(September 2005) Here’s another piece from shock and awe: war on words. It’s Adrienne Rich—which means, of course, that she has odd line breaks and deep indents ... only I can’t figure out how to create those deep indents in HTML so you get it all flush left. She wouldn’t like that one bit, would probably come up with some kind of hyphenated obscenity with which to put me in my place.
by Adrienne Rich
Thought of this “our” nation :: thought of war
ghosts of war fugitive
in labyrinths of amnesia
veterans out-of-state textbooks in a library basement
didn’t realize it until I wrote it
August now apples have started
severing from the tree
over the deck by night their dim impact
thuds into dreams
by daylight bruised starting to stew in sun
saying “apple” to nose and tongue
Word following sense, the way it should be
and if you don’t speak the word
do you lose your senses
And isn’t this just one speck, one atom
on the glazed surface we call
from which I write
the war ghosts treading in their shredded
disguises above the clouds
and the price we pay here still opaque as the fog
we always say will break open?
Try this one on your tongue: “the poetry of the enemy”
If you read it will you succumb
Will the enemy’s wren fly through your window
and circle your room
Will you smell the herbs hung to dry in the house
he has had to rebuild in words
Would you weaken your will to hear
riffs of the instruments he loves
rustling of rivers remembered
where faucets are dry
“The enemy’s water” is there a phrase
for that in your language?
And you what do you write
now in your abandoned house tuned in
to the broadcasts of horror
under a sagging arbor, dimdumim
do you grope for poetry
to embrace all this
—not describe, embrace staggering
in its arms, Jacob-and-angle-wise?
Do you understand why I want your voice?
At the seder table it’s said
you reclined and said nothing
now in the month of Elul is your throat so dry
your dreams so stony
you wake with their grit in your mouth?
There was a beautiful life here once
Our enemies poisoned it?
Make a list of what’s lost but don’t
call it a poem
that’s for the scriptors of nostalgia
bent to their copying-desks
Make a list of what you love well
Twist it insert it
into a bottle of old Roman glass
go to the edge of the sea
at Haifa where the refugee ships lurched in
and the ships of deportation wrenched away
for Giora Leshem
Drove upcoast first day of another year no rain
oxalis gold lakes floating
on January green
Can winter tides off the Levant
churn up wilder spume?
Think Crusades, remember Acre
wind driving at fortress walls
everything returns in time except the
What thou lovest well can well be reft from thee
What does not change / is the will
the fascination with what’s easiest
see it in any video arcade
is this what the wind is driving at?
Where are you Giora? whose hands
lay across mine a moment
Can you still believe that afternoon
Talking you smoking light and shade
on the deck, here in California
our laughter, your questions of translation
your daughter’s flute?
(First published in The School among the Ruins: Poem 2000–2004, forthcoming)