06 December 2007

Words

President Bush at a press conference at the White House
(4 December 07).
Photograph © Stephen Crowley/
The New York Times.

As I listened to W on Tuesday morning repeating his mantra - "Iran was dangerous, Iran is dangerous, and Iran will be dangerous" - about Iran, just a day after the National Intelligence Estimate prepared by his own agencies had pulled the empirical rug out from under his campaign to demonize Iran and further sow fear across the U.S., I wanted to reach for Orwell's "Politics and the English Language." Orwell, of course, warns against letting stock phrases replace words in our speech and writing; and he does so because he sees how phrases foreclose actual thought. Of course, Bush is not alone in the unthinking way he navigates the world. He is particularly dangerous as he does so, but he is hardly alone. All of the Presidential candidates, from both parties, stick to 'talking points' and so manage to not think and to attempt, at least, to keep voters from thinking terribly much either. This was clear Tuesday afternoon as I listened to the radio "debate" among the Democratic candidates on npr.

'08 hopefuls, from left, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., former
Alaska
Sen. Mike Gravel, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., Sen. Chris Dodd,
D-Conn., Sen.
Joe Biden, D-Del., former North Carolina Sen. John
Edwards, and Rep. Dennis
Kucinich, D-Ohio, wait for the start of the
National Public Radio debate.

Photograph © Charlie Neibergall/AP.

In any case, even npr has figured out that there often is only the barest of relation between what candidates say and what is going on in the world. What they say is cosmetic, an effort to present an image of themselves as resolute or experienced or (god forbid!) honest or whatever. So, I thought it might be appropriate to share this poem. Perhaps it will provide some small, partly effective antidote to the onslaught of political bullshit.

Words*
Tadeusz Różewicz

words have been used up
chewed up like gum
by lovely young mouths
have been turned into white balloon bubbles

diminished by politicians
they're used for whitening
teeth
and for the rinsing out
of mouths

in my childhood
words could be
applied to a wound
could be given
to the one you loved

now
diminshed
wrapped in newspaper
they still contaminate still reek
they still hurt

hidden in heads
hidden in hearts
hidden under the gowns
of young women
hidden in holy books
they burst out
they kill
__________
*Copyright Information: Originally from wyjście [exit], Wydawnictwo Dolnośląskie, 2004. Translated from the Polish by Bill Johnston, in Tadeusz Różewicz. New Poems (achipelago books, 2007).

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