A Series of Poems about Power
by Dean Blehert
The child can't understand your words,
so, for his own good, you force him
to do what he should. There's no time
to explain to the man charging you
with a bayonet that you're just
a nice guy from another place,
so you shoot him. You can't make
the mugger see that there are
better ways to be, so you
lock him away.
Your not being able to explain
recoils on you: You say you just
don't understand children, women,
men, criminals, lawyers, anyone
you can't talk to.
You think you understand
ashtrays and tables and doorknobs
because you never tried
to explain anything to them.
Some people get used to your ways,
kids grow up, learn to understand you,
sort of. You explain yourself again
and again, or where you can't,
you explain the need for reasonable
force. Explaining yourself
gets more and more like explaining
the need for force.
Hardest is explaining evil when
it looks like you. The murderer
or the clerk who is sorry
he can't help you faces you
with a simple gaze as multiple
as a fly's, its twinkle
a broken glint, faceted by a thousand
failed utopias. He answers you
in human words; even letters
from the government sound like
human words. A madman
is a bureaucracy. Ask for the one
responsible -- no one answers, a great
mystery if you think you're
talking to a person.
And you, though you know they are bad,
you still do certain things. You just
don't understand yourself. God
is what understands you, and nobody
Can what can't be understood
understand? Stones, ashtrays,
tables, doorknobs, things: frozen
in random vectors of force. These
you cannot understand, though you insist
you do, insist this is just a dresser,
just a doorknob, an eye, though sometimes
half-awake at dawn, you are surrounded
by nameless forms, even the mask
in the mirror, utterly senseless,
as if God surrounds you,
understanding nothing, nothing
to be understood.
You do your job, you do
what you're supposed to do
like a doorknob and everybody
understands you and there is
nothing to explain. You watch
TV, flinching from the rough tongue
hot on your cheek, the intolerable
sweetness in the eyes of a dog.
Fun With Force
Solidities are fun -
catch, anyone? THWACK!
Force is good stuff. No one imposes it
more stringently than those who claim
to abominate it, those sweetly imploding
Nice Nellies, sucking in anyone
within galaxy-range and turning them
into delicate cringes.
Liberals, for example, are great at
dispersing force so that it warps and racks you
from all directions without seeming to come
from anywhere in particular in this
loving, reasonable universe. It's enough
to make one nostalgic for fascists,
which is probably why we have liberals.
Those who fear force make it sticky.
A well-whetted headsman's ax is neater:
While looking up "stultiloquence",
I stumbled across stuka, "a
powerful German dive bomber
used in World War II"--a nifty
nightmare: Bristly bug-like thing,
all armor, bombs, fire-spitting tubes
and machinery, barely room for
a few cavities into which could be squeezed
the requisite expendable humanoids.
The thing had power, was full
of power over people like you
and me. You couldn't set it
on a plush throne or judge's bench,
bow before it, petition, supplicate,
propitiate, no, its power was
sudden, not to be reasoned with,
but that's not the nightmare.
It's the "used in World War II"
that lights up my screen
with yet more buglike ones
who "used" the monster, said
"Go against our kind and in our
name rule absolute. Kill whom
you will." These men saw themselves
as tiny bugs, easily crushed,
so created fierce machines
and thought to use them,
"thought to", because one cannot
relinquish power to a machine,
then use it, but like one who dives
too steeply to pull out,
can only follow
(to the final flare)
where lost power leads.
It's almost cozy,
this thick fog between me
and everything else, except
the TV whiteness is in here with me,
a moon reflecting my wavery vacancy,
no closer to me and no farther off
than the voices in my head,
and me such a precise thing now
because of all it can't touch,
precisely nothing at all
sitting very still like a rabbit
hunched on the verge of the trail
sitting still so long
it's become a rabbit-shaped niche
in concrete space.
Now something's buzzing about sympathetically,
trying to get in through the fog,
trying to be "you",
but all my "you" circuitry is bottlenecked
with heavy traffic: How-could-you's and
I'll-show-you's, the fog itself a maze
of circuitry shimmering with old force
that wants to use me to run amok,
smashing bodies and picture tubes--
I am paralyzed with resisting it.
Each time she brushes against it,
she gets a jolt of misdirected charge,
and disturbs this concentration
that uses me up holding everything still
and I can't even break through--because
I'm nothing in here, nullified
by all this electricity--to tell her
it isn't me, I'm hiding in here, I'm here, I'll be back--
this machine has to run down sometime,
it's a machine, it has to run down and somewhere
I still I know she's not you,
Men who crave power--I wonder
if it is not action they crave.
