perceptions, not these eyes. 5
They dangle in skulls like little iron bells
set for ritual, some bewitching ceremony:
Blood in glass tubes rising; teeth clenching
and that rag knotted round the arm, bloating blood vessels,
to a plump swell of purple, pierced by a shiny needle, and 10
the heroin slides in, mixes with heart‘s life, across its
cheek like a sudden unfelt gash, opening to emptiness, to
a dizzy shower of darkness, smoothing across mind, a flooding
lake with barest ripples ribbing themselves through muscles,
ironing them out to sagging tired meat, in the warm heat 15
This is the new king.
His whip so gentle on bones of my people. His voice luring,
seductive in its slow torture. It is our flesh that covers
Him with warmth, and our legs that carry him over mountains. 20
His black seed in the womb of our blood,
like a black sun whose sunrays are our very blood, and
splintered lives, spreading out over everything, into the hurting
eyes of our loved ones, its dark glow, glowing.
So few can rebel against his mothering chains, suckling 25
grains from his breasts, and pain from his fingertips.
When he leaves, the land is cold, and when present,
how very warm and beautiful. Each bough ablack, blossom blacker,
until nothing is seen, nothing, there is nothing, the last
flicker fading, into the king‘s cup, who drinks up lives, 30
and lives, and lives.
And all the drug centers, the counselors,
the prison sentences, the ravages upon society, upon families,
upon the future, all of these are like dry leaves under
its golden boot, like sweet meat to its burly hungers, 35
like sails under its wind, blowing us all farther into its dark sea.
All my people are behind bars for taking heroin.
But they are not criminals. They are under its spell, as others
are under the spell of money, ambition, lucrative living,
and others want to learn secrets of wisdom, as those under 40
the horrors of jealousy: they are not criminals; or are they?
Nixon points his finger, the atom bomb points,
the tearing up of earth points, the dirtying of our waters points,
and so I point, not to my people, they are not criminals, I point
to our ignorance, our shambled souls, our greed and easy living, 45
our dull minds.
Cry and scream to me, You are wrong! Wrong! Wrong!
And I will listen to you, and look upon your face, and
weep for you, be silent for you, assist you. And together,
none of us being wrong, I will take your hand, and we will 50
find our solutions, and the great king will be no more, or
will hobble on crutches and beg for crumbs at each gate,
of our wise culture, and be turned away, to hide in the hills
where now we imprison our brothers and sisters.
The Abortion Controversy
What I Never Told You About the Abortion
By Alison Townsend
That it hurts, despite the anesthetic,
which they administered with a long needle, shot straight into the womb.
That they hit the vagus nerve the first time and I fell down when I tried to stand.
That after the second shot my legs snapped shut—
instinctively as the wild mother protecting the chick, kit, cub. 5
That I held the hand of a young Hispanic nurse and wept
when she said, ―You know, hon, you don‘t have to do this.‖
That I believed I did, though I nearly got up and left.
That the doctor was crude, saying (when he saw me conscious),
―It‘s always the ones who want to be awake who should be put out.‖ 10
That dilation and curettage is exactly what it sounds like:
opening, scraping, digging out a scrap of tissue the clings.
That mothers both create and take life. That I crossed a picket line
to get into the clinic. That I wanted to come back another day
but knew if I left I then I wouldn‘t return. That my mind was not, 15
as I let you believe, made up that night at Planned Parenthood,
the positive lab slip shining in my hand like a ticket to heaven.
That this was where the deep root of sadness began to take hold.
That I stood in our bedroom a few days before the ―procedure,‖
my blouse open and bra undone, looking at my breasts, marveling 20
at the way they swelled, even at eight weeks, like fruit I‘d never seen,
remembering the rise and fall of my mother‘s body as she nursed my sister.
That I felt inhabited then. Incarnate, the cells of my skin glowing,
bright and scared. That I wished we were married, though it seemed uncool.
That I wished you‘d said, ―A baby? Let‘s do it!‖ 25
instead of ―It‘s your body. You decide.‖
That it was all surgical and neat, not even
any blood afterward on the Kotex that made me feel fourteen.
That I dreamed of it for weeks. That we married years later, that dream
torn between us. That I had wanted to feel the hard bowl of my belly. 30
That I believed it was practical—you in grad school,
no health insurance, me the one with a job.
That the table I lay on was cold. That there was a poster
of a kitten dangling from a tree limb, with the words ―Hang in there, baby‖
on the ceiling above me. That I turned names 35
over and over in my head like bright stones:
Caitlin, Phoebe, Rebecca, Siobhan.
That the nurse wept with me, like some twentieth-century
Southern California fate, midwife to death
in her uniform printed with flowers. 40
That she wrapped my hands in her navy blue sweater.
That I described the thumb-size embryo inside me in all the obvious ways—
shrimp, peanut, little bud-wanting-to-open.
But not baby, never baby.
That I saved the paperwork as proof I‘d been admitted 45
to the college of mothers. That I told you a good story,
letting you believe I believed that I might not be able to write with a child,
that this was the beginning of the end of us.
That though we are kind now, and always cordial when we meet,
a decade after our divorce, it is the one thing I cannot forgive you. 50
That it has taken me twenty years to find words for this story.
That no matter how many thats I write, there are not—will never be—enough.
Jonestown: More Eyes for Jadwiga’s Dream
By Yusef Komunyakaa
Brighter than crisp new money.
Birds unfold wings into nervous fans,
adrift like breath-drawn kites, among
tremulous fronds with flowers crimson
as muzzle flash. Tropic silk, root color, 5
ocean green, they float to tree limbs
like weary scarves.
Hidden eyes deepen the memory
between sunrise & nightmare. Pine-box builders
grin with the pale soothsayer presiding over 10
this end of songs. The day's a thick hive
of foliage, not the moss grief deposits
on damp stones---we're unable to tell where
fiction bleeds into the real.
Some unspoken voice, small as a lizard's, 15
is trying to obey the trees.
Green birds flare up behind church bells
against the heartscape: if only
they'd fold their crepe-paper wings
over bruised eyes & see nothing 20
but night in their brains.
The Reagan Administration
Inaugural Day, 1981
By Ishmael Reed
I feel like a Zulu
spying from a rock while
below, the settlers exchange
toasts on the grounds where
a massacre of the Zulus occurred 5
They are filthy rich
Their wives are dolled-up in
There is much hugging and
These people like
Glenn Miller a whole lot
52 of their countrymen
have been freed by the barbarians
―Just out of the trees. The
Only way I‘m going back is in a
B-52,‖ he said, putting some hair
on his chest, and passing around
a jug of whiskey 20
The settlers shoot at stars
The settlers jitterbug all
On the Zulu grounds
I have nine children buried there 25
nine were all they could find
By Diane Glancy
. . . north of Waco, exit 135 on Loop 340 east,
take Elk Road left 3-4 miles to a water tower
I pass a sign, ATF FBI KNOW HOW TO LIE
spray-painted on the side of a metal shed,
a cottonfield like a salvage yard for angels,
then there‘s nothing but fields broken into by the sky,
trees squatting to the land, 5
a trough of weeds leaning in the wind.
A few miles, a fork in the road, a blue tank,
I drive on but turn around
and go back to a man mowing the ditch grass.
He can‘t hear but I find him willing to turn off his motor. 10
He says, turn left at the blue water-tank not tower
go half a mile.
I drive by a hand-painted sign,
don’t stop don’t even slow down,
and at a shadow of a tree across the road turn around, 15
but another car comes and seems to slow and I drive on,
disappointed at my hesitancy to walk in,
but settle for another kind of seeing,
a daunted sideways glance
like the runover of a plan trying to make a fogdrop in a field. 20
But there is nothing to see,
the sunken desks of land,
a pond, a few shacks, a burned-out schoolbus,
another sign something like a burst of yellow on blue
though I can‘t be sure, 25
a woman stands in the yard, her hand on her waist
caught in the bare wind of her mind.
