Darkside of the Sun: Vet & You

Mike Corrigan

Mike Corrigan

By Mike Corrigan
BN Columnist
His Sign Says “Iraq Vet, Anything Would Help”
(State Street intersection, Concord, N.H., 11/4/14)

Positioned by his corner post
all afternoon, at ease so close
to distances, our public ghost
just soldiers on, counting votes
for endless war by fives and tens.
His sign says DAMAGE. Make amends.

But little’s changed, his Concord’s tensed
to rush away, and nothing ends
this livelong day, save light. Strange —
dulled glass, gray steel, our lives, old pains
and wounds that only time explains.
Is State Street safe? What’s changed?

I want to say a word about poetry, why most Americans don’t like it, or claim they don’t, can’t understand it, ultimately don’t care. Isn’t there enough to read already? Incessant prose keeps babbling on, after all, and now we have Twitter, blogs, seemingly every word ever written entered onto the Internet, plus worlds to craft war in, and phones to distract us from here and now. Journalism, which dutifully instructs us in what the system says we must believe, has been replaced by a million websites, which tell us what we already believe.
So who needs poetry? Unlike a polemic or an editorial, poetry doesn’t tell you how to vote. Unlike prose, a poem purposefully under-explains, leaving lots or room for irony and interpretation. Unlike an essay, a poem can be imprecise in its definitions, not necessarily consecutive in logic or syntax. Important signs and facts may be missing from the poem, to be supplied by the reader, if she can. And perspective may change without warning or announcement. The poem seems to give up a lot, for the sake of brevity and form.
Leaving out the talking points and underselling meanings, a poem is not an argument. It’s a challenge. And the challenge is to examine the evidence of the world. Often trying to look at things from another's perspective, or just from her own viewpoint of practiced attention, the poet has seen something, and she wants you to look at it, too. Real looking leads to real seeing, it literally makes you think. After all, the world is as it appears this morning only because we've trained ourselves to take ninety-nine percent of it for granted. Why think about that out-of-work derelict in that alleyway when he can be so easily dismissed as lazy and grasping? Of what value is it to really look at a flower or a skyscraper? Of what value is someone else's point of view when we've already determined that the whole world of not-us is not really connected to us, anyway? We must keep our labels and pre-judgments ready, just to make it through the day. We literally can’t be bothered to really look at anything or anyone, we just don’t have the time or energy. And he who never looks, never sees.
First and last, we’re Americans. We don’t want to change our minds. We're leery of that, because then we’d have to question the ninety-nine percent of reality we have neatly dismissed and filed away. By familiarizing the scene of the crime to nonexistence, we’ve made all the State Streets safe — for us. For now.

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