Bu-lat-lat (boo-lat-lat) verb: to search, probe, investigate, inquire; to unearth facts
Volume 3, Number 1 February 2 - 8, 2003 Quezon City, Philippines
12: A Day of Poetry Against the War
An Open Letter from Sam Hamill
to Alternative Reader Index
I picked up my mail and saw the letter marked "The White House," I
felt no joy. Rather I was overcome by a kind of nausea as I read the card
Bush requests the pleasure of your company
at a reception and White House Symposium on "Poetry and the American
Voice" on Wednesday, February 12, 2003 at one o'clock
the day before I had read a lengthy report on George Bush's proposed "Shock
and Awe" attack on Iraq, calling for saturation bombing that would be like
the firebombing of Dresden or Tokyo, killing countless innocent civilians.
believe the only legitimate response to such a morally bankrupt and
unconscionable idea is to reconstitute a Poets Against the War movement like the
one organized to speak out against the war in Vietnam.
am asking every poet to speak up for the conscience of our country and lend his
or her name to our petition against this war, and to make February 12 a day of
Poetry Against the War. We will compile an anthology
of protest to be presented to the White House on that afternoon.
submit your name and a poem or statement of conscience to the Poets Against the
War web site.
is little time to organize and compile. I urge you to pass along this letter to
any poets you know. Please join me in making February 12 a day when the White
House can truly hear the voices of American poets.
Sam Hamill, founding editor of Copper Canyon Press
Olive Wood Fire
Fergus woke crying at night.
would carry him from his crib
the rocking chair and sit holding him
the fire of thousand-year-old olive wood.
for reasons I never knew
he has forgotten, even after his bottle the big tears
keep on rolling down his big cheeks
the left cheek always more brilliant than the right -
we would sit, some nights for hours, rocking
the light eking itself out of the ancient wood,
hold each other against the darkness,
close behind and far away in the future,
I imagined all around.
such time, fallen half-asleep myself,
thought I heard a scream
a flier crying out in horror
he dropped fire on he didn't know what or whom,
else a child thus set aflame -
sat up alert. The olive wood fire
burned low. In my arms lay Fergus,
asleep, left cheek glowing, God.
of the Union, 2003
have not been to Jerusalem,
Shirley talks about the bombs.
have no god, but have seen the children praying
it to stop. They pray to different gods.
news is all old news again, repeated
a bad habit, cheap tobacco, the social lie.
children have seen so much death
death means nothing to them now.
wait in line for bread.
wait in line for water.
eyes are black moons reflecting emptiness.
seen them a thousand times.
the President will speak.
will have something to say about bombs
freedom and our way of life.
will turn the tv off. I always do.
I can't bear to look
the monuments in his eyes.
was not given,
invitation to refuse.
chance to be part of
caucus of those
obvious and earnest.
wishes are simple:
to be negotiated.
easy on the violence.
what we poets
all on the table,
break up the table
splinter the chairs.
ask poets to celebrate,
people can't even
fear of war's imminence.
to Hayden Carruth
Hayden, I have owed you a letter for
month, or two - your last one's misplaced. But I'm
in New York. The world is howling,
and dying in banner headlines.
hope from youthful pacifists, elderly
no solutions from diplomats.
maddened with revealed religion
their neighbors with righteous fervor,
claiming they're "defending democracy,"
homespun junta exports the war machine.
too, have daily prayer-meetings,
for tame reporters.
Bless America" would be blasphemy
there were a god concerned with humanity.)
is blunt about it: things were
awful (Stateside) in 1940.
wasn't born... I've read shelves of books about
under Vichy after the armistice:
at imagination's distance.
is telescoped now, shrinks daily.
who learned their comportment from storm-troopers
out the nightmares that woke their grandmothers;
sit, black-clad, claim peace: their vigil's
on the whistlestop pol's agenda.
loss is grave: American, sacralized.
are dismayed that dead Palestinians,
are mourned with demands for vengeance.
loss is grave, that is, till a president
spanking-new non-combatant uniform
a war: then, men and women
for oil will be needed heroes.
rather live in France (or live anywhere
literate debate in the newspapers).