I don‘t know what to say in the fervor of religion,
what words he must have preached when he ran into the stars
like a hubcap scraping a median strip, 30
the sparks, wow, when you know you‘re being seen
like in one of those gas-station restrooms on the highway,
you know they watch you through some hole.
The grass mower said the woman was probably
the wife of the original founder whom David Koresh ran off, 35
not sweetly playing his harp as David rushed Saul,
but the impounding voice of God,
Noah build a compound it’s going to rain,
or the fiery voice of Nebuchadnezzar, heat the furnace seven times.
His followers must have talked behind their backs, 40
he’s playing his harmonica, making it up as he goes.
The mower said they‘ve been here for years,
living at first along a ravine in tents like pigs,
the usual story: a group of them,
the mower said, waiting for the end of the world, 45
fire or water. It would be both.
He must have gone crazy from rejection and failure
in the world, he just couldn‘t fit,
but he could father children,
he could instruct them as he thought God would 50
and there was the sweetest smell of that cut grass.
He tried out the words he brought back from the stars
in their green skirts and electric heads.
He could even hear the sermon of the cosmos
when God stepped out with women, 55
his myriad of believers, and David was a part.
He would have many wives too.
It seems to be the way with men when they can get away with it,
as many as they want.
All his life he‘d been a stem pulled from the apple, 60
now he‘d ride the Milky Way on that trail of black smoke,
that cloud-burst from firetrucks
flashing bright as Texas in the sungorged field.
The angels must have torn up their wings getting here,
an afternoon‘s burnout from finding the place: 65
Elk Road, blue water-tower left,
there‘s a sudden burst imploding,
orange-flaked pieces of gunshot from the sun
and the end of the world in the fiery mouth of God.
Alaska and Oil
By Ishmael Reed
disassembled piece by piece
and shipped to the lower
forty-eight so that people 5
in Dallas may own whale-
sized Cadillacs and lear
jets which cost Alaska an
arm and a leg just like
stolen sugar built Mansfield 10
Park where idle gang rapers
discuss flower beds and
Jamaica, Alaska, sisters
dragged into an alley 15
used and abandoned
The F.B.I and The Central Intelligence Agency (C.I.A.)
Confession to J. Edgar Hoover
By James Wright
Hiding in the church of an abandoned stone,
A Negro soldier
Is flipping the pages of the Articles of War,
That he can't read.
Our father, 5
Last evening I devoured the wing
Of a cloud.
And, in the city, I sneaked down
To pray with a sick tree.
I labor to die, father, 10
I ride the great stones,
I hide under stars and maples,
And yet I cannot find my own face.
In the mountains of blast furnaces,
The trees turn their backs on me. 15
Father, the dark moths
Crouch at the sills of the earth, waiting.
And I am afraid of my own prayers.
Father, forgive me.
I did not know what I was doing. 20
CIA Dope Calypso
By Allen Ginsberg
In nineteen hundred forty-nine
China was won by Mao Tse-tung
Chiang Kai-shek's army ran away
They were waiting there in Thailand yesterday
Supported by the CIA 5
Pushing junk down Thailand way
First they stole from the Meo Tribes
Up in the hills they started taking bribes
Then they sent their soldiers up to Shan
Collecting opium to send to The Man 10
Pushing junk in Bangkok yesterday
Supported by the CIA
Brought their jam on mule trains down
To Chiang Rai that's a railroad town
Sold it next to the police chief brain 15
He took it to town on the choochoo train
Trafficking dope to Bangkok all day
Supported by the CIA
The policeman's name was Mr. Phao
He peddled dope grand scale and how 20
Chief of border customs paid
By Central Intelligence's U.S. A.I.D.
The whole operation, Newspapers say
Supported by the CIA
He got so sloppy & peddled so loose 25
He busted himself & cooked his own goose
Took the reward for an opium load
Seizing his own haul which same he resold
Big time pusher for a decade turned grey
Working for the CIA 30
Touby Lyfong he worked for the French
A big fat man liked to dine & wench
Prince of the Meos he grew black mud
Till opium flowed through the land like a flood
Communists came and chased the French away 35
So Touby took a job with the CIA
The whole operation fell in to chaos
Till U.S. Intelligence came into Laos
I'll tell you no lie I'm a true American
Our big pusher there was Phoumi Nosovan 40
All them Princes in a power play
But Phoumi was the man for the CIA
And his best friend General Vang Pao
Ran the Meo army like a sacred cow
Helicopter smugglers filled Long Cheng's bars 45
In Xieng Quang province on the Plain of Jars
It started in secret they were fighting yesterday
Clandestine secret army of the CIA
All through the Sixties the Dope flew free
Thru Tan Son Nhut Saigon to Marshal Ky 50
Air America followed through
Transporting confiture for President Thieu
All these Dealers were decades and yesterday
The Indochinese mob of the U.S. CIA
Operation Haylift Offisir Wm. Colby 55
Saw Marshal Ky fly opium Mr. Mustard told me
Indochina desk he was Chief of Dirty Tricks
"Hitchhiking" with dope pushers was how he got his fix
Subsidizing traffickers to drive the Reds away
Till Colby was the head of the CIA 60
It’s Miller Time
By Victor Hernández Cruz
I work for the CIA
They pay me with cocaine
and white Miami sports
Free tickets to San Juan 5
Where I make contact
with a certain
Official at the Chase
My contact, a guy named 10
Pete, asks if I know other
dialects of Spanish
"Can you sound Salvadoran"
They give me pamphlets
along with pornographic mags 15
They got their hands in the
backdoors of warehouses
If I want a stereo or a CD
That if a VCR
They could bring it all 20
at half price
Tickets to rock and roll
Where they drug the people
with lights. 25
The last assignment
I had was to contact
the PR division
Of a beer company—
Because for U.S. "Hispanics" 30
it was Miller Time
I contacted the brewery
A certain Miguel Gone-say-less
Invited me to lunch
That to meet him at La Fuente 35
Girls in peasant blouses
Low-key mariachi birdly
Community program directors 40
dining their secretaries
Big ol' bubble of tie knots.
At a back table there he
Drinking Dos Equis 45
and cracklin' tortilla chips
With him was a Camden, New Jersey,
Cuban who was going through
Town en route to Los Angeles
The lunch was on them— 50
Had credit cards thickly
He had more plastic than Woolworth's.
They mentioned that the
beer company wanted to sponsor 55
Salsa dances within the community
Bring in the top commercial
. . . and that while this dance was
Going on they wanted to pass 60
a petition against U.S. involvement
in Central America—
They demonstrated the form of some
organization they invented
Latinos Against Intervention 65
The petition had space for
the name and address of the
A great list to have and share
among all government agencies. 70
They gave me a bag with three
thousand dollars in it—
It was my responsibility to
organize the petition circulation.
The Cuban guy tapped me on the 75
shoulder and said:
"Don't have any of the mixed drinks.
The bartenders at the dance are
working for us. The chemical people
are experimenting the effects of 80
a new liquid. Just drink the beer."
The festive event was smashing
people were stuffed into a ballroom
The band smoked
The beer company gave out caps 85
Ladies dressed like Zsa Zsa Gabor
Romeos thrown back propped for image
Circling the ice of their margaritas—
A full moon gleamed into downtown.
Next week the CIA 90
is flying me back to the
where I will assist in staging
One of the strangest events in
world history, 95
According to the description we
are going to pull off a mock
Rising of land from beneath
Which the media will quickly 100
identify with Atlantis—
Circular buildings made of crystals
are being constructed in Texas
They will be part of the
Which will have the planet
Simultaneous with this event
the Marines will invade the
Countries of Nicaragua and 110
El Salvador from bases in Puerto Rico.