Men who call the shots move
without hesitation from deed to deed,
no holding back of explosive force
for fear of reprisal, no slow slogging
through the mud of committees, weasel-
wording their way to agreement,
and when ousted alive, they molder,
not in subjugation, but boredom,
like grounded refugees from Buck Rogers.
I suspect, given a strenuous enough
mission in a desperate enough war
with range to make quick moves,
they would be content with a platoon.
Every child knows that words are magic.
There are words of power and words
to counteract them. Every child knows
the danger of failing to answer
"Shuddup" with "Says who?" or "Make
me" or "shuddup yourself", knows
the potency of getting in the last "Yeah!",
the efficacy of dibsies and no dibsies.
Words are how we are right, and when
we are wrong, we are dead. Every child
wants to be right, so gathers about him
words of power, words of rightness,
thick bulwarks of clotted words, until,
huge with his rightness, so full
of what he could say
that he can afford to scorn
a pathetic "shuddup" in silence,
he is an adult.
"...And This Is The Steeple..."
"Gothic verticality symbolizes man's
upward aspirations." Yes -- long ago
the masters indoctrinated us
in buildings prickly with receiving
and sending -- radio towers, weapons,
electronic gear for generating force fields
and numbing "indoctrination" beams.
Our primitive eyes saw only intriguing shapes,
complexities of power. Later, those of us who
aspired to indoctrinate the rest of us
aped the departed masters, erecting spires,
minarets, steeples, bell towers --
rationalizing misunderstood forms
with symmetry and busy design.
Thus, like savages kneeling before
an alabaster toilet-god, we gaze, awed
by cathedrals that are but the shells
of lost technology.
Across the street apartment buildings
bristle with antennae as dwellers receive
the word from new gods.
If we were wiped out and barbarians moved in,
finding our cars, ignorant of their mechanism,
barbarian artists might design car shapes
as tokens of grace and mystery. If, previously,
our war-jets had strafed and bombed them,
long before they developed our technology,
they would worship airplane gods.
Our suits, our ties, our trains, telephones, sirens,
lampshades, ball-point pens, large opalescent screens...
something haunts them. If it were safe to remember,
we would remember. C'mon, Dolly, time for beddiebye...
Taking For Granted
Caught myself taking it for granted
that you'd be home when I walked in,
alive, glad to see me and I as glad;
that in the next hour no lightning,
heart attack, terrorist bombing
or unexplained vanishing would shatter
our plans; caught myself, blamed myself
not for failing to appreciate
the miracles we live, but like
knocking on wood, as if to say, "It's OK,
God, I'm remembering to be scared,
so you don't have to prove anything to me."
Stupid, because maybe I'd never
taken anything for granted; maybe
I knew we'd be fine for an hour,
for years, for happily ever after,
because I was making it that way,
making the world I want to live in
by the power of my knowing.
Maybe when I caught myself and
apologized to God, I stopped putting
that world there, put there instead
I've Done NOTHING!
The evidence points to us: We're White,
American, middle-class - but
If we're the villains, why aren't we rich,
powerful, svelte, darkly handsome, commanding?
I don't even own a vest, a black hat.
What's the point of being a villain
if I can't sneer and have people politely
taken for a ride ("See that Mr. Doe
has a comfortable journey, Jake"). If a
tough guy cracked wise at me, I'd say
"Uh...". I'm a good person, honest! Unless
(and I can't believe it) our childhoods were
utter lies, this world's raw scars indicate
that somewhere saunter huge packs of lean,
serene, mustachioed men of dark power,
nothing at all like us.
If the poet screams at us,
how can we resist? Were we not once
infants with nothing but screams
to command attention? Were we not once
children who shivered and looked at the floor
before the raised voices of Mom or Dad,
stuttered, begged, promised anything,
desperate for love, approval and to stave off
being crushed by those sudden loud giants,
reaching for any magic that might transform
them back into reliably adoring presences,
like our dolls and toys, but more happy
to see us and more reassuring and harder
to damage. If the poet screams at us,
how can we not but know that this poet
(like Mom and Dad) knows more than we know?
How could such conviction derive from other
than power, and how could such power derive
from other than the truth? We applaud, cheer,
say, "Wow! Great! Blows me away!" but
don't say, "Please, I won't do it again!
I'll be good! Honest!"
Window of Opportunity or Getting Basic
In that poem by William Yeats,
Leda screams, "What a thrill! I am mates
With a horny white swan!
Now I've put power on,
For I'm pregnant with William Gates!"
Power is what one doesn't HAVE to exercise.
Let us hope that the destruction of this
planet is in our power.
Reasons: yesmen, fawning on the emotion in power.
Clothes on women are thrilling, silly, innocuous.
