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Letter to Muriel Rukeyser at the End of the Twentieth Century

Your poems shock
the way waterlilies burning in a museum
shock the moneyed.  With fragrant treason you begged even the rich,
to understand, As you spoke to each generation as that generation,
your dark hair curled in the thirties
By a passion electric for justice. 

 

You named what we were taught to despise in the stone insanity
of the first century of world wars.  You said clitoris, and you said
penis, and with the reverence of the condemned you said asshole,
peeling off the mask of Orpheus, speaking to the yet unborn,
admitting to the torn life, begging: please no more mythologies.
You made contact like a pilot to a radio tower, the shaking wheels
of your single engine extending to touch down.

 

And when the young were going and going to war to war,
you slurred your words on the Senate floor
with thousands of others, jailed, one-half your limbs
stroked out in the fire of your brain, those slurring leaves of water lilies,
stepping stones to the cloud of the world.
You, the bastard’s mother, worried incessantly for the world,
Named it every way you could, then laid out the arousals and climaxes of,
Yes, just looking at another woman looking back at you.

As for us, yes, the young still go to war,
And wars continue at the speed of darkness,
Not the world wars you expected, but the others,
Wars of despisals in our countries, in our cities, in other countries and cities.
Promises and solidarity collapsed, and in the confusion
justice circles this sweating planet, looking for somewhere to land.

The newspaper still arrive with their even more careless stories:
Union Carbide, high 46, low 45 3/8,f close: 45 ½, sales 482,800

JUDGE THOMAS:  I have never asked to be nominated. . . Mr. Chairman, I am a victim of this process

PROFESSOR HILL:  I would have been more comfortable to remain silent. . . I took no initiative to inform anyone. . . I could not keep silent.

A voice flew out of the river,
Smoke of the poems we still try to write.
We too are more or less insane,
And even now through time
We witness the buried life.
At the end of this millennium
We are still writing our poems,
Born as we were
In the first century
of the aftermath of world wars

This poem won the 1997 Denver Press Club Poetry Award.

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