It will be a month of salsa fests
in San Francisco
An astounding mystical event off
The price of cocaine coming through
Miami will drop
Everybody stunned party and
Glittering frozen and drunk 120
Circuits jammed with junk and
In a daze of rapid commercial
Colonialism and business 125
Mark their 500th anniversary
the world is free
It's Miller Time.
Signed: Double Agent El Lagarto
The Space Program
The Lunar Landing
―Não vi Colombo descobrir a América‖ I didn’t see Columbus discover America
By Neide Archanjo
Não vi Colombo descobrir a América I didn‘t see Columbus discover America
mas vi O homem descer na Lua. but I saw man land on the Moon.
Desceu manso e decidido He landed softly and determined
como uma sombra like a shadow
o coração batendo 156 vezes por minuto his heart beating 156 times per minute 5
—recorde de comoção. —a record of commotion.
Atrás dele a águia em pouso Behind him the eagle at rest
e a humanidade. and all mankind.
Depois o homem, a pedra, a entranha, Later the man, the rock, the bowel,
a bandeira, the flag, 10
a pá e a solidão. the shovel and the solitude.
20 de julho de 1969, July 20, 1969,
mar de Tranqüilidade: sea of Tranquility:
—Terra á vista! —Land ho!
The Space Shuttle Program
Witnessing the Launch of the Shuttle Atlantis
By Howard Nemerov
So much of life in the world is waiting, that
This day was no exception, so we waited
All morning long and into the afternoon.
I spent some of the time remembering
Dante, who did the voyage in the mind 5
Alone, with no more nor heavier machinery
Than the ghost of a girl giving him guidance;
And wondered if much was lost to gain all this
New world of engine and energy, where dream
Translates into deed. But when the thing went up 10
It was indeed impressive, as if hell
Itself opened to send its emissary
In search of heaven or "the unpeopled world"
(thus Dante of doomed Ulysses) "behind the sun."
So much of life in the world is memory 15
That the moment of the happening itself—
So much with noise and smoke and rising clear
To vanish at the limit of our vision
Into the light blue light of afternoon—
Appeared no more, against the void in aim, 20
Than the flare of a match in sunlight, quickly snuffed.
What yet may come of this? We cannot know.
Great things are promised, as the promised land
Promised to Moses that he would not see
But a distant sight of, though the children would. 25
The world is made of pictures of the world,
And the pictures change the world into another world
We cannot know, as we knew not this one.
On an Occasion of National Mourning
By Howard Nemerov
It is admittedly difficult for a whole
Nation to mourn and be seen to do so, but
It can be done, the silvery platitudes
Were waiting in their silos for just such
An emergent occasion, cards of sympathy 5
From heads of state were long ago prepared
For launching and are bounced around the world
From satellites at near the speed of light,
The divine services are telecast
From the home towns, children are interviewed 10
And say politely, gravely, how sorry they are,
And in a week or so the thing is done,
The sea gives up its bits and pieces and
The investigating board pinpoints the cause
By inspecting bits and pieces, nothing of the sort 15
Can ever happen again, the prescribed course
Of tragedy is run through omen to amen
As in a play, the nation rises again
Reborn of grief and ready to seek the stars;
Remembering the shuttle, forgetting the loom. 20
Requiem for Challenger
By Yevgeny Yevtushenko
Trans. from Russian by Albert C. Todd with the author
The white tragic swan
of farewell explosion,
this white swan of death
made from the last breath
of seven evaporated souls, 5
shook the gravestones of Arlington,
the Kremlin stars,
and the ancient armless statues of Rome.
The already gray
now are become even more gray forever.
Gagarin‘s brotherly shadow
immortally crucified on the stars,
and his widow
began to walk over the ocean
to her American sister-widows.
The Statue of Liberty, 20
crying the green tears of a mermaid,
tried to reach the cosmos
to save her children,
but could not.
Our life is a challenge. 25
Our planet is our common ―Challenger.‖
We humiliate her,
frightening each other with bombs.
But could we explode her?
Even by mistake? 30
Even by accident?
That would be the final mistake,
which could never be undone.
8 March 1986
The Price of the Space Program
The News and a Green Moon. July 1994
By Denise Levertov
The green moon, almost full.
Huge telescopes are trained on catastrophe:
comet fragments crash into Jupiter, gouging
craters gleeful astronomers say are bigger than Earth
(or profound displacements, others claim—tunnels, if you will— 5
in that planet's gaseous insubstantiality).
Visualize that. Visualize the News. The radio
has an hour to deliver so much. Cooperate.
Two thirds of what's left of Rwanda's people after the massacres
milling about in foodless, waterless camps. 10
Or not milling about, because they're dying
or dead. The green moon, or maybe
when it rises tomorrow in Rwanda or Zaire it will look
white, yellow, serenely silver. Here in the steamy gray
of heatwave dusk it's green as lime. Twenty five years ago 15
absurd figures, Michelin tire logos, bounced on the moon, whitely.
An audio report from Haiti: Voodoo believers
scrub themselves frantically under a waterfall,
wailing and shouting—you can hear the water behind them.
A purification ritual. Not a response to astronomical events 20
but to misery. Names change, the Tonton Macoute not mentioned
of late, but misery's tentacles don't relax. Babies now
(as the mike moves on), more wailing, no shouting, a hospital,
mothers and nuns sing hymns, there's not much food to give out.
Young men's bodies, hands tied behind them, litter the streets 25
of Port au Prince. (As rivers and lakes
in Africa have been littered recently, and not long ago in Salvador—
a familiar item of News.) The crowded boats (again) set out,
sink or are turned back. There could be, a scientist says
(the program returns to Jupiter) an untracked comet any time 30
heading for Earth. No way to stop it. Meanwhile
an aging astronaut says he regrets we're not sending men to Mars,
that would be progress, he thinks, a mild-mannered man, he thinks
too much has been spent on Welfare, all his devotion given to leaving
uncherished Earth behind, none to some one particular field or tree 35
and whatever knows it as home, none to the human past either,
certainly none to sacred mountains and wells or nontechnological
orders of knowledge. And meanwhile I'm reading Leonardo Sciascia's
furious refinements of ironic analysis, mirrored pathways
of the world's corruption in Sicily's microcosm. I feel the weight 40
of moral torpor; the old buoyant will for change that found me actions
to reflect itself (as the moon finds mirrors in seas and puddles)
butts its head on surfaces that give back no image. Slowly, one speck
to a square meter, cometary dust, continually as if from an inexhaustible
talcum shaker, falls unseen, adding century by century its increment 45
to Earth's burden. Covered in that unseen dust I'm peering up to see
the haze of green radiance the moon gives off this night, this one quick
breath of time. No lunamancy tells me its significance, if it has one.
It is beautiful, a beryl, a disk of soft jade melting
into its own light. So silent. 50
And earth's cries of anguish almost audible.
Crisis in the Balkans and American Involvement
Objects In This Mirror Are Closer Than They Appear
By Richard Jackson
Because the dawn empties its pockets of our nightmares.
Because the wings of birds are dusty with fear.
Because another war has eaten its way
into the granary of stars. What can console us?
Is there so little left to love? Is belief just the poacher's 5
searchlight that always blinds us, and memory just
the tracer rounds of desire? Last night,
under the broken rudder of the moon, soldiers
cut a girl's finger off for the ring, then shot her and the boy
who tried to hide under a cloak of woods beyond their Kosovo 10
town. Listen to me,—we have become words
without meanings, rituals learned from dried
river beds and the cellars of fire-bombed houses.
Excuses flutter their wings. Another mortar round is
arriving from the hills. How long would you say 15
it takes despair to file down a heart?
