Monday, April 30, 2007

Mixed Messages

I was searching unsuccessfully for a Mexican soccer match on TV one recent Wednesday evening and I found I couldn't avoid seeing simultaneous gossip shows covering the so-called story about Alec Baldwin chewing out his daughter over the phone. The next story was also about some father/daughter relationship gone wrong, and so forth until I realized that there was a poem in there somewhere. So far so good.

To complicate matters, however, I'd also been meaning to write a poem entitled "Blood and Treasure" since that's suddenly the buzz-phrase for why the Iraq war is such a waste. I hadn't figured out what to say beyond that, though, so the poem hadn't progressed beyond its title. And although people will publish a poem with no title, they won't publish a title without a poem.

Anyhow, I sat down at the computer to compose the first poem, but got stuck once I'd tinkered with ways of describing not-so-smart Alec's situation. So I started in on "Blood and Treasure" instead, but didn't get any farther than "Expended in a wasted effort, by definition."

Enter the genius of the cut and paste tool in Microsoft Word. I decided to combine the little false starts to both poems, and suddenly there was a new thing: a commentary on politics as well as on our current obsession with fatherhood. The thing sprouted wings, though I'm not sure where it's flying. I did switch the opening sentence around a bit, to suit Alec's spoiled-brat version of paternalism.

Blood and Treasure/Father and Daughter

Wasted in an expensive effort,
by definition, Alec Baldwin
bullies his ten-year-old daughter’s
insolent answering machine.
Iraqi Freedom is too precious
to account for all families in crisis;
so Blackwater and Halliburton
investigate the parentage
of Anna Nicole Smith’s newsworthy offspring.
Jenna Bush writes a book on AIDS
because her father likes to make war
promiscuously. Tom Cruise invents
a missile, and then finds a woman
to convert to an acronym.
Lynn Cheney is forced to don
a burka at gunpoint; she smiles inanely.
Britney Spears plays Guantanamo Bay
where Johnny Cash winces paternally
and gives her some pills.
Lynndie England’s daddy wouldn’t
undress in front of her. Jessica Lynch
had to be rescued from the river
one fateful picnicking Saturday.
Donald Rumsfeld stalks his little girl’s
unwitting prospective boyfriend, who paints
a frog, absentmindedly, on a sidewalk
near her Arizona home.
Saddam Hussein fathered many children;
some of them are now presumably women.
Do they miss him? Does it even matter?
Blood and treasure, father and daughter:
they always seem to go together
like peace and war, or oil and water.
No love that hurts so stupidly
and innocently can last forever.

I'm not sure what to make of this strange experiment in grafting two poems together; I suppose it's possible to see post-Saddam Iraq as the USA's disobedient/recalcitrant/resentful/righteously indignant daughter...

My friend Victor Schnickelfritz would no doubt say that such a defamiliarizing strategy is long overdue in my work. In any event, now there's a poem where previously there were two little nubs of nothing. I'm not sure if or when I'll try this again, but it was worth an attempt.

Here's the url for an article co-written by Katrina Onstad (a friend of mind from my college days) on the topic of lousy celebrity fathers, just for fun.