Monday, January 30, 2012

RESOLUTION / REVOLUTION: Alfred Corn

RESOLUTION / REVOLUTION turns full circle, ending on the work of Alfred Corn. Caveat lector: Behind the measured verse grins the face of war.

ARBEIT MACHT FREI*

Is what the Dachau Jews would see,
Where Hitler chose to lodge them.
Now, bombs have set Iraqis free—
At least, those who could dodge them.

*”Work Will Set You Free””


EXCHANGE OF FIRE

Missiles, tanks, smart-bombs, and, when things got hot,
Cries of offended dignity:
“I’m entitled to this technology,
But you barbarians are not.”

“INTERVENTION IS NOT WAR”

Well, no, and “ethnic cleansing” isn’t murder.
Nor was the Führer’s rabid New World Order
State terror. Nor are pre-emptive strikes on weaker
Peoples a crime—or not to the power-seeker.

CASCADE OF FACES

Five seconds of fame drag them down
the screen, ranks, names, faces, ages:
Staff Sergeant Hannah Nagel, 24.
Private Tom Abeel, 19.
Major Luís Moreno, 33.
Lance Corporal Rafiq Ibrahim, 20.
Captain Roger Kean, 31.
Candid American faces, unblinking,
unafraid, unvenal, snapped
a year, two years ago, not yet reviled
or revered, the newscast’s evening crop.

Images swallowed up, transfigured,
launched into an unlived future.

*

On the Oval Office desk,
dead center, one hot white spot
lights the briefing’s final page.
A chief executive is working late,
behind him, tall windows onto
a sky petroleum black,
strewn with trembling sparks.

*

In another hemisphere noon towers over
a desert city where his signature ignited
hair, skin, and eyes of the unknown civilian.
One by one, for how many terrorized
hundred-thousands the precedent was set,
roofs, walls, thundering down on their screams.

*

He reaches to snap out the lamp, ambles
to a door that closes on his steps.
Official darkness. Clockwise stellar bodies,
in their long-term impartiality, continue
rinsing the blackboard,
rinsing the blackboard—
which in a decade, or a century,
will free itself from any obligation
to save a chalked-up tally of the cost.



WHAT THE THUNDER SAYS


A crack a second and a third splinter as the dam fractures
Soundbolts spiking down through granite a dynamite
That means concussive rage detonations battering
Skull ribcage spine an earthquake high in the ramparts
Stone ramparts blocking a sun no longer strong enough to rise

The houses collapse roof skews off to one side a broken
Beam crushes doors windows in its crazed veer a drill
Screams into rooms to shiver walls timbers floor ratcheting
Through the garden spewing hoses of dirt spinning flagstones
Into the air while a tank that dives from a cloud flattens on impact

Whole quarries of rock shear off tumble smash shock their way
Off the mountain megatons of shattered booms packed stacked
On the air collapsing around your ears and what the din sounds
Out is the last thought which already owns you you and yours
Nothing holds off the thunderstone it says I am your death.


NEW ENGLAND/CHINA

Wakefield: Did some romantic alderman
Settle that name on our recycled mill-town?
I know Rhode Island is Red Island, or
Island of Roses... And, look, buds on Mother’s
Haviland china, fifty years of attic
Storage ended, are pink, flushed with excitement
At being propped in ranks along the plate-rail
Of cabinets a shipwright made for this
Centenarian house I signed the deed on
Nine days ago. No way would I have served
Dinner on old porcelain in designer
Manhattan, my home turf for more than half
A prodigal life-span once I’d waved goodbye
To the South. But here it fits, a tasteful, gold-rimmed
Victorian replacement for the showy
Chinese export bowls and plates how many
Prosperous New England tables boasted
Back in the bullish age of clipper ships.
Those clashing pinks and reds epitomized
Spice roses of the Indies gunboats opened
To enrich our Union, sea to shining sea.

Following the Vicar of Wakefield’s homely
Advice, I’ve put a “Rose Medallion” teacup
(Bought for two dollars at a thrift shop) here
In this eastern window so its damasked pattern
Can go translucent as light rejuvenates
A naïvely rendered pride of mandarins
Hard at their silken round of tea and gossip
And calligraphy. The Vicar’s older daughter
Olivia, with her sensibility,
Might have been drawn into their circle, even
If her graver sister, Sophia, wouldn’t follow.

Goldsmith, Mother most likely never read,
But Gone with the Wind she surely did and like
White Southern women of her day (except
The ambitious few who idolized Miss Scarlett)
Modeled herself on Melanie—for instance,
She never told black friends and workers they
Should “know their place” and stay in it. Her son,
If he works up his nerve, can copy her
(And risk a snub) by taking lemon pie
To the family next door, whose ancestry
Is African; and probably Narragansett,
Too, or else Pequot. Out beyond the teacup
I see their children, the older climbing up
On the garbage bin while holding an umbrella,
A taut silk octagon of alternating
Ebony and ivory pie-wedge panels
That read as either a black Maltese cross
Against a cream-white background, or a white
Against a black. She’s poised to make her skydive
But seems to doubt the parachute; and none
Of her younger sister’s high-pitched razzing works.
A pause, a balance; but she doesn’t leap—
The Sophia of this family circle, just
As her wilder sibling’s the Olivia.
Now their mother’s called them to lunch, their game
Shelved with no decisions made, no plunge
Into the aerial realm of weightless pleasure.

I’ll have my self-prepared baked codfish on
These resurrected roses—a chance to ponder
The leap I leapt in settling here and calling
The Ocean State, at last, the Golden Decades’
Ultimate Cathay. So, veteran frigate,
You, unlike the Pequod, may now dock
And prove that not all sexagenarians
Are skippers hot to tap-dance round the deck
Like Ahab, thirst for blood a scorching trade wind
That gives them forward thrust. The middle ground!
Vicarious pastimes, watching children’s games
Or tending post-colonial and post-
Postmodern gardens, should amount to a sound
Retirement plan, Sophia, calm, deific
Wisdom, serving as hand-hewn figurehead
When our vessel comes to port. If goods we heft
Down the gangplank are only earthenware,
So be it, Yankees also favor those,
Judging from bits of broken plates and cups
I dug up planting the hybrid tea a friend
Gave me, the spot selected not haphazard,
Instead, exactly where a rose should go.
He laughed when told I’d named the house Knew Place—
A tribute to comedy’s most tragic playwright.

But try to name or know a place you never
Lived in: Beijing. Nablus. Kabul. Baghdad...
Imagination’s olive branch stops short,
Absorbing the news that soldier and civilian
Sprawl face down in crimson pools enlarged
With all they owned, one clotting upshot of
Capitalism’s abstract cannibalism.
Prosperity. Ours, but insubstantial,
Like all dream-castles based on greed, up there
Above the outcome. Who’d listen if I called
Our captains by their real names? They won’t,
Conceded, but it doesn’t seem to matter.
Out of the deeps, a voice: Permission denied.
No port for the tempest-tossed, you haven’t yet
Begun to fight. While you breathe, you won’t retire.
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