When, this morning, you woke beside me, you were mumbling
how yesterday our words seemed to brush over the marsh
grass the way those herons planed over
a morning of ground birds panicking in their nests. 20
When my father left me his GI compass, telling me
it was to keep me from losing myself, I never thought
where it had led him, or would lead me. Today,
beside you, I remembered simply the way you eat
a persimmon, and thought it would be impossible for each 25
dropp of rain not to want to touch you. Maybe the names
of these simple objects, returning this morning
like falcons, will console us. Maybe we can love
not just within the darkness, but because of it. Ours is
the dream of the snail hoping to leave its track on the moon. 30
we are sending signals to worlds more distant
than what the radio astronomers can listen for, and yet—
And yet, what? Maybe your seeds of daylight will take root.
Maybe it is for you the sea lifts its shoulders to the moon,
for you the smoke of some battle takes the shape of a tree. 35
On your balconies of desire, in your alleyways of touch,
each object is a door opening like the luminous face of
a pocket watch. Maybe because of you the stars, too,
desire one another across their infinite,
impossible distances forever, so that it is not 40
unthinkable that some bird skims the narrow sky where
the sentry fires have dampened, where the soldier, stacking
guns in Death's courtyard, might look up, and remember
touching some story he carries in his pockets, a morning
like this blazing through the keyholes of history, seeing not 45
his enemy but those lovers, reaching for each other, reaching
towards any of us, their words splintering on the sky,
the gloves of their hearts looking for anyone's hands.
A Thousand Cranes
By Dale Ritterbusch (b. 1946)
You wonder why it never changes
when change is the basis of everything—
cranes move across the sky, but it is not
the same sky tomorrow, although
the image, hand shading the eyes, stays 5
and stays until the next time
when the present moment
eclipses some old remembrance.
But this is too abstract, you cannot see
the cranes from what I‘ve said— 10
you may remember the first time you watched
a pair hunting in the shallows for fish,
the sharp, quick stab into the muck,
and the fish wriggling in its beak;
you watched until they rose above 15
the brackish water into the orange light
of dusk—that is what you remember;
it is yours, nothing I say will change that
nor will my memory of their flight
across the sun, their voices calling, 20
be altered by your wise remembrance.
But today, when I listen to a woman
say nothing is happening in Kosovo,
the Kosovars are making it up,
the men separated, beaten, taken away, 25
this is all a lie, nothing is happening,
no one is dying—no one ever dies—
I note how F-16‘s rise like cranes across the screen,
but the metaphor will not hold—
it is the memory of seeing war again 30
that passes across the sky.
It is good that you and I see things
differently—maybe the cranes weren‘t even cranes,
herons perhaps? Great blue herons
or something else entirely. 35
It is good you and I remember
separately, as one war melds
into the next; it is good
that nothing changes.
It was an open-air market
By Adrian Oktenberg (b. 1947)
It was an open-air market in full swing midday February 1994
The stalls were nearly bare a few cabbages garlic
UN lunch packets humanitarian aid macaroni and rice
Old clothes small sizes only utensils
plastic for blasted windows very rare and dear 5
Nevertheless it was crowded deutsche marks only accepted
noisy with bargaining The city under siege for some time
People learned to take some risks
Besides, they had to live When the shell screamed in
limbs, a severed head, flew bodies broken equipment 10
bloody tissue sirens
Rescue workers ran calling to each other
working fast Sixty-eight were killed in a moment
many wounded The UN called a conference The ―contact group‖
of five 15
met five times This was after the shelling of the bakery line
the shelling of the water line and Sniper Alley
A ―pin-prick‖ air-strike was called
down on a single Serbian gun in the mountains above the city
Now the main Sarajevo market is in an alley six feet wide 20
The Persian Gulf War
Witnessing from Afar the New Escalation of Savage Power
By Denise Levertov
She was getting old, had seen a lot,
knew a lot.
But something innocent
upheld her spirits. 5
She tended a small altar,
kept a candle shielded there,
or tried to. There was a crash and throb
of harsh sound audible
always, but distant. 10
she had it in her
to fend for herself and hold
despair at bay.
Now when she came to the ridge and saw 15
the world's raw gash
reopened, the whole world
a valley of steaming blood,
her small wisdom
guttered in the uprush; 20
darkness and the blast
levelled her. (Not her own death,
that was not yet.) The deafening
downrush. Shock, shame 25
no memory, no knowledge
nor dark imagination
had prepared her for.
In California During the Gulf War
By Denise Levertov
Among the blight-killed eucalypts, among
trees and bushes rusted by Christmas frosts,
the yards and hillsides exhausted by five years of drought,
certain airy white blossoms punctually
reappeared, and dense clusters of pale pink, dark pink— 5
a delicate abundance. They seemed
like guests arriving joyfully on the accustomed
festival day, unaware of the year's events, not perceiving
the sackcloth others were wearing.
To some of us, the dejected landscape consorted well 10
with our shame and bitterness. Skies ever-blue,
daily sunshine, disgusted us like smile-buttons.
Yet the blossoms, clinging to thin branches
more lightly than birds alert for flight,
lifted the sunken heart 15
even against its will.
as symbols of hope: they were flimsy
as our resistance to the crimes committed
—again, again—in our name; and yes, they return, 20
year after year, and yes, they briefly shone with serene joy
over against the dark glare
of evil days. They are, and their presence
is quietness ineffable—and the bombings are, were,
no doubt will be; that quiet, that huge cacophany 25
simultaneous. No promise was being accorded, the blossoms
were not doves, there was no rainbow. And when it was claimed
the war had ended, it had not ended.
News Report, September 1991
By Denise Levertov
U.S. BURIED IRAQI SOLDIERS ALIVE IN GULF WAR
"What you saw was a
bunch of trenches with
arms sticking out."
"Plows mounted on
tanks. Combat 5
"Carefully planned and
went through there wasn't
Silver Star." 15
"Not a single
"For all I know,
"What you 25
saw was a bunch of
arms and things
sticking out." 30
made no mention."
"Every single American
the juggernaut 35
fire." "I know
like that sounds 40
pretty nasty, said
But . . . ."
"His force buried
about six hundred 45
in a thinner line
sticking out." 50
going to sacrifice 55
of my soldiers,
Moreno said, it's not
"The tactic was designed 60
Lieutenant Colonel Hawkins
said, who helped
"Schwartzkopf's staff 65
estimated fifty to seventy
in the trenches."
"Private Joe Queen was 70
a Bronze Star for burying
trenches with his
"A lot of the guys
were scared, he said,
but I 80
"A bunch of
arms and things
sticking out." 85
Night Vision of the Gulf War
By Dale Jacobson (b. 1950)
They came to rearrange the dust and shadows.
They were right because it felt good.
They released the power of seven
Hiroshima bombs, 88,500 tons,
to alter the attitude of bridges 5
modify the roads and their vistas,
amend the attitude of buildings. . . .
Some 200,000 buried alive—no one
cared to keep count, or could.
Through the billowing smoke, the clouds of earth, 10
the light from the flames shifted,
the shadows shifted and the dust.
In the capital of the empire the trees
dormant in their winter sturdiness 15
waited in their branches for their green
elaboration toward the sky.
If the stars were the nation‘s pity
they would be dark and hard
like the dense core of the gold ball 20
the Commander-in-Chief, ―the Great Ass-Kicker,‖
shot around the green while
on the desert the soldiers died.
It was a festival of death, yellow ribbons
everywhere, the color of pale distance by moonlight, 25
or the water-logged blade of a fallen windmill—
or the color of poison—easy hatred, easy love,
the sentimental crime: the citizens, so angry lost or afraid
in their own country, they revelled in bombing another—
power in their name, though they themselves had none. 30
The million-dollar missiles rose over the sea,
and the swift jets. The pilots said:
―We own the night.‖
More likely the night now owns us . . .