English language is my mother
but it travels. Asylum, exile?
know where I feel more like a foreigner
that it seems my birth country silences
with fear. Of death? Of difference?
know which city lightens my mornings.
had New England; I had diaspora,
old folk song: "Wish I was where I would be,
I'd be where I am not." Would that
claimed its citizens, issued passports.
do no harm," physicians, not presidents,
when inducted. I'm tired of rhetoric,
or journalists' or my own ranting.
like to hole up with Blake and Crashaw -
there's a stack of student endeavors that
got to read, and write some encouraging
on. Five hours of class tomorrow;
, a dawn flight to California.
girl (captured; later, freed)
I (collapsed by a snip of lead)
well the tea you steeped
us in the garden, as music played
the moon plied the harvest dusk.
read the poem on a Chinese vase
stood outside your father's room,
he dozed in a mandarin dream
King Gia Long's reposing at Ben Ngu.
worry that you all are safe.
house with pillars carved in poems
floored with green rice fields
roofed by all the heavens of this world."
that was the poem, written
fullest discovery and iambics
a twenty-four-year old feeling lucky
long after those scary events.
years later, he (i.e. yours truly)
back with his young American wife
the girl above "captured...freed, etc.")
the night before the '72 Spring Offensive
you'll recall, almost took the city)
to find Miss Tin's house once again
a thunderstorm, both wearing ponchos,
he (a version of "me") clutching a .45 Colt
she, just clutched his wet hand. Of course,
might have shot us--the Viet Cong
the city, the last Marines,
jittery ARVN troops, or, really,
wretch just trying to feed his family.
here's the point: why would anyone
a: me, or b: my wife, or versions of same)
dream of going out like that? ...Simple:
To show his bride a household built on poems.
To follow love on all his lunkhead ventures.
when we found the gated compound,
scared the wits out of the Vietnamese inside
the verandah reading by tiny kerosene lamps
snoozing in hammocks under mosquito netting
took us for assassins, or ghosts, until
wife pulled off her poncho hood, revealing
completely unexpected: a pretty. blonde. White Devil.
Miss Tin wasn't there, they did the right thing
denied knowing her, as night and river
with rain and a lone goose honked forlornly.
next night, we headed out again,
monsoon flooding the darkened city,
offensive booming in nearby hills,
montagnards trekking into Hue in single file
their jungle hamlets fell to the barrage.
kept our jeep running, as my wife dashed out
give away our piasters to the poor
half-naked in the driving rain.
gave it all away. Six month's salary,
sack of banknotes watermarked with dragons,
what we needed to get back to Saigon,
that's another story)...the point here being:
often think of Miss Tin's pillared house in Hue
those events now thirty years ago
leaders cheer the new world order,
generals regret "collateral damage."
the topaz in the toad's head
comfort in the terrible histories
up front, easy to find:
upon a time in a kingdom far away.
to the dreadful now of news
far timezones, languages we didn't speak,
wide, forgetful oceans.
no comfort but the jewel courage.
war is ours, now, here, it is our republic
its own betraying terror.
how we tell the story is forever after.
School Among the Ruins
Not of course here.
the first lesson and the last
falling light of summer will you last
columns at the doors
GIRLS and the busy teachers
or close high windows
hooked poles drawing darkgreen shades
unasked, asked, when
of the fresh impeccable
street on earth neither heaven nor hell
teachers walking to school
bread and early-open foodstalls
the offensive rocks the sky when nightglare
day and night when lived-in
from the upper city
cratering lower streets
of olden ornament human debris
fear vacuums out the streets
the whole town flinches
on the undersole thickening to glass
crosses hunched knees bent a contested zone
why she does this suicidal thing
now in session day and night
the classrooms teachers rolled close
the good teacher loved
school the students
lunchroom with fresh sandwiches
classroom glass cages
moss and turtles
morning breaks without bread or fresh-poured milk
first question of the day
shivering it's September
question: where is my mother?
I don't know where your mother
Two: I don't know
they are trying to hurt us
or the latitude and longitude
their hatred Four: I don't know if we
them as much I think there's more toilet paper
the supply closet I'm going to break it open
this is your lesson:
as clearly as you can
name home street and number
on this page
you can't go home yet
you aren't lost
is our school
not sure what we'll eat
look for healthy roots and greens
for water though the pipes are broken
a young cat sticking
head through window bars
hungry like us
can feed on mice
bronze erupting fur
of a life already wild
give quarter She'll teach us Let's call her
we get milk we'll give her some
told you, let's try to sleep in this funny camp
night pitiless pilotless things go shrieking
us to somewhere
let your faces turn to stone
stop asking me why
pay attention to our cat she needs us
Maybe tomorrow the bakers can fix their ovens
sang them to naps told stories made
with our hands
human debris off boots and coats
learning by heart the names
were too young to write
had forgotten how"
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