V  P  R

Contemporary Poetry and Poetics






All the photographs are lies, in that
in them she looks normal, like other people,
not crazy.

Her eyes are compelling as doe's eyes,
and she did not know this, and the worst of it is
she looks alive.

I keep telling her to come back sometime!
Come back!  I wonder where she is gone,
maybe to find my father?


Watching death, as light abandons the eyes,
seeing the cavern of the dropped mouth,
the shadowed throat,

hearing the wheeze and gurgle,
we are like Moses, allowed to behold
God's backside

from a cleft in the rock,
the face and hands soft, horrible, fine,
the mystery diminished

not one grain.


Then the jaw tightened and after a while it fell
almost clacking, and the nurse nodded, and there was
her baffled silence

after the noisiness of us all singing to her,
the touching of skin
when I stroked her forehead goodbye,

and patted through the nightgown her belly and breasts.
O I loved her and this
was her response.


My mother is dead two weeks

We were holding her hands and singing to her
when she let go.  Very little pain, lucid
almost to the end, correcting
people's grammar
a week before
she died

and we burned her and flew to Arizona
and the tanks roamed Ramallah and Nablus

I feel as if anything I have to say has to be shaved down.  I want my
language to be like the desert.  I want my words and phrases to be like
ocatillo, yucca, saguaro. Prickly, thorny.  Able to collect moisture
enough to survive extended drought. Tough skinned.

The air I breathe is materially tropical, arid in the spirit.  These are
dry times, vicious, dry,
in which one cannot even hypothetically construct an appealing future
for one's species. Born to violence that steers the intelligence.

The air I breathe you breathe.
Just now, a molecule breathed by the Buddha
might have entered your lungs.

Where is Shelley when we need him.
"An old, mad, blind, despised and dying king,
Nobles, the dregs of their dull race,"

he begins a sonnet after the Haymarket riots in which
British soldiers shot their fellow citizens dead.
Where is William Blake, is he burning

bright as the tiger  in some grassy meadow of paradise
does he beat a drum and shout "Holy holy holy
is the Lord God alighty," or, on alternate days,

"Exuberance is beauty," and where is Walt Whitman
and where is Ginsberg, genius of kindness?
I beg my mother come back sometime.

The root system of the saguaro
spreads shallowly underground as widely as
the cactus is high.

That of the ocatillo plunges.
The tanks roll, the missiles fly.

Greedy teeth smile at the microphone.
They know where the oil is,
and is hate worse?

I beg you awesome ones be with us
and blow through us please as if we were trumpets
and saxaphones.  Beat on our membranes hard

and let us be drums.  Artillery
will always outshout us, testosterone explosions
are more thrilling than anything, chain reactions

brilliance between opposite poles accelerating
at the speed of hate, we do this
to you because

you did it to us first.  Thrilling!
The bus explodes,

the shelled house collapses over the grandmother
and the screaming family, the tanks roll, the missiles fly

and perhaps the faster one dies,
the better.


But it does explain something.

I too look at the images

Of cruel death in the newspaper and on the screen.
They taste good, I like them.  You like them.  They are their own
best advertisement.  We like to shudder at them. We like to blame.

We bravely deplore.  We enjoy a bit of fury.
The nearer we get to death, the more
we feel alive.

War, that great stimulant,
let us drink to it.
Let us join our friends, Israel and Palestine.

Our friends who have been seduced by it.


Friday night getting smashed in America

Ignorant violence that stuns the intelligence.
Dear animal inside us whom in other respects
we cherish, is it you?

I think this impulse to destroy
this need for an enemy
has actually nothing to do with sex

it is simply a human characteristic
it has climbed the corporate ladder of the dna
it is on the board of directors

Whitman and Blake inside us, celebrants of war equally with peace, is it
Descendants of Homer?  Is it our stars?  Is it our cold reason?
Do we deserve what Marie calls the quilt of guilt?

A joke in the Soviet Union went like this:
Under  capitalism man is a wolf to man.
Under Communism it's just the opposite.

And there was that other one, about the economy:
We pretend to work, and they pretend to pay us.
Very funny, but because of low morale

The Russians have become ineffective soldiers
like the Italians and the French.
Long live the Italian and French armies!

Long live the citizens of Prague
whose twelfth century buildings stand
because a Czech will fight to the last

drop of ink!  The trouble with America
is that her morale is still too high.
She needs to be a bit more depressed

before she starts behaving better.
The trouble with America
is she is a big bully

and a big coward,
also that she has no conscience,
not enough cynics, they are all in Europe.

Now let someone discreetly put on
The Stones or The Doors or better yet
Jimi doing the Star Spangled Banner

like a cry of absolutely
pained rage, a train jumping the tracks.
I like this party.  You know what else we need?

We need a few anti-American jokes.
What are we afraid of?
Where are the comedians

when we need them?
Tucked in their cages
like tame monkeys.

Where are the accountants?
Who will save us
from the mudslide of dollars?


Now that my mother is dead a month
it is difficult to say the kaddish
it is difficult to praise god

it is spring so I open my window at night
I lie awake in my cave, my well of night
writhing like a bat,

though the blinds stay down
soft air seeps in, a few cars
swish along the street

then from the next house
where gloomy faded shingles fall like leaves
and sheets hang in the windows

I hear the man's chronic unstoppable cough,
a poor man's cough, and the wife's hoarse voice
coaxing their dog.

Gypsy. Stop it. Come here.
Good girl, good girl.
I might work on

making music of that.

© by Alicia Ostriker


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