It is a country larger than the nation, 35
more ancient than history,
and flies no flag.
In Iraq the night is owned by the corrupted water.
It rises like a poisonous mist around the Iraqi children,
hurries them away—55,000— 40
perhaps another 170,000 within the year.
The night belongs to the rising and falling of the wind,
its additions and subtractions
through which their deaths move, unnoticed.
No stealth bomber is as stealthy as the night 45
that comes home.
Near Fort Ransom, North Dakota
is perhaps the oldest pyramid in the world.
No one knows who built it.
The Fort is long gone. 50
The rains that fall on the absent Fort,
and on they pyramid, arrive
out of the horizon where the waters climb
tiny ladders and everything is flat.
The droplets spin through 55
the immense shadow of the clouds.
September 11, 2001
Alabanza: In Praise of Local 100
By Martín Espada
for the 43 members of Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Local l00, working at the Windows on the
World restaurant, who lost their lives in the attack on the World Trade Center
Alabanza. Praise the cook with a shaven head
and a tattoo on his shoulder that said Oye,
a blue-eyed Puerto Rican with people from Fajardo,
the harbor of pirates centuries ago.
Praise the lighthouse in Fajardo, candle 5
glimmering white to worship the dark saint of the sea.
Alabanza. Praise the cook‘s yellow Pirates cap
worn in the name of Roberto Clemente, his plane
that flamed into the ocean loaded with cans for Nicaragua,
for all the mouths chewing the ash of earthquakes. 10
Alabanza. Praise the kitchen radio, dial clicked
even before the dial on the oven, so that music and Spanish
rose before bread. Praise the bread. Alabanza.
Praise Manhattan from a hundred and seven flights up,
like Atlantis glimpsed through the windows of an ancient aquarium. 15
Praise the great windows where immigrants from the kitchen
could squint and almost see their world, hear the chant of nations:
Ecuador, México, Republica Dominicana,
Haiti, Yemen, Ghana, Bangladesh.
Alabanza. Praise the kitchen in the morning, 20
where the gas burned blue on every stove
and exhaust fans fired their diminutive propellers,
hands cracked eggs with quick thumbs
or sliced open cartons to build an altar of cans.
Alabanza. Praise the busboy‘s music, the chime-chime 25
of his dishes and silverware in the tub.
Alabanza. Praise the dish-dog, the dishwasher
who worked that morning because another dishwasher
could not stop coughing, or because he needed overtime
to pile the sacks of rice and beans for a family 30
floating away on some Caribbean island plagued by frogs.
Alabanza. Praise the waitress who heard the radio in the kitchen
and sang to herself about a man gone. Alabanza.
After the thunder wilder than thunder,
after the shudder deep in the glass of the great windows, 35
after the radio stopped singing like a tree full of terrified frogs,
after night burst the dam of day and flooded the kitchen,
for a time the stoves glowed in darkness like the lighthouse in Fajardo,
like a cook‘s soul. Soul I say, even if the dead cannot tell us
about the bristles of God‘s beard because God has no face, 40
soul I say, to name the smoke-beings flung in constellations
across the night sky of this city and cities to come.
Alabanza I say, even if God has no face.
Alabanza. When the war began, from Manhattan and Kabul
two constellations of smoke rose and drifted to each other, 50
mingling in icy air, and one said with an Afghan tongue:
Teach me to dance. We have no music here.
And the other said with a Spanish tongue:
I will teach you. Music is all we have.
By Billy Collins
Yesterday, I lay awake in the palm of the night.
A soft rain stole in, unhelped by any breeze,
And when I saw the silver glaze on the windows,
I started with A, with Ackerman, as it happened,
Then Baxter and Calabro, 5
Davis and Eberling, names falling into place
As droplets fell through the dark.
Names printed on the ceiling of the night.
Names slipping around a watery bend.
Twenty-six willows on the banks of a stream. 10
In the morning, I walked out barefoot
Among thousands of flowers
Heavy with dew like the eyes of tears,
And each had a name—
Fiori inscribed on a yellow petal 15
Then Gonzalez and Han, Ishikawa and Jenkins.
Names written in the air
And stitched into the cloth of the day.
A name under a photograph taped to a mailbox.
Monogram on a torn shirt, 20
I see you spelled out on storefront windows
And on the bright unfurled awnings of this city.
I say the syllables as I turn a corner—
Kelly and Lee,
Medina, Nardella, and O'Connor. 25
When I peer into the woods,
I see a thick tangle where letters are hidden
As in a puzzle concocted for children.
Parker and Quigley in the twigs of an ash,
Rizzo, Schubert, Torres, and Upton, 30
Secrets in the boughs of an ancient maple.
Names written in the pale sky.
Names rising in the updraft amid buildings.
Names silent in stone
Or cried out behind a door. 35
Names blown over the earth and out to sea.
In the evening—weakening light, the last swallows.
A boy on a lake lifts his oars.
A woman by a window puts a match to a candle,
And the names are outlined on the rose clouds— 40
Vanacore and Wallace,
(let X stand, if it can, for the ones unfound)
Then Young and Ziminsky, the final jolt of Z.
Names etched on the head of a pin.
One name spanning a bridge, another undergoing a tunnel. 45
A blue name needled into the skin.
Names of citizens, workers, mothers and fathers,
The bright-eyed daughter, the quick son.
Alphabet of names in a green field.
Names in the small tracks of birds. 50
Names lifted from a hat
Or balanced on the tip of the tongue.
Names wheeled into the dim warehouse of memory.
So many names, there is barely room on the walls of the heart.
Note: This poem was read by Professor Collins before a joint session of the U.S. Congress held in New York
City on September 6, 2002. It was first published earlier that day in the New York Times.
Llegó el once de septiembre September 11th Arrived
Por Marjorie Agosín By Marjorie Agosín
Trans. from Spanish by Betty Jean Craige
Donde las memorias habitan en el pasado Where memories dwell in the past
Y la geografía configura el alma And geography configures the soul
Aquí en el sur del sur Here in the south—the furthermost south—
Llegó el once de septiembre September 11th arrived 5
Como un espejo entre las sombras Like a mirror in the shadows
Llegó el once de septiembre September 11th arrived
Al principio de una primavera temprana At the start of an early spring
La fragrancia de las violetas en el aire The scent of violets in the air
Llegó el once de septiembre September 11th arrived 10
En una mañana como cualquiera On a morning like any other
La ciudad se despertó The city awoke
Las montañas se saludaron The mountains echoed
Buenos días se dijeron Good day
Los amantes entretejieron sus piernas una vez más The lovers intertwined their legs once more 15
Y seguros en su amor And secure in their love
Y de pronto And suddenly
Llegó el once de septiembre September 11th arrived
El cielo se tornó en un infierno The heavens turned into hell 20
La radio tocó himnos de guerra The radio played hymns of war
Las sirenas sonaron como un viento salvaje The sirens screamed like a savage wind
Un presidente herido dijo A wounded president said
Que un día caminaríamos tras las inmensas That one day we would walk along grand
En una primavera por llegar In a future spring 25
Era el mediodía It was noon
Henry Kissinger y Richard Nixon Henry Kissinger and Richard Nixon
Aplaudieron felices Applauded happily
Los hombres siniestros con pieles de culebras The sinister men in snakeskin
Movían sus lenguas Wagged their tongues 30
Un palacio ardía en llamas A palace went up in flames
Como en un sueño As if in a dream
Y los jóvenes quemaban sus poemas And the young burned their poems
Y el país de antes And the country
Tan dulce como una rosa Once sweet as a rose 35
Se transformó en cenizas Turned into ash
En la tierra del miedo In the land of fear
Llegó el once de septiembre September 11th arrived
Los días se hicieron noche Days became nights
Y como en Nueva York Like New York 40
Las mujeres gemían The women wailed
Buscando a sus hijos Searching for their children
En los escombros In the rubble
Sus pies hundiéndose más y más Their feet sinking ever deeper
En el pozo seco del odio Into the dry well of hatred 45
Llegó mi once de septiembre My September 11th arrived
Pero a diferencia de Nueva York But unlike New York
Todos se olvidaron Everyone forgot
Chile era un país pequeño junto al mar Chile was a small country by the sea
Los muertos eran sólo chilenos The dead were just Chilenos 50
Según los periódicos According to the press
Y todos nosotros susurrábamos en secreto And all of us whispered in secret
Y llorábamos en voz alta and cried out loud
Yo también tuve un once de septiembre I too had a September 11th
Y aunque sabía quién era el enemigo And although I knew who the enemy was 55
Me negué a entender I refused to understand
A un palacio en llamas A palace in flames
Yo también tuve un once de septiembre I too had a September 11th
Y hoy lo recuerdo contigo And today I remember it with you
Fotografia z 11 Września Photograph from September 11
Powieść Wisława Szmborska By Wislawa Szymborska
Trans. from Polish by Clare Kavanagh and Stanisław Barańczak
Skoczyli z płonących pięter w dót— They jumped from the burning floors—
jeden, dwóch, jeszcze kilku one, two, a few more,
wyżej, niżej. higher, lower.
