David Ray

 

THE EMPIRE AS OF FRIDAY

"Feel sorry for God. He knew all along."
One Thousand Years: Poems About the Holocaust


I've been living in Rome all along,
or maybe Nazi Germany, and just
never noticed, maybe because

I'm Aryan and a natural barbarian
myself, forgetful that the frontiers
are always bloody and the emperor

may well be planning the next
outrage in the name of Civilization.
This morning a spokesman explaining

why bloody bodies must be displayed
says we represent the standards
and expectations of a civilized society

and therefore must have doubts quelled.
It is essential in all the lands we rule
to maintain credibility, respect

for civilized standards, imperial authority.
This has been the case all along, but
I just hadn't noticed until this morning.

when men in the barbershops of Baghdad
were airing their views regarding bloody heads.
"It's the first time I've ever seen people happy

because somebody died," says the barber,
a master of understatement, not pausing
as he clips away at a beard not yet bloody.



THE GOAL

Ginsberg stated clearly what
we writers and artists should
be doing--"Trying to disturb
the balance of consciousness
in this lonely century/ Everyone
sick-"

Perhaps it was always the case,
in all centuries. It's hard to justify
a good opinion of humanity
no matter how far back you look-
or ahead. Look at Brueghel,
"The Slaughter of the Innocents."
He lived in a time when corpses
were piled high and at one time
every Protestant in the Netherlands
was under sentence of execution.
Charles V and Philip II were
the Hitlers of their times and in
other places, other times, the same
story plays itself out to its bloody
and temporary and local cessation.

Imagine, Allen, your struggle
against the military industrial
Establishment is already history,
breath expended in another century,
stuffed fat with corpses. We awaited
a clean millennium, free of murder-
Imagine our naivete! Does using
a capital E endorse that engine
of death, the Establishment?
And do we grant the Administration
an A, coerced into Convention--
tolerant and gentle toward killers
whether we choose to be or not?
Rexroth was called naïve when
he called them murdering bastards
in their grey flannel suits. Pinstripe
these days except for now and then
when Bush plays Dressup Warrior
holding his flight helmet, parachute
strapped to his back. Brave Boy!
Brave Boy! Thank God, not mine!

 


HANDS


"I hate my hands,"
said the surgeon in Iraq,
knowing they did more harm
than good, moving from gut
to gut without half
of what was needed--
not even soap
in their repertoire.

And yet he had to try,
did he not, after the warriors
had done their best,
their level best, their bloody best--

though a few might one day
hate their hands.