Archive for July 6th, 2022

Wednesday, 6 July 2022

Consulting an Elder Poet on an Anti-War Poem by Duane Niatum

(for Elizabeth Bishop)

One day you said to me,
“there’s nothing you can do,”
and recited Auden’s line:
“Poetry makes nothing happen.”
Although I honor your pinched music,
the poems you dipped in light,
those pulsing like a rainbow
before slipping from our sight,
I wanted to ask you why
several dives out of the self,
a sweet woman’s open caress,
a hundred books with stories
gyrating with people and places
never diminished my confusion.

You did agree that at least
Old Socrates was right
in telling his Athenian friends
that governments are only that—
a person with many heads
that cannot think as one.
History will go on showing
them swing from peace
to war and back again,
in one wide gallows-sweep
just as the pendulum
of the world’s clocks
returns its towns to craters.

Fifteen cobalt-blue years later,
I must ask myself, if the dust
and rubble of each new war
that settles in our bones
and deadens a generation,
are little more than negatives
of the Kennedys, King and Lennon,
has less weight than what
we felt the day the Apollo spaceship
landed on the moon,
and Auden’s line is true,
then why did you til your last breath,
sing into your ruin?


Date: 1991

By: Duane Niatum (1938- )