Monday, September 05, 2005


Hi everyone, and I want to say thank you to all those who've posted comments or emailed me about poems posted here. You've been more help than you can possibly know, and I've been revising some of the poems that seem worth keeping in my to-do pile, with an eye to your comments. For instance, in "Icarus, from the Breakfast Nook" the phrase "envious mothers" has become the more neutral and universal "earthbound mothers" which is a major improvement. I've struggled with the clichéd "bright eyes" in that same poem, and have altered it to "dim eyes," which produces an alliteration with "distant." I'm not quite as happy with the second change, but once more, it has helped.

This time I'm posting two poems, both of them dealing with Hurrican Katrina and its horrendous aftermath. The first is an impressionistic reaction to the first picture I saw of any of the refugees: a boy was running across the turf at the Superdome. looking very much like he was pretending to be a football player going in for a touchdown. Here it is:

The Runback
(New Orleans, August 29, 2005)

Spotlit in the Superdome,
the boy catches a punt
at the thirty yard line
and breaks upfield.
He evades the first wave
of tacklers, breaks
a rough grip with a move
like a fish slipping free
of a shark’s harsh resolve.
Staggered by his own
sudden escape,
he spins, and drifts past
the fifty, skips
on crouching tiptoe,
imagines a wedge
of blockers in front of him,
skirts their bursting
barricades, saves
his bare feet from the surge
of a last-ditch, diving
rescuer. He dances
to freedom in dark surf,
a gale of cheers
in the end zone,
then he runs away
from the jealous hands
dragging him to sit among
crowds which will engulf
him with thirst
as they drown.

I guess I wanted to capture some of the innocent excitement of a boy trying to maintain some sense of freedom and individuality in the midst of catastrophe; I'm pretty sure the tragic tone comes in strongly at the end.

The next poem I'm not quite so sure of, since it begins in a bitter, ironic tone and ends with what I think is a more balanced, affirmative statement. Both might seem inappropriate to many readers; after a tragedy like this one, simplistic pieties are usually the only acceptable commentary, especially from a mere observer. Still, the media's amazing blindness to (or wilful disregard of) the obvious socio-economic inequalities exposed by the disaster, and the Bush regime's criminally negligent response to it, makes me feel like poetry has an obigation to be as scathing as possible. I can't pretend it's a masterpieces, but it was satisfying to write (and I hope will be satisfying to read as well).


The victims of the tragedy
were disproportionately
hopeless in the face of their loss,
inarticulate when asked to describe
what happened. Statistics suggested that they
ought to have been more composed, more prepared,
more affluent, more fearing of God,
more trusting in last-minute warnings, more varied
in their education. This lack of proportion
suggests errors in our data collection
or natural bias against those among us
who seem most defenseless, most deperate to fit in,
who will not abandon the places they've learned
to call home, even for terrible hurricanes
that happen, predictably, and remind
us of each other, and what we've come
through together as humans, though only some
unknown percentage of those left behind
will be lucky enough to remain unchanged.

...Well, what say you?