by Suzanne Lummis
In the American Heritage
dictionary close-up is defined as: 1. A photograph or a
film or television shot in which the subject is tightly
framed and shown at a relatively large scale. 2. An
intimate view or description.
by Jane Hirschfield
Hirschfield will read on SUNDAY, MARCH 23 2 P.M. at
Central Library, Mark Taper Auditorium, Fifth and Flower
Streets, Downtown Los Angeles Parking $1 with library
validation. Tickets $8 general admission, $6 for Library
Associates and students 213/228-7025 or
by Kent Johnson
Nine, Eight . . .
Reader (assuming I have a reader), could you
cast your eyes above my head and tell me exactly what nature
of thing you see suspended up there? Is it Doom, or merely
Dread that hangs over me just now? I'm hoping it's Dread
only, since Doom must be a bit worse.
As I write, certain people going about their
tasks, making use of the daylight hours the best they can,
carrying on in little shops, or in fields, or in school
rooms, are likely to be dead a few days after the posting of
these poems. And American soldiers, too, at this very
moment a whole coterie of them resting up after a military
exercise I expect in two weeks or so certain members of
the group will have been swept, in the one sense that
really counts, quite completely from the face of the
And here in the continental U.S., some on the
phone right now, or at a key boards, will shortly come to
understand that the last time they saw their son or husband,
daughter or wife will be the last time.
That much seems certain. We do not know yet
whether retaliatory explosions will start going off, here
and there, like tossed fire crackers. I named my last book
"In Danger" with the belief that there is no safe zone on
this earth but I wish that fate, providence, and
particular holders of high office had not gone to such
lengths to prove my book relevant.
Poetry does not console, not quite, but I
feel something next door to consolation knowing that in the
face of all that is rotten certain stalwart beautiful poems
endure. They stand up to The Terrible. They take root --
stubborn, extraordinarily difficult things to destroy. The
paper on which they appear can be burned but, unlike
paintings or novels or architecture, poems themselves can be
carried in the secret cache of the memory, as Anna
Akhmatova's were during the years of the Stalinist scourge.
Flesh and bone, cement and steel all
transitory wispy things, but the fine and fiercely wrought
poem sometimes proves indestructible.
And so, while I can't guarantee I'll be here
in two weeks, the fine and fiercely wrought poems I've
reprinted below will.
There's no indication that Jane Hirschfield
was thinking of war when she wrote gratefully of being held
aloft and away from, just for a while, some impending fate
the fate common to us all. So, it was not conceived as a
war poem, or a peace poem, but is instead one of those we
should pull out and look at once again, now, because it has
lately acquired layers of sorrowing dark relevance and
And I recommend to you a stunning poem I
pulled off Sam Hamill's
www.poetsagainstthewar.org. I had never heard of this
poet, but when I came upon it I thought to myself "well,
however history remembers this campaign people won't say, as
I've sometimes heard said about Viet Nam, that the war
didn't give rise to any unforgettable poems."
His method of using a children's tale to
reveal a bitter very adult knowledge of the world
reminds me of something Philip Levine said in an
undergraduate class, oh, many years back, about Elizabeth
Bishop's "Visits to Saint Elizabeths". Her account of Ezra
Pound in the insane asylum borrows the accumulative pattern
of "This is the House that Jack Built". He read it aloud to
us, mused a moment in the silence . . .
"Ideas like this come to a poet maybe twice
in a lifetime, or once, or never".
How brilliant that Kent Johnson's poem takes
off from Margaret Wise Brown's sweetly haunting children's
classic "Goodbye Moon". The little picture book was
written. . . well, not in an innocent era. Nineteen
forty-seven was not by most accounts an innocent era. Yet
somehow she and the illustrator, Clement Hurd, did in the
context of the disagreeable world find their way to a
place of inviolate purity. It's a place that seems almost
another dimension of space and time, and possibility.
This many years later, no longer children, we
might suddenly notice a ghost of sadness behind those
Goodnight comb, and goodnight brush,
Goodnight nobody and goodnight mush
and a quiet old lady whispering 'hush'
Goodnight noises everywhere.
Morning of buttered toast;
of coffee, sweetened, with
Out of the window,
snow-spruces step from their
Flurry of chickadees, feeding
A single cardinal stipples an
one maple leaf lifted back.
I turn my blessings like
photographs into the light;
over my shoulder the god of
Not-Yet looks on:
Ample litany, sparing nothing
I hate or love,
I move my ear a little closer
to that humming figure,
I ask him only to stay.
Oh, little crown of iron forged to likeness of imam's face,
what are you doing in this circle of flaming inspectors and
And little burnt dinner all set to be eaten
(and crispy girl all dressed with scarf for school),
what are you doing near this shovel for dung-digging,
hissing like ice-cubes in ruins of little museum?
And little shell of bank on which flakes of assets fall,
can't I still withdraw my bonds for baby?
Good night moon.
Good night socks and good night cuckoo clocks.
Good night little bedpans and a trough where once there was
(urn of dashed pride),
what are you doing beside little wheelbarrow
beside some fried chickens?
And you, ridiculous wheels spinning on mailman's truck,
truck with ashes of letter from crispy girl all dressed with
scarf for school,
why do you seem like American experimental poets going
on little exercise bikes?
Good night barbells and ballet dancer's shoes
under plastered ceilings of Saddam Music Hall.
Good night bladder of Helen Vendler and a jar from
(though what are these doing here in Baghdad?)
Good night blackened ibis and some keys.
Good night, good night.
(And little mosque popped open like a can, which same as
flypaper has blown outward, covering the shape of man with
mosque): He stumbles up Martyr's Promenade. What does it
who is speaking, he murmurs and mutters, head a little bit
Good night to you too.)
Good night moon.
Good night poor people who shall inherit the moon.
Good night first editions of Das Kapital, Novum Organum,
The Symbolic Affinities between Poetry Blogs and Oil Wells,
and the Koran.
Good night nobody.
Good night Mr. Kent, good night, for now you must
soon wake up and rub your eyes and know that you are dead.
Hirschfield's books include Given Sugar, Given Salt and
The Lives of the Heart from which the above poem is
taken. She edited the popular anthology Women in Praise of the
Sacred: 43 Centuries of Spiritual Poetry by Women. The
Library's "Words in the World 2003" program notes that she
"brings each subject into a surprising and magnified
existence, expressing the interconnection of human and
Johnson is editor of Beneath a Single Moon: Buddhism in
Contemporary American Poetry (Shambhala), and Third Wave:
The New Russian Poetry (Michigan). He is translator of
Nation of Poets: Writings from the Poetry Workshops of
Nicaragua (West End Press). With Forrest Gander, he is
translator of Immanent Visitor: Selected Poems of Jaime
Saenz (U. of California Press, 2003), and author, with
Alexandra Papaditsas, of The Miseries of Poetry: Traductions
from the Greek, forthcoming from Skanky Possum Press.
Ready for Their Close-Up