Wednesday, October 10, 2007
Robert Pinsky's "Poem of Disconnected Parts"
This was from Poetry Daily today, which is curated by Don Selby and Diane Boller, and has been around for some years, posting a poem a day. For that service of poetry, Selby and Boller should be thanked. Yet I have to say their editorial choices leave me consistently grumpy. Perhaps it's the typical ressentiment of one who has not been chosen. From a wider, less egocentric lens, I find Poetry Daily to be stuck in a sort of blase nature poetry ethos ("if it trees, it leads"), but occasionally I'm surprised. Even though Pinsky is by now ubiquitous (and his shine dulled by his ubiquity), I've always been thankful for his critical insights--one of which appears in this poem: that he writes for the dead and for the unborn. That sense of ancestral weight is one which, in the American context, feels like a welcome weight. This poem ranges all over (another reason I like it), and has the kind of global ranginess and troubled celebration of our attempts at a language that might be powerful enough to liberate us from our worst selves.
"Poem of Disconnected Parts" by Robert Pinsky
At Robben Island the political prisoners studied.
They coined the motto Each one Teach one.
In Argentina the torturers demanded the prisoners
Address them always as "Profesor."
Many of my friends are moved by guilt, but I
Am a creature of shame, I am ashamed to say.
Culture the lock, culture the key. Imagination
That calls the boiled sheep heads in the market "Smileys."
The first year at Guantanamo, Abdul Rahim Dost
Incised his Pashto poems into styrofoam cups.
"The Sangomo says in our Zulu culture we do not
Worship our ancestors: we consult them."
Becky is abandoned in 1902 and Rose dies giving
Birth in 1924 and Sylvia falls in 1951.
Still falling still dying still abandoned in 2006
Still nothing finished among the descendants.
I support the War, says the comic, it's just the Troops
I'm against: can't stand those Young People.
Proud of the fallen, proud of her son the bomber.
Ashamed of the government. Skeptical.
After the Klansman was found Not Guilty one juror
Said she just couldn't vote to convict a pastor.
Who do you write for? I write for dead people:
For Emily Dickinson, for my grandfather.
"The Ancestors say the problem with your Knees
Began in your Feet. It could move up your Back."
But later the Americans gave Dost not only paper
And pen but books. Hemingway, Dickens.
Old Aegyptius said, Whoever has called this Assembly,
For whatever reason—that is a good in itself.
O thirsty shades who regard the offering, O stained earth.
There are many fake Sangomos. This one is real.
Coloured prisoners got different meals and could wear
Long pants and underwear, Blacks got only shorts.
No he says he cannot regret the three years in prison:
Otherwise he would not have written those poems.
I have a small-town mind. Like the Greeks and Trojans.
Shame. Pride. Importance of looking bad or good.
Did he see anything like the prisoner on a leash? Yes,
In Afghanistan. In Guantanamo he was isolated.
Our enemies "disassemble" says the President.
Not that anyone at all couldn't mis-speak.
The profesores created nicknames for torture devices:
The Airplane. The Frog. Burping the Baby.
Not that those who behead the helpless in the name
Of God or tradition don't also write poetry.
Guilts, metaphors, traditions. Hunger strikes.
Culture the penalty. Culture the escape.
What could your children boast about you? What
Will your father say, down among the shades?
The Sangomo told Marvin, "You are crushed by some
Weight. Only your own Ancestors can help you."