Monday, July 23, 2007

Edward Dougherty's "Speaking for Myself"

This is from Edward Dougherty's chapbook, "The Metal of My Mouth" and the forthcoming full-length collection Observing Silence. In 1993, Dougherty went to Hiroshima as a volunteer director of the World Friendship Center where he and his wife stayed for two and a half years, witnessing the fiftieth anniversaries of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Though many of his poems attempt to probe for an imagination of peace, part of that probing necessarily means confronting the bomb inside.

"Speaking for Myself"

The supreme political fact of our lives is the atomic bomb. Am I wrong? It is enormous; it occupies the whole world. It is not only what it is but also the concentrated symbol of all hatred and injustice in every social and economic sphere. Speaking for myself, I have lived in fear of it for fifteen years, fear that it will go off, one way or another, and kill me and my family, or render our lives so intolerable that we won’t wish to go on. Maybe I am more timorous than most people; I believe there are actually more Americans who never think about the bomb. But poets?—Hayden Carruth (1961)

I am writing the bomb. I am always
getting bigger because I am writing
the bomb in my belly, the targeted,
the locked behind a whole series
of coordinated commands bomb.
Am I more fearful than most, more
fearsome or troublesome? Am I
rolling in my hands a fact,
making a mountain
out of a footnote? I am writing
the history of a metal, a filling
in my mouth throbbing
with threat. I want to grab you
by the scruff of your threatened neck.
I want to take you by the hand.
I want more than is possible?
What is possible inside this
ruling? A crooked measure
of what’s good to eat, what to wear
against the wind, the snow
that is so much like a drift
of ashes. The white shadow
on my X-ray, Kodak knew
was coming. In a locked drawer
in Pennsylvania’s low mountains,
the black plains, the dark sheets
of film spotted, as if spores
of fungus blew in
through the many black holes
in the telephone. Another voice
calling for an appointment
with Doctor Bomb. Prescribe
the bomb, write it down before
it goes off. Again. Write it. Here,
take my testimony: we knew.
All along, we knew. All along
the glittering rivers of Hiroshima
when the Army doctors
paraded those little girls to take
their clothes off for the camera,
when the desert air crackled
with scriptures, when the silos
hollowed out an enormous tube
in the great prairies of the earth,
when a report sighed as it slipped
out of the manila envelope
only to be sent away Dismissed! with words
it could not grasp. Next! I read about
one man’s fear and that primitive
longing to write himself into—...
and out of the bomb comes
a burning wind, a dark wall
that rolls over the civilized miles,
writing rubble in the cities
and writing on the living things
What have we done? Oh my God
I am heartily sorry for having
this bomb inside me
and for the thoughts
for which it stands, one policy
underground, one last stand
selling hot dogs outside the stadium
and the crowds inside
already cheering, thumping
on the bleachers, a blinding white
page and the sky is as blue
as ever and the autumn day
as crisp as a crimson maple leaf
and under my head my fingers
go to sleep inside the droning
of a single plane overhead
from the county airport
its white trail writing
my history. Again. Write it.

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