History does not just strike back (like the empire?), but returns over and over (more like the recurring nightmare). We should be able to decode and learn but keep missing - or misreading - the important clues.
The poetry.about.com editors write,
To end our week of special delivery poems by the poets who have written articles for About Poetry, we bring you a poem by Victor Infante, the author of many articles for us. He granted us this poem to accompany his essay "Poetry in Times Like These," written just after the 9.11.2001 attacks.
Feature articles by Infante for About Poetry:
- “The Center Cannot Hold: Slam, Academia & the Battle for America’s Bourgeoisie,” an essay on the generational cycles of poets & poetic institutions, class & politics in American poetry, slam poetry’s evolution into a new establishment.
- “The Beat Goes On: Lawrence Ferlinghetti Is Still a Rebel,” an interview with Ferlinghetti on the Poet as Outsider.
- “Stranded: Poet Mark Strand Preaches Political Indifference at UCI,” a response to the effort to divorce poetry from politics.
- “But What If These Are Poetic Times?,” a commentary on the furor following LA Weekly’s fall 1999 review of local poetry.
by Victor Infante
for Richard Kappemeir1.
These are the fever prophecies of soldiers
bound at Andersonville, one has drunk
fouled water, eaten maggot laden bread
and when he crooks his neck to see
behind him, views instead
black crows with singed feathers.
"I have seen the sky alight with ravens,
blotting out the sun, casting shadows on the fields
where men with hardened arms lift bails of wheat
to burn in sacrifice to 'Surplus' gods;
and when the evening creeps across horizons
I can catch a gunfighter's silhouette-- perhaps
the lingering ghost of Jesse James casting shadows
on the wall of a Missouri cave, or Wyatt Earp, still
vilified despite the rugged jaws and deadpan grins
of countless movie reenactments:
Let me be aiming a shotgun underneath the table
while holding marked cards with an ace up my sleeve--
it is, after all, an American dream."
If I were capable of speaking in
another man's voice, I would use Mark Twain's--
let my tongue be sharper than a devil's horn, but,
my voice is just my own and
we recall little of the men who create, instead
we American boys-- hidden underneath the blankets
past bedtime, holding flashlights to read our comic books--
we dream of the OK Corral, or of bearing swords
outside of Camelot,
we would be our grandfathers in the South Pacific,
we would know the cost of freedom,
we would be Superman,
we dream of little, as boys, save flying.
"When John Lea was captured by Union Troops,
Custer saw to it that his injuries were treated,
and when Lea was released, he married the woman
set to nurse him back to health. Custer
attended the wedding in his Union uniform,
and if the confederate soldiers bristled
it was not evident."
I would have that sort of courage, knowing full well
The price of it is history--
portraits of yourself as a butcher, as a fascist, as a fool.
We tie our dreams to the backs of birds and pray that they will
remain airborne, return to us like Noah's dove, teach us new lands.
As a child, I would sit by the ocean on placid days,
skipping stones into the water, always wondering
how long those ripples would last.
This is the way that history stares back at us:
Ten years after the Civil War, the graves of rebel soldiers were scattered
throughout the South, and some were dug so shallow
that the bones would jut from the Earth, mistaken for the remains of horses--
unless a skull should appear, to cast its gaze upon
the scarred and bitter landscape.