Friday, April 10, 2009

NPM 8: "The Visitor," by Carolyn Forché

This poem has been one of my favorites --though favorite seems too happy a word-- since I came across it when I was working on a geography book about El Salvador. American poet Carolyn Forché (b. 1950) worked as a human rights advocate in that country sometimes during the civil war there.

Forché writes what she calls "the poetry of witness." In a terrific interview about poetry and politics, she talks about shifts in our consciousness that happen when we truly enter into another person's reality:
"...when I first arrived in El Salvador I was seeing it as an exotic place I would see women walking gracefully by the side of the road balancing jugs on their heads very gracefully and you know it was almost the postcard vision of the world.

Then of course you step into a crowded bus and a woman gets on and asks you if she can place the jug on your lap because she’s standing, and you recognize that the jug weighs 100 pounds and it’s filled with water because she has no potable water within 3 kilometers of her village. ...
You no longer view her gracefulness in quite the same way."

Today, Good Friday, seems the perfect day to post this poem.

"The Visitor"

In Spanish he whispers there is no time left.
It is the sound of scythes arcing in wheat,
the ache of some field song in Salvador.
The wind along the prison, cautious
as Francisco's hands on the inside, touching
the walls as he walks, it is his wife's breath
slipping into his cell each night while he
imagines his hand to be hers. It is a small country.

There is nothing one man will not do to another.

--Carolyn Forché
from The Country Between Us (1981)

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