Poetry: Truth and Dare

While conversations go on about allegory, good writing, truth, lies, and authenticity, I keep going back to poetry. It’s all there.
‘Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front’ – from The Country of Marriage (1973) by Wendell Berry
Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front
Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark a false trail, the way
you didn’t go. Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection
.
*******
‘You’re the Top,’ by Tony Hoagland from Sweet Ruin (University of Wisconsin Press).
You’re the Top
Of all the people that I’ve ever known
I think my grandmother Bernice
would be best qualified to be beside me now
driving north of Boston in a rented car
while Cole Porter warbles on the radio;
Only she would be trivial and un-
politically correct enough to totally enjoy
the rhyming of Mahatma Ghandi
with Napoleon brandy;
and she would understand, from 1948,
the miracle that once was cellophane,
which Porter rhymes with night in Spain.
She loved that image of the high gay life
where people dressed by servants
turned every night into the Ritz:
dancing through a shower of just
uncorked champagne
into the shelter of a dry martini.
When she was 70 and I was young
I hated how a life of privilege
had kept her ignorance intact
about the world beneath her pretty feet,
how she believed that people with good manners
naturally had yachts, knew how to waltz
and dribbled French into their sentences
like salad dressing. My liberal adolescent rage
was like a righteous fist back then
that wouldn’t let me rest,
but I’ve come far enough from who I was
to see her as she saw herself:
a tipsy debutante in 1938,
kicking off a party with her shoes;
launching the lipstick-red high heel
from her elegant big toe
into the orbit of a chandelier
suspended in a lyric by Cole Porter,
bright and beautiful and useless.

2 thoughts on “Poetry: Truth and Dare

  1. Oh, thank you for a most delicious breakfast!
    Berry reminds me of Whitman & Thoreau, just beautiful, that manifesto. And the last part of Hoagland’s poem is such a striking visual, I am sure I will chuckle at that memory throughout the day as I run tedious errands, get stuck in mid-day traffic, in a small town that shouldn’t have any.

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