A n n e W a l d m a n : K e e p i n g T h e W o r l d S a f e F o r P o e t r y
N a p a l m H e a l t h S p a : R e p o r t 2 0 1 5 : S p e c i a l E d i t i o n
Not Your Neighborhood
—for Anne Waldman,
poet of poets.
It’s not your neighborhood at first but a street
across town where balconies of flowers
become grotesque fragments
trampled in choking dust. Another family’s children
maimed or dead. Another searching
for shelter. Where are they? Right there and then
everywhere as the last slivers of silence disappear.
Your side of the city falls, landscape of rubble, work
and school are lost, then water and food.
And now you are walking, walking
with what you can carry
and every day you carry less.
Direction your only friend, its destination
enveloped in something you once called hope.
The rest of the world—those families who still have
clean rooms with televisions parsing
the nightly news—sees the face of a small girl
with large eyes, her curls reach mid-thigh
of the adult beside her, who is beyond the frame.
They are moving north and west. You are
moving but not as fast
and the small girl with large eyes is not what it takes
to wake a complacent world. So another
picture tries: a man gently lifting
the body of a dead child from the sea.
In minutes the image gets a million likes,
instagram attention from those
who watch in warmth from rainproof homes.
Tens of thousands crowd rubber dinghies or creaking
boats, follow rail tracks, storm borders,
escaping countries dissolving in blood and dust,
carrying those who cannot walk, pushing
wheelchairs, pulling carts. Few are photogenic
or speak sufficient English
to muster sympathy on the six o’clock news.
As all sides fight on, countries lose the definition
of country and the thugs remain convinced
they must fight harder, kill more,
destroy memory along with those who live
in its fragile wake. Fight to the finish is a dictate
designed to make sure
everything dies, even the beloved stories.
Twenty-first century paints itself in colors
rent by razor wire, money demanded
by those always ready to profit from misery,
obscure words to be learned,
new tastes to swallow as arms reach out
with woolen gloves and teddy bears.
Exhaustion devours what used to fit perfectly.
Most of the faces aren’t engaging enough,
most of the eyes not large and round.
Most of the bodies are bent, never the best
camera angle, most cannot speak English.
The small girl who is still alive
and the dead child’s body washed ashore
share a heavy load. They labor beyond their years.