Liz’s Weekly Poetry Series: Desecration
There is a powerful collection of poems titled I Go to the Ruined Place: Contemporary Poems in Defense of Global Human Rights, edited by two outstanding Montana poets, who I have featured here, Melissa Kwasny and M.L. Smoker.
Here’s an excerpt from the introduction:
. . . When we made our call for submissions for an anthology of poems in defense of human rights, the allegations of torture were foremost in our minds. We knew people were outraged, saddened, profoundly moved and ashamed. But we also wanted to reach people who had suffered violations of their own rights from circumstances across the globe, or whose families had, or for whom preventing or healing these violations had become a life’s work. We drafted our call loosely: we are increasingly witness to torture, terrorisms and other violations of human rights at unprecedented degrees. What do our instincts tell us and what is our response to these violations? What is our vision of a future wherein human rights are not only respected but expanded?
What we received were both first hand accounts of violation—see prisoner Adrian English’s “raped man’s stream of consciousness,” or Farnoosh Moshiri’s poem recounting the terror of giving birth in Iran, or Li-Young Lee’s “self-help for fellow refugees”—and responses from people who feel struck personally by the blows enacted on others: to speak for, to speak as, and to speak against. We were surprised at the range of issues spoken to by the poets. While torture remained a critical topic, as well as issues at stake in the Iraq war, there were also poems that addressed immigrant rights, prisoners’ rights, the holocaust, the wars in Cambodia, Vietnam, Serbia, South America, Palestine and Israel. We received poems that spoke of suicide bombing, violence against women, the aftermath of 9/11, and outlawing marriage for gay Americans.
We were also moved at the range of experience among the responders: homeless advocates, civil rights workers, clinical social workers, medics, the mentally ill, veterans, humanitarian aid workers, teachers, conscientious objectors, and, of course, many writers who work and fight daily for social justice in their communities. We are particularly proud of the number of Native American poets included in this anthology, something unusual in anthologies of this sort. It seemed to us impossible to collect a group of poems on human rights issues if we didn’t acknowledge the far reaching and often appalling violations that have taken place in our own country, upon the first citizens of this land who belong to five-hundred-sixty-two federally recognized tribes who function as sovereign nations. It is the acknowledgement of this history, among others, that will allow us to move forward as a country with a clearer conscience, extending our hand to other nations and other peoples who continue to endure neglect and abuse.
This week’s poem is unfortunately one that would fit into that collection. I would say enjoy, but it’s not that kind of poem, unless maybe you’re Jordan Johnson.
she fell over herself
wind at her back
hair glowing red from low sun
sinking over pushed peaks of earth
she arrested her tumbling
with an inner balance
only the ocean
the chill was barely noticeable
a false-ready for night
in clothes like it wouldn’t be cold at all
she breezes into evening trading long shadows
and a half moon
later, but not after
foot to ground
step by step
what was she doing out that late, alone?
what was she thinking walking where the light
(I can’t tell you how many careless nights I’ve had
taking the river trail home
if pulled to ground no one would hear me scream)
feet pounding gravel
bushes as cover for his push
half moon hovering
silently over Missoula
in the distance, sirens for someone else
his violent persistence
her skin gouged by sticks
and imprinted by the sharp contours
of rock (not stone)
after, when asked if she told him to stop
by the cop taking notes
(his little pencil; his sour breath)
she shakes her head
not saying to shout would have made it worse—
would have been death
the cop nods
like he’s heard it all before
like he knows somehow this whore
asked for it
and in his report, writes
she never said no