Fotografia powstrzymała ich przy życiu, The photograph halted them in life,
a teraz przechowuje and now keeps them 5
nad ziemią ku ziemi. above the earth toward the earth.
Każdz to jeszcze całość Each is still complete,
z osobistą twarzą with a particular face
i krwią dobrze ukrytą and blood well hidden.
Jest dosyć czasu, There‘s enough time 10
żeby rozwiały się włosy, for hair to come loose,
a z kieszeni wypadłz for keys and coins
klucze, drobne pieniądze. to fall from pockets.
Są ciągle jeszcze w zasięgu powietrza, They‘re still within the air‘s reach,
w obrębie miejsc, within the compass of places 15
Które się właśnie otwarłz. that have just now opened.
Tylko dwie rzeczy mogę dla nich zrobić— I can do only two things for them—
opisać ten lot describe this flight
i nie dodawać ostatniego zdania. and not add a last line.
The War on Terror and Homeland Security
Good Morning, Uzbekistan!
By Peter Desmond
It's great to be here.
We'll name our new military airport
after your most famous son,
the great mathematician
Muhammad al-Khwarizmi, 5
who lived in the ninth century
of the Christian era—
sorry, the Common Era.
We'll build Firebase Algorithm,
a word derived from his last name. 10
The book he wrote, Kitab Al-Jabr,
christened the field of algebra.
Whoops! We should have said
Al-Jabr was its basis.
We'll add a lot more bases. 15
Your social problems might multiply
as we search for X, then Y, then Z,
the unknown quantities,
the solutions to our problem,
but we're grateful for your support, 20
glad that al-Khwarizmi
developed the ―calculus of two errors.‖
It will help us differentiate
terror from infinite justice—
make that ―enduring freedom.‖ 25
We give thanks that al-Khwarizmi
launched the decimal system,
so we can keep easy body counts,
flash results on television,
and when the Great Game ends 30
post the scores in Arabic numerals:
Muslims, zero. Christians, zero.
Found in the Free Library
By Eleanor Wilner (b. 1937)
Write as if you lived in an occupied country.
And we were made afraid, and being afraid
we made him bigger than he was, a little man
and ignorant, wrapped like a vase of glass
in bubble wrap all his life, who never felt
a single lurch or bump, carried over 5
the rough surface of other lives like
the spoiled children of the sultans of old
in sedan chairs, on the backs of slaves,
the gold curtains on the chair
pulled shut against the dust and shit 10
of the road on which the people walked,
over whose heads, he rode, no more aware
than a wave that rattles pebbles on a beach.
And being afraid we forgot to notice
who pulled his golden strings, how 15
their banks overflowed while
the public coffers emptied, how
they stole our pensions, poured their smoke
into our lungs, how they beat our ploughshares
into swords, sold power to the lords of oil, 20
closed their fists to crush the children
of Iraq, took the future from our failing grasp
into their hoards, ignored our votes,
broke our treaties with the world,
and when our hungry children cried, 25
the doctors drugged them so they wouldn‘t fuss,
and prisons swelled enormously to hold
the desperate sons and daughters of the poor.
To us, they just said war, and war, and war.
For when they saw we were afraid, 30
how knowingly they played on every fear—
so conned, we scarcely saw their scorn,
hardly noticed as they took our funds, our rights,
and tapped our phones, turned back our clocks,
and then, to quell dissent, they sent. . . . 35
(but here the document is torn)
By Sam Hamill
No one is the homeland. The myths of history
cannot clothe the Emperor‘s nakedness,
no speech empower a vote not counted,
nor honor the living who are impoverished
by our anthems for the dead. No one 5
is the homeland. Not the heroes of our
old genocides, the Indian Wars, nor those
who sailed west with cargoes of human flesh
in chains, nor those in chains who came
against their will to work and breed and die 10
in the service of their masters, masters
whose sons would be masters of us all today.
There are no heroes except the ones
who rise to greet the dawn with empty hands
and heavy hearts in a brutal time. No oath 15
or pledge reveals what‘s in the heart or mind.
No one is the homeland. Or everyone.
For who lives without a country of the heart?
And yet we cry, ―We!‖ We cry, ―Them!‖
I pledge allegiance to the kind. 20
Among the exiled, I make my stand.
No true democracy can be won
at the point of a loaded gun, nor honor found
in anthems or cheap paradigms
based on the social lie. No one is the homeland. 25
It can‘t be found in the grandiloquence
of pompous village idiots who run for office
because they want the power. Nor in the brilliance
of the medals on a uniform worn by a man
whose thinking is uniform and obedient 30
as he swears his pledge of allegiance.
The homeland is a state of grace, of peace,
a whole new world that patiently awaits.
The homeland is a state of mind, a light
flooding the garden, a transcendent moment 35
of compassionate awareness, one extraordinary line
in some old poem that reveals or exemplifies
a possibility . . . in time . . . in time . . .
By Lawrence Ferlinghetti
And a vast paranoia sweeps across the land
And America turns the attack on its Twin Towers
Into the beginning of the Third World War
The war with the Third World
And the terrorists in Washington 5
Are shipping out the young men
To the killing fields again
And no one speaks
And they are rousting out
All the ones with turbans 10
And they are flushing out
All the strange immigrants
And they are shipping all the young men
To the killing fields again
And no one speaks 15
And when they come to round up
All the great writers and poets and painters
The National Endowment of the Arts of Complacency
Will not speak
While all the young men 20
Will be killing all the young men
In the killing fields again
So now is the time for you to speak
All you lovers of liberty
All you lovers of the pursuit of happiness 25
All you lovers and sleepers
Deep in your private dream
Now is the time for you to speak
O silent majority
Before they come for you! 30
War in Iraq
By C. K. Williams
She‘s magnificent, as we imagine women must be
who foresee and foretell and are right and disdained.
This is the difference between we who are like her
in having been right and disdained, and we as we are.
Because we, in our foreseeings, our having been right, 5
are repulsive to ourselves, fat and immobile, like toads.
Not toads in the garden, who after all are what they are,
but toads in the tale of death in the desert of sludge.
In this tale of lies, of treachery, of superfluous dead,
were there ever so many who were right and disdained? 10
With no notion of what to do next? If we were true seers,
as prescient as she, as frenzied, we‘d know what to do next.
We‘d twitter, as she did, like birds; we‘d warble, we‘d trill.
But what would it be really, to twitter, to warble, to trill?
