ALICIA OSTRIKER: POEMS FOR THE TIME
When I can't stand political and journalistic rhetoric any longer, I turn
to poems. I don't believe poetry is therapeutic, but I do think it is
diagnostic. Poems clarify, whether we like it or not. Here are some I
have gathered, from various sources. May they be useful to others.
(Alicia Ostriker wrote the introduction for the book, "Poetry After 9/11: An Anthology of New York Poets," which also features her poem, "the window, at the moment of flame." The book is published by Melville House Books, and is available here.)
God Has Pity on Kindergarten Children by Yehuda Amichai
To a Terrorist by Stephen Dunn
the window, at the moment of flame by Alicia Ostriker
What Are Years by Marianne Moore
Poem by Muriel Rukeyser
On Being Asked to Write a Poem Against the War in Vietnam by Hayden Carruth
The God Abandons Antony by C. P. Cavafy
GOD HAS PITY ON KINDERGARTEN CHILDREN
God has pity on kindergarten children.
He has less pity on school children
And on grownups he has no pity at all,
he leaves them alone,
and sometimes they must crawl on all fours
in the burning sand
to reach the firstaid station
covered with blood.
But perhaps he will watch over true lovers
and have mercy on them and shelter them
like a tree over the old man
sleeping on a public bench.
Perhaps we too will give them
the last rare coins of charity
that Mother handed down to us
so that their happiness may protect us
now and on other days.
TO A TERRORIST
For the historical ache, the ache passed down
which finds its circumstance and becomes
the present ache, I offer this poem
without hope, knowing there's nothing,
not even revenge, which alleviates
a life like yours. I offer it as one
might offer his father's ashes
to the wind, a gesture
when there's nothing else to do.
Still, I must say to you:
I hate your good reasons.
I hate the hatefullness that makes you fall
in love with death, your own included.
Perhaps you're hating me now,
I who own my own house
and live in a country so muscular,
so smug, it thinks its terror is meant
only to mean well, and to protect.
Christ turned his singular cheek,
one man's holiness another's absurdity.
Like you, the rest of us obey the sting,
the surge. I'm just speaking out loud
to cancel my silence. Consider it an old impulse,
doomed to become mere words.
The first poet probably spoke to thunder
and, for a while, believed
thunder had an ear and a choice.
the window, at the moment of flame
and all this while I have been playing with toys
a toy superhighway a toy automobile a house of blocks
and all this while far off in other lands
thousands and thousands, millions and millions
you know you see the pictures
women carrying bony infants
men sobbing over graves
buildings sculpted by explosion
earth wasted bare and rotten
and all this while I have been shopping, I have
been let us say free
and do they hate me for it
do they hate me
WHAT ARE YEARS
What is our innocence,
what is our guilt? All are
naked, none is safe. And whence
is courage; the unanswered question,
the resolute doubt
dumbly calling, deafly listening that
in misfortune, even death,
and in its defeat, stirs
the soul to be strong? He
sees deep and is glad, who
accedes to mortality
and in his imprisonment rises
upon himself as
the sea in a chasm, struggling to be
free and unable to be,
in its surrendering
finds its continuing.
So he who strongly feels
behaves. The very bird,
grown taller as he sings, steels
his form straight up. Though he is captive,
his mighty singing
says, satisfaction is a lowly
thing, how pure a thing is joy.
This is mortality,
this is eternity.
I lived in the first century of world wars.
Most mornings I would be more or less insane.
The news would pour out of various devices
The newspapers would arrive with their careless stories,
Interrupted by attempts to sell products to the unseen.
I would call my friends on other devices;
They would be more or less mad for similar reasons.
Slowly I would get to pen and paper,
Make my poems for others unseen and unborn.
In the day I would be reminded of those men and women,
Brave, setting up signals across vast distances,
considering a nameless way of living, of almost unimagined values.
As the lights darkened, as the lights of night brightened,
We would try to imagine them, try to find each other,
To construct peace, to make love, to reconcile
Waking with sleeping, ourselves with each other,
Ourselves with ourselves. We would try by any means
To reach the limits of ourselves, to reach beyond ourselves,
To let go the means, to wake.
I lived in the first century of these wars.
On Being Asked to Write a Poem Against the War in Vietnam
Well I have and in fact
more than one and I'll
tell you this too
I wrote one against
Algeria that nightmare
and another against
Korea and another
against the one
I was in
and I don't remember
how many against
when I was a boy
Abyssinia Spain and
and not one
breath was restored
mans womans or childs
not one not
but death went on and on
never looking aside
except now and then
with a furtive half-smile
to make sure I was noticing.
The God Abandons Antony
When suddenly, at midnight, you hear
an invisible procession going by
with exquisite music, voices,
don't mourn your luck that's failing now,
work gone wrong, your plans
all proving deceptive don't mourn them uselessly.
As one long prepared, and graced with courage,
say goodbye to her, the Alexandria that is leaving.
Above all, don't fool yourself, don't say
it was a dream, your ears deceived you:
don't degrade yourself with empty hopes like these.
As one long prepared, and graced with courage,
as is right for you who were given this kind of city,
go firmly to the window
And listen with deep emotion, but not
with whining, the pleas of a coward;
listen your final delectation to the voices,
to the exquisite music of that strange procession,
and say goodbye to her, to the Alexandria you are losing.
C. P. Cavafy
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All material not otherwise attributed ©2001, 2002 Dennis Loy Johnson.