Friday, June 4, 2010

The Ones Who

for Michael Bérubé

Hello in 2010 this is the poem     
This is the poem     
That argues (isn't that annoying?)     
They were the ones who walked away     
From Omelets no Omelas stupid story     
There was a perfect city and     
There was an imprisoned child and     
The first depended on the other     
The child can't really talk     "feeble-minded"
You know how that goes, don't you?     
You know how that goes in stories     
They're always sweet angels or perfect sad cases     
And at the end some people walk away     
They walk away from Omelets     little oubliettes
     every village has one
Where do they walk to, these good people?     
The author can't describe that place it must     
Exist oh yes the world being Omelas would     
"It is possible that it does not exist"     
But they know where they are going, do they?     
The world being Omelas would be     
When you leave a place you find another place     
Just like the first     not that hard to say
The world being would be     go around, return to start
     do nothing, you do your part
     you can't walk away
The world being Omelas, no, omelets     
No one got that big O after all     
We have lots of broken eggs. All over!     
We make that omelet every day     
Middle-aged people with children     
Like you and me, that's what we do     
If we didn't try to say "Look, a broken person!"     
"There's been a break!" then those deaths would     
Be for nothing     
It would be     
A waste     
     The transformation of waste is perhaps the oldest
The transformation of waste     pre-occupation of man
There must be a way to take the remains     
And make it whole (again?)     
And make them whole again     
Oh shit     
Here's how the second story goes     
And it's even true!     
Once there was a country (and we know,     
We know better than to say exceptional)     
But a country in which some suspects were     
Prosecuted justly. It was back in 2001     
     that there were 2 million people in prison   
Back in 2001 that prosecutors tried     
terrorists justly     
     and two years later six hundred thousand   
genuine and legitimate! There was credibility     
and integrity, then there was a radical break     two years later we built a mountain
That hasn't been fixed but we can     of six hundred thousand skulls
Yes we can     
They were good people, the prosecutors     
And did good, civilian trials are good,     
And that's what goodness means in an omelet     
It means that you can make more good omelets     
And all of us would like to be good     
And that's what good does it makes it good     
For the people who say that we are good     
And since we are good      can't stop cooking, can't step back
We can build a city on a mountain     eggs arrive, already cracked
     making omelets, nowhere to turn
     all you can do is LET IT BURN
No, we can't let it burn     
The fire if it comes would be darkness not light     
And anyways, middle-aged people with children,     
We may not be good but we persist     
We're not allowed to give up     
     the transformation of waste
So yes the transformation of waste     
People like the lie that once we were good     
Before the break and so we will tell that lie     
And maybe that will get them to be good     
The living are more important than the dead     
Well, the woman I knew from El Salvador     
Isn't really dead but whatever!      
I'll go and say that once America didn't torture     
Or rather that we didn't torture openly and     
Formally and perhaps that made a difference     
To her when she heard the head torturer     
Speaking English-accented Spanish     
And I'll go spit on the grave of a Salvadoran child     
(Well not the grave, they never found the body)     
Who was tortured (more tolerably?) by proxy     
What's a little spit?     yeah, you and what spitting army
That's a problem.     
Does anyone really care what we say?     
The One who matters says America doesn't torture     
And that's how it is     the first lie of Omelas: there's somewhere to go
     the second is that these are children, you know
Does it matter what we say?     
We aren't rescuing children      
They aren't children in our prisons      
(Well yes some of them are) but the bad scary     
Terrorists that our America depends on     
That America depends on to make us feel good     
Are doing what people always do in prison,     
Or when they hide out in the hills somewhere,     
People who can talk: they are writing,     
Writing that our system is unjust     
And I think that they don't really care about     
Our noble, useless spit     
Or are we lying for America, for "us"?     
I'd rather not lie then kthxbye     
The third story is mine I don't see why not     
Poetry in the first person is annoying but it is mine     
why should I care about truth     the truth will never really set you free
and the lying homilies we tell about truth     it's what you do that matters, not what you see
     see what you like as long as you're yoked
My daughter's 1st grade teacher waves an     and speaking truth to power is a joke
American flag for the class, teaches a song     
And my daughter sings John Lennon's "Imagine"     
At the music festival two massive lies all lies     
You can say there are dreamers, they are not     
The only ones, but there are so many more      
People dreaming approvingly     
Of hellscapes she could not even imagine     
I lie to her too     
I tell her that things are basically going O.K.     
Maybe when she's older      
I'll tell her that there was a radical break     
Just before she was born     
When we formally approved of torture     
And there's still the hope of fixing it     not even Obama can strangle hope
Why should I care? It's a hobby I guess. Like      no this is a lie too why not admit
Science fiction. Not everyone has to like it.     there don't seem to be many chances at all
     since no one knows what will make the thing fall
     might as well not be lying when standing in shit
     since none of us knows what the future will bring
"Freedom never existed     I can still be attached to true naming of things
And there's even less of it now"     
Freedom is what we take, or make     
While we frolic around the junk pile     memories of garbage cans and
It's not what we're given, formally     memories of garbage
Not in Omelas     
If one of us sees someone about to be thrown      
To Moloch then sure, say any lie you like     
About how we used to not throw people     
To Moloch quite in that way     
(Yes not formally a lie, formally true)     
And if it works, great!     
The living are more important than the dead     
We are the people who persist     
We never give up     Did this poem work? Was my sense preserved?
But the omelets are still being made afterwards     America, you get the fucking poets you deserve
And I don't think it's a contrradiction     I don't have the time for any more tries
To say that someone was saved from the frying     Even the best of us can only apologize
With our talk of fair trials this once     When my kids ask what I did in this time
But really we'd be better off without it     I'll say that I laughed and made a stupid rhyme


  1. I like this very much; one of your strongest poems. Long, but certainly earns its length.

    I've often wondered if that le Guin story (or the William James passage she got the core idea from) isn't often taken the wrong way. I suppose I take it as a gloss on the 'a single death is a tragedy a million a statistic' idea ... which is to say: the happiness of the people of Omelas depends upon the misery of one child, and Le Guin's fable is in some sense about our complicity in the misery of others. But I wonder if, more particularly, it is saying something about the horror of individual empathy. It would be more intolerable to live in Omelas knowing that your happiness depended upon one child was suffering, than it would knowing that your happiness depended upon the suffering of millions of others. That's counterintuitive, perhaps; and morally idiotic; but I wonder if it isn't the truth.

  2. Rich,
    The egg metaphor or egg diversion (whichever), speaks volumes here and sets the stage for some fantastic dialogue. I liked this a lot. I appreciated the meanderings and the speaker's questioning mind, esp whether or not it's the truth that should be spoke or the bullshit that "is" spoken. I appreciate where you went with this one including your sidebar commentary. This is certainly an expressive contemporary poem.
    Linda Bratcher Wlodyka

  3. Thanks, Linda and Adam. I'm going to write more about the Le Guin story specifically as soon as I get the energy.