Monday, July 30, 2007

Marvin Bell's latest

While meandering through Powell's Books (a place that actually has poetry in it, unlike big chains), I picked up Marvin Bell's latest book, Mars Being Red. He writes a bunch about his troubles with the current war. Now, normally, I don't like overtly political poetry, even when I agree with it. But Bell wrote some disarmingly beautiful stuff. He left me breathless--the truth of his lines knocked the wind out of me.

A couple of samples. This is a chunk of "Bagram, Afghanistan, 2002."

They chained him by the wrists to the ceiling.
They must have admired the human form then,
stretched out, for the soldiers were also athletes
trained to shout in unison and be buddies.
By the time his legs had stiffened, a blood clot
was already tracing a vein into his heart.
They said he was dead when the cut him down,
but he was dead the day they arrested him.
Are they feeding the prisoners gravel now?
To make them skilled orators as they confess?
Here stands Demosthenes in the military court,
unable to form the words "my country." What
shall we do, we who are at war but are asked
to pretend we are not? Do we need another
naive apologist to crown us with cliches
that would turn the grass brown above a grave?

Just astonishing. Not all of the book is this good, but when Bell is on, he takes me to the very emotional and ethical places that we're asked to "pretend we are not." That's a capital T truth none of us can afford to pass on.

Too many other good moments to pick a good one (if you grab this at the bookstore or library like you should, let me say two of my favorites are "The Campus in Wartime" and "Cable News Night"). But he knocked me out of the place we've all found, in spite of our better natures, in spite of not wanting to, where we forget about the current tragedy that will shame us in the history books.

I have ten more minutes until 1 a.m.

Bell writes.

Until one, I swore to picture the victims of war.
In ten minutes, I can relax in the shadows,
sink into the bed, draw up the covers,
and give the ghosts the bum's rush when they hoot
at my deadline.

Those ghosts are more with me because I've read Mars Being Red, and I think that's a good thing.

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