Friday, May 09, 2008
Election 2008 - Warmongers
And Poems by Robert Hass
It was a pleasure to read that "Time and Materials" by my favorite poet, Robert Haas, is the joint winner (with "Failure" by Philip Schultz) of this year's Pulitzer Prize.
Excerpt from "A Poem" by Robert Haas
"More Iraqi civilians have now been incidental casualties of the conduct of war in Iraq than were killed by Arab terrorists in the destruction of the World Trade Center.
In the first twenty years of the twentieth century 90 percent of war deaths were the deaths of combatants. In the last twenty years of the twentieth century 90 percent of war deaths were deaths of civilians.
There are imaginable responses to these facts. The nations of the world could stop setting an example for suicide bombers. They could abolish the use of land mines. They could abolish the use of aerial bombardment in warfare. You would think that men would relent."
I typed the brief phrase, "Bush's War,"
At the top of a sheet of white paper,
Having some dim intuition of a poem
Made luminous by reason that would,
Though I did not have them at hand,
Set the facts out in an orderly way.
Berlin is a northerly city. In May
At the end of the twentieth century
In the leafy precincts of Dahlem Dorf,
South of the Grunewald, near Krumme Lanke,
Spring is northerly; it begins before dawn
In a racket of bird song. The amsels
Shiver the sun up as if they were shaking
A liquid tangle of golden wire. There are two kinds
Of flowering chestnuts, red and white,
And the wet pavements are speckled
With petals from the incandescent spikes
Of their flowers and shoes at U-bahn stops
Are flecked with them. Green of holm oaks,
Birch tassels, the soft green of maples,
And the odor of lilacs is everywhere.
At Oscar Helene Heim station a farmer
Sells white asparagus from a heaped table.
In a month he'll be selling chanterelles;
In the month after that, strawberries
And small, rosy crawfish from the Spree.
The piles of stalks of the asparagus
Are startlingly phallic, phallic and tender
And deathly pale. Their seasonal appearance
Must be the remnant of some fertility ritual
Of the German tribes. Steamed, they are the color
Of old ivory. In May, in restaurants
They are served on heaped white platters
With boiled potatoes and parsley butter,
Or shavings of Parma ham and lemon juice
Or sorrel and smoked salmon. And,
Walking home in the slant, widening,
Brilliant northern light that falls
On the new-leaved birches and the elms,
Nightingales singing at the first, subtlest,
Darkening of dusk, it is a trick of the mind
That the past seems just ahead of us,
As if we were being shunted there
In the surge of a rattling funicular.
Flash forward: the firebombing of Hamburg,
Fifty thousand dead in a single night,
"The children's bodies the next day
Set in the street in rows like a market
In charred chicken." Flash forward:
Firebombing of Tokyo, a hundred thousand
In a night. Flash forward: forty-five
Thousand Polish officers slaughtered
By the Russian Army in the Katyn Woods,
The work of half a day. Flash forward:
Two million Russian prisoners of war
Murdered by the German army all across
The eastern front, supplies low,
Winter of 1943. Flash: Hiroshima.
And then Nagasaki, as if the sentence
Life is fire and flesh is ash needed
To be spoken twice. Flash: Auschwitz,
Dachau, Therienstadt, the train lurching,
The stomach woozy, past displays of falls
Of hair, piles of valises, spectacles
With frames designed to curl delicately
Around a human ear. Flash:
The gulags, seven million in Byelorussia
And Ukraine. In innocent Europe on a night
In spring, among the light-struck birches,
Students holding hands. One of them
Is carrying a novel, the German translation
Of a slim book by Marguerite Duras
About a love affair in old Saigon. (Flash:
Two million Vietnamese, fifty five thousand
Of the American young, whole races
Of tropical birds extinct from saturation bombing)
The kind of book the young love
To love, about love in time of war.
Forty five million, all told, in World War II.
In Berlin, pretty Berlin, in the spring time,
You are never not wondering how
It happened, and the people around you
In the station with chestnut petals on their shoes,
Children then, or unborn, never not
Wondering. Is it that we like the kissing
And bombing together, in prospect
At least, girls in their flowery dresses?
Someone will always want to mobilize
Death on a massive scale for economic
Domination or revenge. And the task, taken
As a task, appeals to the imagination.
The military is an engineering profession.
Look at boys playing: they love
To figure out the ways to blow things up.
But the rest of us have to go along.
Why do we do it? Certainly there's a rage
To injure what's injured us. Wars
Are always pitched to us that way.
The well-paid news readers read the reasons
On the air. And we who are injured,
Or have been convinced that we are injured,
Are always identified with virtue. It's that--
The rage to hurt mixed with self-righteousness
And fear--that's murderous.
The young Arab depilated himself
As an act of purification before he drove
The plane into the office building. It's not
Just violence, it's a taste for power
That amounts to loathing for the body.
Perhaps it's this that permits people to believe
That the dead women in the rubble of Baghdad
Who did not cast a vote for their deaths
Or the glimpse afforded them before they died
Of the raw white of the splintered bones
In the bodies of their men or their children
Are being given the gift of freedom
Which is the virtue of their injured killers.
It's hard to say which is worse about this,
The moral sloth of it or the intellectual disgrace.
And what good are our judgments to the dead?
And death the cleanser, Walt Whitman's
Sweet death, the scourer, the tender
Lover, shutter of eyelids, turns
The heaped bodies into summer fruit,
Magpies eating dark berries in the dusk
And birch pollen staining sidewalks
To the faintest gold. Bald nur--Goethe--no,
Warte nur, bald ruhest du auch. Just wait.
You will be quiet soon enough. In Dahlem,
Under the chestnuts, in the leafy spring.
The quotations are from "Time and Materials, Harper Collins Publishers © 2007 Robert Haas