A Paean of Such Patience

The Best American Poetry Blog
November 11, 2009

Armistice Day. The day the fighting ended. The day the weapons were put down. The day people turned, again, toward imagining what peace would be.

Eisenhower warned us how hard it would be. Imagine any President—even this President—sounding the alarm about a permanent culture of war and the dangers of the military-industrial complex.

Counting back November on five hands, I remember a letter from an old, decorated World War II veteran who was the father of a college friend of mine. He had written to me after some Reagan mischief and Hollywood tears. It was November 11th and he wrote that he was always unhappy the name had been changed to Veterans Day. “Sure, we live in a culture of narcissism,” he wrote. “But however great the sacrifices soldiers and their families make, this day is not about honoring people. It’s about holding on, for dear life, to peace.”

“I many times thought Peace had come When Peace was far away—” Emily Dickinson

I thought about holding on to peace this morning when I read that the President’s advisors are advocating escalating the war in Afghanistan. I thought about peace this morning when I read that the private military contractor Blackwater bribed Iraqi officials to silence them from investigating Blackwater’s murders of Iraqi civilians.

Congress and the tv talking heads shouted and pounded the table for days about Acorn’s supposed corruption until its witch hunts were begun and funding was cut for the census, for community organizing, for housing and health care, for neighborhood safety. Funding slashed, not held onto, for peace.

And, of course, the tables of power are not being pounded tonight over Blackwater—though their illegalities directly besmirch and dishonor the veterans our country honors today. We’re shocked but not surprised.

So I looked for some peace to hold onto. It’s amazing the poets who are there to point the way. In a few hours, I’m going to be reading with one of them, Carolyn Forché, here in New York. And for the last few hours, I turned to others. I have the excellent website open for Sam Hamill’s “Poets Against the War” and his essential anthology right next to me.

Sam Hamill is experiencing some serious financial hardship at present—medical treatments not covered by insurance, an inability to teach, a very modest pension. The poets Marilyn Hacker and Alfred Corn have been raising funds to help. Donations of all sizes will be appreciated. They can be sent care of Alfred Corn to: P.O. Box 214, Hopkinton, RI 02833 U.S.A.

I’ve also been reading an eloquent, rigorous and wise anthology that came out last year from Bottom Dog Press, “Come Together, Imagine Peace.” The title may sound a little too feel-good and aesthetically soft, but the poems are strong and brilliantly-chosen. And there is an excellent introduction by Philip Metres.

I opened to Robert Creeley’s brief, lovely “paean of patience”:

For No Clear Reason

I dreamt last night
the fright was over, that
the dust came, and then water,
and women and men, together
again, and all was quiet
in the dim moon’s light.

A paean of such patience—
laughing, laughing at me,
and the days extend over
the earth’s great cover,
grass, trees, and flower-
ing season, for no clear reason.

If peace can be dreamt, if it can come for no clear reason, that’s because, however mocked, abused, ignored, it’s already here, already put to practice—hard to hear amidst the violence, difficult to see underneath the dark canopy of our aggression.

It’s Armistice Day. Wherever you find peace, hold on to it, for dear life.

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