Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Jon Woodson

The Battle of the Archers

you don’t even stand up in your day,
you shift your stance, winding from
foot to foot, making yourself low
and slight, trying to slip around what
they loose at you, the spare darts they
will allow, their recompense. some
pull takes away the weakness of the eye.
they are dancing in the line of the ridge
with the orb of the sun at their backs.
they are taunting with their songs and
twanging with their taut bowstrings.
we know them, they are our cousins
or something more distant. more distant
now. they have teeth on their darts—
white and sharp. not really teeth—
more like voices with dangerous words,
pretty things that put you in pain
if you listen. there is no magic, only
that string of gut that takes on the strength
of the bow. they will not stand there long.
they are thirsty. they are tired. they want.
they want to drive at us and to know our flocks.
you don’t stand up in your day. you crouch
and you bend so that you appear
to be dancing if anyone is fooled
by appearances, but you are making
yourself into a bird or a sidewinder,
anything but a friend or a brother.
nothing is more kindly than a dead man,
he gives you everything that he has.
he smiles as he lies down to surrender
his flocks, his stream of water,
his weapons, his magic up under the cliff.
you don’t even stand up in your day
unless you want to lie down
in that shadow and never stop giving things away.

John Rawls at Hiroshima

Hiroshima by moonlight was clinical and lunar
and secure enough, if not civilized.
Subsequent heavy rainfall, then persistent showers,
had washed away some of the residual radioactivity.
Records indicate that troops occasionally
patrolled the destroyed area of the city.
Everyone else is better off than they would have been
under some lengthier form of campaign.

Arriving autonomously by jeep, the ignorant vehicle
driven by autonomous driver, universal
implications were at rare intervals lopsided in the landscape;
little was rational or reasonable.
The approximate perimeters of total destruction from blast and fire,
like everything showing, demanded an equal indifference.
Everyone else is better off than they would have been
under some other regime of fairness and flame.

There were contours of long-term danger and shame
that suggested we keep this field of imperfection
to sit in while making our pitiless picks in the future.
Death makes us uncomfortable, desolation
makes us want to rebuild, to veil
what abstraction reveals in the muster of frays.
Everyone else is better off than they would have been
under some other plan of disintegration.

The mistake is plain. The bare-persons are gone,
and they ought to be here,
but not in the way that they are shadowed now.
The jeep idles, the intractable night is full of potential.
He will drive off and defend the good,
placing life between the pillars of slavery and the atom.
Everyone else is better off than they would have been
under some other average utilitarianism.

[Harvard University professor John Rawls, a leading figure in moral and political philosophy, was the author of The Theory of Justice.]

Aviation in August

Over the bay the C 130 banked like an osprey
coming down for a strike
at the surface. The tide was ambiguous, and I thought
of some Frost—neither out far nor in deep: research
supports the idea that most thinking 
is a recombination of previous thoughts. No troops
birthed from the slow body, no spiders on wind-threads,
no dandelion fluff. Just flight practice. Around. Around.The perfectionist OCD of war. No waves today, 
and pebbles underfoot. Then an apache gunship lines along 
obsessively, and from my companion
I get a monologue on the logic of wanting
to be a door gunner. To be able to have the danger
in your wallet like a credit card with 
some fantastic limit—if you don’t get
shot out of the sky. It’s a dead language going across
the sky and meaning nothing here “at home,”
the only grammar apparent, a young girl stuffing 
an overdetermind breast into the flimsy chute.

Why I Am Not on the Money

I have heard that Oprah Winfrey
is on the kwacha in Malawi

I have heard that Madonna
is on the pula in Botswana

I have heard that Kanye West
is on the dirham in the Emirates

I have heard that Paul Anka
is on the rupee in Sri Lanka

I have heard that Cher
is on the franc in Niger

I have heard that George Clooney
is on the franc in Djibouti

I have heard that Justin Bieber
is on the franc in French Polynesia

I have heard that Beyonce
is on the krone in Norway

I have heard that Barak Obama
is on the florin in Suriname

I have heard that Mick Jagger
is on the franc in Madagascar

I have heard that Scarlet Johansen
is on the manx in the isle of Man

I have heard that Tiger Woods
is on the dollar in the Solomon Islands

I have heard that Steven Spielberg
is on the som in Kyrgzstan

I have heard that John Bon Jovi
is on the lira in the Holy See

I have heard that Lady Gaga
is on the pa’anga in Tonga

I have heard that Leonardo DiCaprio
is on the loti in Lesotho

I have heard that Angelina Jolie
is on the lira in Italy

Why I Am Not an Ice Dancer

The things that I reject are the things that define me.
I know the popular wisdom says
that we should be shaped by what we embrace,
but they just say that to get the word embrace
into the room. I am not going to go around
embracing anything. In fact, if I go around
it will be because the world is undetectably circulating
and I am fixed up so that I go around
even though I am lying in my bed perfectly still
trying to wait until the vertigo passes.

The part that disturbs me is the habit
the ice dancers have of going in reverse
before they do something colossal. Who wants
to back up to the crisis, or play turn about
with the moment of truth? Like the sky divers,
I want to go at things head first, joining
hands with the other Icaruses and then lighting
those flares, so that we make trails kiting
the whole way down. All the ice dancers make
are ugly scratches on the ice, by the way.

So, there’s another heartfelt demerit set
in my black book of estimations. Now ballet
fakes weightlessness with feathery clothes
and fragile women on their toes, but truly
falling weightlessly to the ground
is pure and simple and realistic. Which reminds
me of the sentimentality of water ballet—
half in, half out, need I say more? Buy hey,
I know it’s hard. I know it sounds like sour grapes.
Ice dancing. It’s just that it’s philosophically inadequate.

Why I Am Not a Woman

I am not a woman because
I am a massive brooding humpback
of testosterone ice hurtling
out of intergalactic insolence
zooming toward collision
with the Earth on a trail of vodka
and optimism at twenty
or thirty times the speed
of child support.
All the way down the path
of my descent,
I knew my destiny.
All the way along the curve
of my trajectory
I had a sense of my
ultimate purpose.
But then I was confronted
and I had to stand up
before the thermal
intake window of forasmuch.
When I couldn’t make up
my mind, I slapped a stack
of credit cards down on the counter
and requested all three
moral bypass operations.

Why I Am Quiet and Keep to Myself

Nikola Tesla was quiet and kept to himself
Walt Whitman was quiet and kept to himself
John Lennon was quiet and kept to himself
Ralph Waldo Emerson was quiet and kept to himself
Thomas Edison was quiet and kept to himself
Karl Marx was quiet and kept to himself
Mikhail Kalashnikov was quiet and kept to himself
J. Robert Oppenheimer was quiet and kept to himself
Louis-Ferdinand Céline was quiet and kept to himself
Charles Baudelaire was quiet and kept to himself
Vincent Willem van Gogh was quiet and kept to himself
Alexander Fleming was quiet and kept to himself
Ray Bradbury was quiet and kept to himself
James Baldwin was quiet and kept to himself
Ramana Maharshi was quiet and kept to himself
Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci was quiet and kept to himself
Wernher von Braun was quiet and kept to himself
Walt Disney was quiet and kept to himself
Samuel Clemens was quiet and kept to himself
Daniel Boone was quiet and kept to himself
Roger Williams was quiet and kept to himself
Joshua Slocum was quiet and kept to himself
David Livingstone was quiet and kept to himself

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