Thursday, December 28, 2006

Happy New Year?

Well, it's now creeping up on 2007 and the issue that seems likely to matter most again this year is Iraq, so I couldn't resist offering my version of the "way forward" that Bush and his clueless cronies are seeking. I've tried to avoid naïve finger-pointing and cheap shots, though some of that is inevitable, given the unbelievable scope of the stupidity and arrogance the American administration has displayed. The disastrous consequences of their epic miscalculation are obvious to all by now, it seems, so I'd like to get beyond that and offer a broader critique of the mindset behind the assumption that we can "win" anything in Iraq or achieve any goal whatsoever by exporting our political ideas (forcibly or otherwise). So I've tried to put aside my personal outrage at Bush's moral blindness and obnoxious folly, and to articulate my (perhaps very Canadian) scepticism about what I see as a larger American view (and not exclusively the property of Bush/Halliburton/Cheney).

The Way Forward

Maybe we can get beyond this mess
by blaming the worst of our problems on
unlucky generosity,
an incompetent twit, a dire enemy,
or a slight historical maladjustment
resulting in crossed purposes
at the core of our culture. But maybe it all
boils down to something more elementary:
you can't force other people to share
a smugness which they neither admire
nor understand. The real way forward
would be to admit there is no such thing,
only a less horrendous sameness,
a kind of passionate coexistence
under duress and in disgrace.
That's why we should not come through this time
as best we can—instead we should learn
the full extent of our self-delusion
and not pride ourselves so much on the laws
and lessons we have written down;
we should try to live as if we'd forgotten
the secrets that made us wealthy and crass.
Which may include someday burning this...

I guess from my perspective if "progress" can be said to happen it occurs unconsciously, almost subliminally. Any explicit order or forcible suggestion is usually counterproductive, especially when crossing cultural or ethnic lines, because people resent being told they're not doing things the right way. That view may be a bit self-serving, since it opens up a space for art to operate as well: things like poems usually just assume a norm without making it into some sort of law or commandment. This poem violates that rule, though, and that's why I suggest it might be worth burning some (better) day, just to show how fully its ideas have been followed and transcended.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Pandora's Language

I haven't been writing much, so this morning I set myself the task of writing something that would work as a blog entry, and the only thing that seemed remotely inspiring was the list of my daughter Nora's favorite words which is included in the poem. I was initially going to call the poem "Her Favorite Objects" but somehow the image of Pandora's box kept creeping in as I was writing, and so I'm provisionally going to go with "Pandora's Language," just because it forced me to think a bit more about what I was saying about the things and words in the poem.

Pandora's Language

Her favorite objects are also her favorite
subjects, so she has learned them well:
box, birdie, fish, and bubble;
shoe, hat, apple and ball.

She bounces the box and unlaces the bubble,
wears the fish and chirps at the apple,
picks the birdie from a tree,
watches the hat swim in the sea,
bursts the shoe with a poking finger
closes the ball at the sign of danger—
she needs better words or a different world;
I can't tell which, because I'm old.

Her favorite subjects must renew
themselves in objects like clothes or clocks:
ball, hat, apple, and shoe,
bubble, fish, birdie, and box.

I suppose I'm picturing Pandora before she lets the chaos of the box loose on the world (after all, she mistakes a ball for the box here). The myth lets me play around with the otherwise slightly cloying list of words and discover some hidden sinister or merely inevitable significance here, but I'm not sure how it works for the reader.

So this poem is less than an hour old, and I'm letting it loose already. Perhaps I have a bit of Pandora in me.