That which once moved against my body with such
warmth and deft power and intricacy now has a
piece of cloth wrapped around it. It's like
putting trousers on a Rolls-Royce or tying an
apron around the waist of a nuclear missile.
Atomic power: Mite makes light.
The strong can afford to have a sense of humor:
Might makes light.
The First Step
I was three, sitting in the morning light
on the single cement step up
from the sidewalk in front of our house.
A man and a woman (old, I thought),
strolling past, looked down at me, smiled
and said "Hi there." How nice. I said "Hi"
and smiled back at them. I continued
to sit on the step to see if anyone else
would say hi to me. Soon a white-haired woman
in a violet hat with a veil walked past, pausing
to say "Hello" (with a caressing inflection)
and smile, to which I replied "Hello"
with a big smile. Then another woman, heels aclick
(This was 1946, when people still walked --
and maybe it was Sunday and they were heading home
from church) -- younger, like my Mom,
and before she noticed me, I said "Hi"
and smiled, and she smiled and said "Hello."
Now THAT was power! I helloed lots of people
and made them hello me and some of them said
"Aren't you a cutey," and they all were nice.
I don't know who they were, perhaps
never saw them again (not yet),
but they seemed then to know me
and think I was someone special.
I sat on that step many times.
Everyone in the world walked by.
They all did it, even the ones
looking sad brightened up and made
a smile and said hello or hi or good morning.
Then looked sad again, but not quite as sad.
They were good people and I was a good person.
Not that they were saints, would not
do horrible things under the right
circumstances, might have been born
in Germany and voted for Hitler,
might have cheated on taxes, hated
Negroes, anything at all, but that's
speculation. What I know is...what I described
above. I think of this when I hear
that people are basically good. I think of it
when I write poetry. There are so many things
I can do in a poem: snarl, make jokes, hate,
explain, shock -- and I do all this, but mainly
I smile and say "Hi!" so that you'll say "Hi!"
back to me, smiling.
"Force just imposes itself upon masses
to move them or hold them still. Power
persuades." No, power is neither force
nor persuasion. It is decision that makes happen
by its decisiveness, a speed of action
that leaves no time for disagreement,
an expectation of compliance that makes
disobedience unthinkable, an effortlessness
that leaves us thinking we have been persuaded
because we create, after the fact,
the persuasive reasons for our compliance -
needing a reason, rejecting magic.
An artist puts the future there by sheer
Don't be fooled by the sweetness-and-light folks:
This is a universe of raw force. The making
of the mildest spring morning is powered
by megatons of solar energy, its space
defined for us (where motors are muted)
by bird chirps fueled by crushed bugs and worms,
each breeze-caressed leaf, each blade of grass
a factory (Lift that sunlight! Tote that
chlorophyll!), each living thing agape with hunger,
even the stones held in place by raging, random,
helter-skeltering particles. As for us,
we are the greatest force of all, able to enter
this atomic furnace and make of it (with the
lightest stroke of the imagination) the sweetest
and mildest of spring mornings.
Axes aren't the only kind of power:
We need trees more than they need us.
Angel after glorious angel stumbles
or is pushed or spitefully dives
to fiery oblivion. The sky is criss-crossed
with long vertical trails of smoke;
everywhere the reek of charred feathers.
Callow new right arms and left arms of God
(and some little fingers, even a hang-nail or two),
still dimpled with cupid-fat, strut,
polishing their new heavier halos,
preening their snowy wings,
announcing that now, at last,
we've gotten rid of the real devil,
and if everyone will just make an all out effort
to be good, everything will finally come out all right
(for those who are still here
after goodness has thinned the eager ranks).
At the back of the celestial assemblage
old hands who just want to get back to their harps
gaze at the clouds swirling about their sandals
and resist rolling their eyes to the clouds above,
thinking "Jesus, the angels we have heard on high!"
and "Won't YOU fall with a fine fat flame!"
The Most Powerful Nation On Earth
Somewhere, Most Powerful Nation On Earth,
a child is laughing
He sees you flailing about
like the last of the tyrannosaurs,
uprooting trees with each slash of tail.
You can kill the child's body
(if you can find him),
but he's an immortal being,
an endless potential laughter,
not an abstraction like you,
Most Powerful Nation On Earth,
who, when your institutions collapse
in blood and ashes and, mostly,
will become nothing at all,
certainly nothing that can laugh.
Most Powerful Nation On Earth,
you are only a dream,
though the dream of millions.
You are becoming a nightmare,
and soon we will be forced
into disoriented wakefulness.
Already, through the mutter of motors
and propounding of pundits, I can hear
a distant laughter...I hope,
Copyright © 2004 by Dean Blehert. All Rights Reserved