Is it ee-ee-ee, like having a child? Is it uh-uh-uh, like a wound? 15
Or is it inside, like a blow, silent to everyone but yourself?
Yes, inside, I remember, oh-oh-oh: it‘s where grief
is just about to be spoken, but all at once can‘t be: oh.
When you no longer can ―think‖ of what things like lies,
like superfluous dead, so many, might mean: oh. 20
Cassandra will be abducted at the end of her tale, and die.
Even she can‘t predict how. Stabbed? Shot? Blown to bits?
Her abductor dies, too, though, in a gush of gore, in a net.
That we know; she foresaw that—in a gush of gore, in a net.
The God of the Weather-Beaten Face
By Martín Espada
for Camilio Mejía, for conscientious objector
The gods gathered:
the crusader god took off his helmet,
the desert warrior god stood his shield in the corner,
the sword-maker god sat between them sharpening blades,
the bombardier god spread his maps on the table, 5
the god who collects infidel heads traded trophies
with the god who collects heathen scalps,
the god of gold opened his handkerchief
for the god of oil to wipe his dripping chin,
the god who punishes sin with boils scratched his boils 10
and called the meeting to order.
And the gods said: War.
Sergeant Mejía heard the prisoner moan under the hood
as the guards shoved him into a steel closet, then pounded
with a sledgehammer on the door until the moaning stopped; 15
heard machine-gun fire slicing heads from necks
with a roar that would be the envy of swords;
heard a soldier sobbing in the toilet for the headless boy
who would open his eyes every time the soldier closed his own.
Sometimes a song drifts up 20
through the moaning and sledgehammers,
machine guns and sobbing.
Sometimes a voice floats above pandemonium
the way a seagull floats over burning ships.
Sergeant Mejía heard his father‘s song, 25
the peasant mass of Nicaragua:
Vos sos el Dios de los pobres,
el Dios humano y sencillo,
el Dios que suda en la calle,
el Dios de rostro curtido. 30
You are the God of the poor,
the human and simple God,
the God who sweats in the street,
the God of the weather-beaten face.
Iraq was crowded with the faces of this God. 35
They watched as Sergeant Mejía said no to the other gods,
miniscule word, a pebble, a grain of rice,
but the word flipped the table at the war council,
where the bombardier god had just dealt
the last hand to the god of oil, 40
and cards with dates of birth and death,
like tiny tombstones, fluttered away.
Sergeant no more, Camilio Mejía walked to jail.
Commanders fed the word coward
to the sniffing microphones of reporters 45
who repeated obediently: coward.
The cell crowded with faces too, unseen travelers
wandering in from a century of jails:
union organizer, hunger striker, freedom rider,
street corner agitator, conscientious objector. 50
The God of the weather-beaten face,
dressed as an inmate steering a mop,
smuggled in the key one day, and Camilio Mejía
walked with him through epiphany‘s gate.
Elégie pour Martin Luther King
Par Léopold Sédar Senghor
(pour orchestre de jazz)
Qui a dit que j‘étais stable dans ma maîtrise, noir sous l‘écarlate sous l‘or ?
Mais qui a dit, comme le maître de la masse et du marteau, maître du dyoung-dyoung du tam-tam
Coryphée de la danse, qu‘avec ma récade sculptée
Je commandais les Forces rouges, mieux que les chameliers leurs dromadaires au long cours ?
Ils ploient si souples, et les vents tombent et les pluies fécondes. 5
Qui a dit qui a dit, en ce siècle de la haine et de l‘atome
Quand tout pouvoir est poussière toute force faiblesse, que les Sur-Grands
Tremblent la nuit sur leurs silos profonds de bombes et de tombes, quand
A l‘horizon de la saison, je scrute dans la fièvre les tornades stériles
Des violences intestines ? Mais dites qui a dit ? 10
Flanqué du sabar au bord de l‘orchestre, les yeux intègres et la bouche blanche
Et pareil à l‘innocent du village, je vois la vision j‘entends le mode et l‘instrument
Mais les mots comme un troupeau de buffles confus se cognent contre mes dents
Et ma voix s‘ouvre dans le vide.
Se taise le dernier accord, je dois repartir à zéro, tout réapprendre de cette langue 15
Si étrangère et double, et l‘affronter avec ma lance lisse me confronter avec le monstre
Cette lionne-lamantin sirène-serpent dans le labyrinthe des abysses.
Au bord du choeur au premier pas, au premier souffle sur les feuilles de mes reins
J‘ai perdu mes lèvres donné ma langue au chat, je suis brut dans le tremblement.
Et tu dis mon bonheur, lorsque je pleure Martin Luther King ! 20
Cette nuit cette claire insomnie, je me rappelle hier et hier il y a un an.
C‘était lors le huitième jour, la huitième année de notre circoncision
La cent soixante-dix-neuvième année de notre mort-naissance à Saint-Louis.
Saint-Louis Saint-Louis ! Je me souviens d‘hier d‘avant-hier, c‘était il y a un an
Dans la Métropole du Centre, sur la presqu‘île de proue pourfendant 25
Droit la substance amère. Sur la voie longue large et comme une victoire
Les drapeaux rouge et or les étendards d‘espérance claquaient, splendides au soleil.
Et sous la brise de la joie, un peuple innombrable et noir fêtait son triomphe
Dans les stades de la Parole, le siège reconquis de sa prestance ancienne.
C‘était hier à Saint-Louis parmi la Fête, parmi les Linguères et les Signares 30
Les jeunes femmes dromadaires, la robe ouverte sur leurs jambes longues
Parmi les coiffures altières, parmi l‘éclat des dents le panache des rires des boissons. Soudain
Je me suis souvenu, j‘ai senti lourd sur mes épaules, mon coeur, tout le plomb de passé
J‘ai regardé j‘ai vu les robes fanées fatiguées sous le sourire des Signares des Linguères.
Je vois les rires avorter, et les dents se voiler des nuages bleu-noir des lèvres 35
Je revois Martin Luther King couché, une rose rouge à la gorge.
Et je sens dans la moelle de mes os déposées les voix et les larmes, hâ ! déposé le sang
De quatre cents années, quatre cents millions d‘yeux deux cents millions de coeurs deux cents millions
de bouches, deux cents millions de morts
Inutiles. Je sens qu‘aujourd‘hui, mon Peuple je sens que
Quatre Avril tu es vaincu deux fois mort, quand Martin Luther King. 40
Linguères ô Signares mes girafes belles, que m‘importent vos mouchoirs et vos mousselines
Vos finettes et vos fobines, que m‘importent vos chants si ce n‘est pour magnifier
MARTIN LUTHER KING LE ROI DE LA PAIX ?
Ah, brûlez vos fanaux Signares, arrachez, vous, Linguères vos perruques
Rapareilles et vous militantes mes filles, que vous soyez de cendres, fermez laissez tomber vos robes 45
Qu‘on ne voie vos chevilles : toutes femmes sont nobles
Qui nourrissent le peuple de leurs mains polies de leurs chants rythmés.
Car craignez Dieu, mais Dieu déjà nous a frappés de sa gauche terrible
L‘Afrique plus durement que les autres, et le Sénégal que l‘Afrique
En mil neuf cent soixante-huit ! 50
C‘est la troisième année c‘est la troisième plaie, c‘est comme jadis sur notre mère l‘Egypte.
L‘année dernière, ah, Seigneur, jamais tu ne t‘étais tant fâché depuis la Grande Faim
Et Martin Luther King n‘était plus là, pour chanter ton écume et l‘apaiser.
Il y a dans le ciel des jours brefs de cendres, des jours de silence gris sur la terre.
