from Part Three: Its Everlasting Possibility
Strangers: the Foreign who, coupling with their cousins
Or with their livestock, or even with wild beasts,
Spawn children with tails, or claws and spotted fur,
Ugly--and though their daughters are beautiful
Seen dancing from the front, behind their backs
Or underneath their garments are the tails
Of reptiles, or teeth of bears.
So one might feel--
Thinking about the people who cross the mountains
And oceans of the earth with separate legends,
To die inside the squalor of sod huts,
Shanties or tenements; and leave behind
Their legends, or the legend of themselves,
Broken and mended by the generations:
Their alien, orphaned, and disconsolate spooks,
Earth-trolls or Kallikaks or Snopes or golems,
Descended of Hessians, runaway slaves and Indians,
Legends confused and loose on the roads at night...
The Alien or Creature of the movies.
As people die, their monsters grow more tame;
So that the people who survived Saguntum,
Or in the towns that saw the Thirty Years' War,
Must have felt that the wash of blood and horror
Changed something, inside. Perhaps they came to see
The state or empire as a kind of Whale
Or Serpent, in whose body they must live--
Not that mere suffering could make us wiser,
Or nobler, but only older, and more ourselves...
On television, I used to see, each week,
Americans descending in machines
With wasted bravery and blood; to spread
Pain and vast fires amid a foreign place,
Among the strangers to whom we were new--
Americans: a spook or golem, there.
I think it made our country older, forever.
I don't mean better or not better, but merely
As though a person should come to a certain place
And have his hair turn gray, that very night.
An Explanation of America by Robert Pinsky: Princeton University Press, 1979.
*This book-length poem was written by Pinsky to his young daughter. He says in the first stanza, "...I want to tell you something about our country, / Or my idea of it: explaining it: / If not to you, to my idea of you." I had never read it, but I came upon a copy while prowling around Faulkner House Books in New Orleans last April, and I've been slightly obsessed with it ever since. If you've been reading my blog very long, you'll understand why.