Further thoughts on the cultural labor of poetry and art. Not merely "is it good?," but "what has it accomplished?"...reviews of recent poetry collections; selected poems and art dealing with war/peace/social change; reviews of poetry readings; links to political commentary (particularly on conflicts in the Middle East); youtubed performances of music, demos, and other audio-video nuggets dealing with peaceful change, dissent and resistance.
Wednesday, March 2, 2016
Sand Opera Lenten Journey Day 22: Not to Forget the Things Which Your Own Eyes Have Seen (And Not Seen): “Home Sweet Home,” + Joe Hall & Mary Austin Speaker
Sand Opera Lenten Journey Day 22: Not to Forget the Things Which Your Own
Eyes Have Seen (And Not Seen): “Home Sweet Home,” + Joe Hall & Mary Austin
However, take care and be earnestly on your guard
not to forget the things which your own eyes have seen,
nor let them slip from your memory as long as you live,
but teach them to your children and to your children’s children.
Today’s passage taken from Deuteronomy reminded me instantly of
Herodotus. I took solace in
Herodotus’s notion of writing “to prevent these deeds from drifting into
oblivion,” and find peace in the durability of art—its ability to stay in our
minds longer than our historical memory. Of course, part of the trouble is that
so much is hidden from us (sometimes by our own ideological blindness), that we
don’t even know what we haven’t seen to remember it.
The scholar Patrick
Deer wrote to me not long ago about these observance pieces, saying that I’d
found a way to perform my own “longue duree,” and I was glad to find a name for
my strange perseveration. According to Wikipedia, “the longue durée …
is an expression used by the French Annales
School of historical writing to designate their approach to the study
of history, which gives priority to long-term historical structures over
events— what François Simiand called histoire
événementielle, "event history"— the short-term time-scale that
is the domain of the chronicler and the journalist;
the longue durée concentrates on all-but-permanent or slowly
evolving structures, and substitutes for élite biographies the broader
syntheses of prosopography.” Amen to that.
Today’s poem, “Home
Sweet Home,” relies upon a letter from a friend (a Marine) and an interview of
a widow taken by Jim Sheeler and published in Final Salute. Alongside, Joe Hall has written a fascinating piece
on the politics of water in the Middle East, and Mary Austin Speaker, the
designer of Sand Opera and a poet in her own right, has written a poem
inspired by “Home Sweet Home.”
“Home Sweet Home” by Joe Hall
Here I’m speaking to the block of testimony on a
translucent page overlaid within the void of “Home Sweet Home.” As Philip lets
us know, it’s the testimony of a widow whose soldier husband died in a tank
driven into the Tigris river: “I climbed inside, they closed / the hatch. Sat
there thinking, / this is such a little hole, / and my love was so much /
bigger than me.” Crushing.
Tanks and tankers – I think immediately of Ghassan
Kanafani’s novellaMen In The
Sunin which three
Palestinian refugees in a camp in Lebanon hire a smuggler to take them to
Kuwait. At checkpoints the three men hide within the tank of water truck. They
die at the last one, their life baked out of them by the sun. One tank in the
Tigris filling with water, one water tanker at a checkpoint, bone dry. These
are not equal and I cannot weight them.
What is it here I can’t quite say? Metres’s poetry
delivers me constantly to this place.
My own work has taken me to water in Iraq and the
West Bank and the more subtle, staggering costs of war and settler colonialism.
Behind every “surgical strike” has been the destruction of crucial water
infrastructure, the expropriation of water resources, the pollution of
traditional watercourses, and sanctions that prevent the rebuilding of water
infrastructure. One result is that the poorest residents of Gaza, the West
Bank, and Iraq must do things like buy water at a steep cost--perhaps from a
man driving a water tanker--or drink dirty water. The result has been hundreds
of thousands of deaths of the most vulnerable: children. Thomas Nagy’s “The
Secret Behind the Sanctions: How the U.S. Intentionally Destroyed Iraq’s Water
Supply” is one early place to start learning about this slow, spreading
“Home Sweet Home” ends like this: “I remember lying
on my cot at night and looking up at the ceiling and thinking I had looked
directly in the eyes of evil and could do nothing about it. I could do nothing
Joe Hall is an author and scholar living
in Buffalo, New York. His three collections of poems are Pigafetta Is
My Wife, The Devotional Poems, and Utopia (forthcoming). With
Cheryl Quimba, he wrote the chapbook May I Softly
Walk. He is a founding member of Hostile Books, a
collective working to radically materializing language.
“Daughters of the Confederacy” by Mary Austin Speaker
“Home Sweet Home” by Philip Metres
So you have seen the face of evil.
You have looked right in.
Was it cold? Was it on fire?
Which is the greater crime—
To shrug off the pain of others
or to seek it? One murder,
or the murder of thousands?
Perhaps evil is a force that comes
in degrees so small this question
doesn’t matter. To tell you the truth,
I do not want to know
what you have seen. And yet
because I know you loved,
I cannot look away
from your grief. And yet
I am a citizen of a country with a military
that occupies elsewheres. And yet
I am an occupant of that country,
a descendant of men
who prized slavery.
A priest in Texas told me hell
is made by human beings.
I was sixteen and told him
I did not believe in hell
some fantastic burning
where everyone gets
what they deserve, when we
so rarely do. And yet.
Justice is a force I want
to believe in. A benevolence.
Who can take the bad to task
for their sick power?
I know we are not simple.
Everyone sleeps, sings, some of us
even love, and in these things
a tender root that complicates
the fire and ice. Perhaps a sordid few
burn through or crystallize their hate,
but not many. Not most. And yet
the casualties accrue.
We are left with only dirty wars.
and all my empathy can do
is grieve, and recognize a thrall,
witness how we all
let cruelty flourish in
the name of honor, power,
flash of red that left unchecked
would leave us darkly limitless, bent
on punishment, correction,
justice a mutable and sudden hammer,
a shadow blue with grief.
If you saw evil in its purest form,
would you recognize it?
I hope I would, and yet.
--Mary Austin Speaker is a poet and book designer. She is the author of The Bridge, released in January 2016 from
Shearsman Books. Her first full-length collection of poems, Ceremony, was selected by Matthea Harvey as winner of the 2012 Slope Editions
book prize and was published in February 2013. She is the author of four
chapbooks: In the End There Were Thousands of
Cowboys (Menagerie Editions 2009), Abandoning the Firmament
(Menagerie Editions 2010), The Bridge(Push Press 2011), and 20 Love Poems for 10 Months(Ugly Duckling Presse
2012), as well as a play, I AM YOU THIS MORNING YOU ARE ME TONIGHT,
collaboratively written with her husband, the poet Chris Martin for the journal Bridge. She runs a tiny design studio in Minneapolis, and regularly designs books for Milkweed Editions,
The Song Cave, WW Norton, HarperCollins, Alice James Books and others.