De la pointe des Almadies jusqu‘aux contreforts de Fongo-limbi 55
Jusqu‘à la mer en flammes de Mozambique, jusqu‘au cap de Désespoir
Je dis la brousse est rouge et blancs les champs, et les forêts des boîtes d‘allumettes
Qui craquent. Comme de grandes marées de nausées, tu as fait remonter les faims du fond de nos
Voici nos lèvres sans huile et trouées de crevasses, c‘ést sous l‘Harmattan le poto-poto de marigots.
La sève est tarie à sa source, les citernes s‘étonnent, sonores 60
Aux lèvres des bourgeons, la sève n‘est pas montée pour chanter la joie pascale
Mais défaillent les swi-mangas sur les fleurs les feuilles absentes, et les abeilles sont mortelles.
Dieu est un tremblement de terre une tornade sèche, rugissant comme le lion d‘Ethiopie au jour de sa
Les volcans ont sauté au jardin de L‘Eden, sur trois mille kilomètres, comme feux d‘artifice aux fêtes
Aux fêtes de Séboïm de Sodome de Gomorrhe, les volcans ont brûlé les lacs 65
Et les savanes. Et les maladies, les troupeaux ; et les hommes avec
Parce que nous ne l‘avons pas aidé, nous ne l‘avons pas pleuré Martin Luther King.
Je dis non, ce ne sont plus les kapos, le garrot le tonneau le chien et la chaux vive
Le piment pilé et le lard fondu, le sac le hamac le micmac, et les fesses au vent au feu, ce ne sont plus
le nerf de boeuf la poudre au cul
La castration l‘amputation la crucifixion—l‘on vous dépèce délicatement, vous brûle savamment à
petit feu le coeur. 70
C‘est la guerre postcoloniale pourrie de bubons, la pitié abolie le code d‘honneur
La guerre où les Sur-Grands vous napalment par parents interposés.
Dans l‘enfer du pétrole, ce sont deux millions et demi de cadavres humides
Et pas une flamme apaisante où les consumer tous.
Et le Nigeria rayé de la sphère, comme la Nigritie pendant sept fois mais sept fois soixante-dix ans. 75
Sur le Nigeria Seigneur tombe, et sur la Nigritie, la voix de Martin Luther King !
C‘était donc le quatre Avril mil neuf cent soixante-huit
Un soir de printemps dans un quartier gris, un quartier malodorant de boue d‘éboueurs
Où jouaient au printemps les enfants dans les rues, fleurissait le printemps dans les cours sombres
Jouaient le bleu murmure des ruisseaux, le chant des rossignols dans la nuit des ghettos 80
Des coeurs. Martin Luther King les avait choisis, le motel le quartier les ordures les éboueurs
Avec les yeux du coeur en ces jours de printemps, ces jours de passion
Où la boue de la chair serait glorifiée dans la lumière du Christ.
C‘était le soir quand la lumière est plus claire et l‘air plus doux
L‘avant-soir à l‘heure du coeur, de ses floraisons en confidences bouche à bouche, et de l‘orgue et du
chant et de l‘encens. 85
Sur le balcon maintenant de vermeil, où l‘air est plus limpide
Martin Luther debout dit pasteur au pasteur :
« Mon frère, n‘oublie pas de louer le Christ dans sa résurrection, et que son nom soit clair chanté ! »
Et voici qu‘en face, dans une maison de passe de profanation de perdition, oui dans le motel Lorraine
—Ah, Lorraine, ah, Jeanne la blanche, la bleue, que nos bouches te purifient, pareilles à l‘encens qui 90
monte ! —
Une maison mauvaise de matous de marlous, se tient debout un homme, et à la main le fusil
James Earl Ray dans son télescope regarde le Pasteur
Martin Luther King regarde le mort du Christ :
« Mon frère n‘oublie pas de magnifier ce soir le Christ dans sa résurrection ! »
Il regarde, l‘envoyé de Judas, car du pauvre vous avez fait le lycaon du pauvre 95
Il regarde dans sa lunette, ne voit que le cou tendre et noir et beau.
Il hait la gorge d‘or, qui bien module la flûte des anges
La gorge de bronze trombone, qui tonne sur Sodome terrible et sur Adama.
Martin regarde devant lui la maison en face de lui, il voit des gratte-ciel de verre de lumière
Il voit des têtes blondes bouclées des têtes sombre frisées, qui fleurissent des rêves 100
Comme des orchidées mystérieuses, et les lèvres bleues et les roses chantent en choeur comme l‘orgue
Le Blanc regarde, dur et précis comme l‘acier, James Earl vise et fait mouche
Touche Martin qui s‘affaise en avant, comme une fleur odorante
Qui tombe : « Mon frère chantez clair Son nom, que nos os exultent dans la Résurrection ! »
Cependant que s‘évaporait comme l‘encensoir le coeur du pasteur 105
Et que son âme s‘envolait, colombe diaphane qui monte
Voilà que j‘entendis, derrière mon oreille gauche, le battement lent du tam-tam.
La voix me dit, et son souffle rasait ma joue :
« Ecris et prends ta plume, fils du Lion. » Et je vis une vision.
Or c‘était en belle saison, sur les montagnes du Sud comme du Fouta-Djallon 110
Dans la douceur des tamariniers. Et sur un tertre
Siégeait l‘Être qui est Force, rayonnant comme un diamant noir.
Sa barbe déroulait la splendeur des comètes ; et à ses pieds
Sous les ombrages bleus, des ruisseaux de miel blanc, de frais parfums de paix.
Alors je reconnus, autour de sa Justice sa Bonté, confondus les élus, et les Noirs et les Blancs 115
Tous ceux pour qui Martin Luther avait prié.
Confonds-les donc, Seigneur, sous tes yeux sous ta barbe blanche :
Les bourgeois et les paysans paisibles, coupeurs de canne cueilleurs de coton
Et les ouvriers aux mains fiévreuses, et ils font rugir les usines, et le soir ils sont soûlés d‘amertume
Les Blancs et les Noirs, tous les fils de la même Terre-Mère. 120
Et ils chantaient à plusieurs voix, ils chantaient Hosanna ! Alléluia !
Comme au Royaume d‘Enfance autrefois, quand je rêvais.
Or ils chantaient l‘innocence du monde, et ils dansaient la floraison
Dansaient les forces que rythmait, qui rythmaient la Force des forces : la Justice accordée, qui est
Et leurs battements de pieds syncopés étaient comme une symphonie en noir et blanc 125
Qui pressaient les fleurs écrasaient les grappes, pour les noces des âmes :
Du Fils unique avec les myriades d‘étoiles.
Je vis donc, car je vis, George Washingon et Phillis Wheatley, bouche de bronze bleue qui annonça la
liberté—son chant l‘a consumée
Et Benjamin Franklin, et le marquis de La Fayette sous son panache de cristal
Abraham Lincoln qui donna son sang, ainsi qu‘une boisson de vie à l‘Amérique 130
Je vis Booker T. Washington le Patient, et William E. B. Dubois l‘Indomptable qui s‘en alla planter sa
tombe en Nigritie
J‘entendis la voix blues de Langston Hughes, jeune comme la trompette d‘Armstrong. Me retournant je
Près de moi John F. Kennedy, plus beau que le rêve d‘un peuple, et son frère Robert, une armure fine
Et je vis—que je chante !—tous les Justes les Bons, que le destin dans son cyclone avait couchés
Et ils furent debout par la voix du poète, tels de grands arbres élancés 135
Qui jalonnent la voix, et au milieu d‘eux Martin Luther King.
Je chante Malcolm X, l‘ange rouge de notre nuit
Par les yeux d‘Angela chante George Jackson, fulgurant comme l‘Amour sans ailes ni flèches
Non sans tourment. Je chante avec mon frère
La Négritude debout, une main blanche dans sa main vivante 140
Je chante l‘Amérique transparente, où la lumière est polyphonie de couleurs
Je chante un paradis de paix.