Monday, September 24, 2012

So You Think You Don't Like Poetry: Slightly Political Edition

There's just so much going on in politics at the moment that it seems appropriate to post a poem that veers on the political, or as close to it as I'm comfortable with in poetry. I rag on free verse sometimes, but I adore this poem by Adrienne Rich. It has no recognizable form per se, but its logic is understandable and the shape the poem takes (somewhat fragmented, with some bursts of white space) feels absolutely right. The last stanza floors me every time I read it.

The story of how I found this poem is somewhat interesting. I had rented a Zipcar and upon returning it, I was checking the various compartments to make sure I wasn't leaving anything behind. In the glove compartment, I found a copy of Rich's The School Among the Ruins: Poems 2000-2004. I kept it (is that stealing? or finders keepers?) and this was the first poem in it I read. 


That the meek word like the righteous word can bully
that an Israeli soldier interviewed years
after the first intifada could mourn on camera
what under orders he did, saw done, did not refuse
that another leaving Beit Jala could scrawl
on a wall:   We are truely sorry for the mess we made
is merely routine    word that would cancel deed
That human equals innocent and guilty
That we grasp for innocence whether or no
is elementary    That words can translate into broken bones
That the power to hurl words is a weapon
That the body can be a weapon
any child on playground knows    That asked your favorite word
                                                              in a game
you always named a thing, a quality, freedom or river
(never a pronoun, never God or War)
is taken for granted    That word and body
are all we have to lay on the line
That words are windowpanes in a ransacked hut, smeared
by time's dirty rains, we might argue
likewise that words are clear as glass till the sun strikes it blinding

But that in a dark windowpane you have seen your face
That when you wipe your glasses the text grows clearer
That the sound of glass crunching comes at the height of the                          
That I can look through glass
into my neighbor's house
but not my neighbor's life
That glass is sometimes broken to save lives
That a word can be crushed like a goblet underfoot
is only what it seems, part question, part answer: how
                                you live it.

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