Questions? → Ask George Saunders
Questions? → Ask George Saunders
— “My Verses” from the late Vietnamese Poet Nguyen Chi Thien
“I’m not sure anybody’s imagination has gotten that balance quite right, but Elizabeth Bishop, looking at the mystery of the Brazilian landscape, catches the splendor of that landscape and the mystery that drew the first invaders in toward a sexual or imperial conquest that the invaders never quite attained.
First, Bishop describes the fabric of the Brazilian forest, a dense tapestry.
Every square inch filling in with foliage-
big leaves, little leaves, and giant leaves,
blue, blue green and olive,
with occasional lighter veins and edges,
or a satin under leaf turned over;
in silver-gray relief,
and flowers too, like giant water lilies
up in the air— up rather in the leaves— purple, yellow, two yellows, pink,
rust red, and greenish white;
solid but airy, fresh as if just finished
and taken off the frame.
That’s the fresh woven fabric that the European cannot quite attain, though they invaded. The ending of Bishop’s poem evokes the paradox of Portuguese soldiers glinting like little nail heads lost and transformed, even as they seem to conquer. The hemisphere, Bishop seems to say, eludes our attempts to know it.
in creaking armor, they came and found it all,
not unfamiliar: n
o lover’s walks, no bowers,
no cherries to be picked, no late music,
but corresponding, nevertheless,
to an old dream of wealth and luxury
already out of style when they left home-
wealth, plus a brand new pleasure.
Directly after Mass, humming perhaps
’L’Homme arme or some such tune,
they ripped away into the hanging fabric,
each out to catch an Indian for himself-
those maddening little women who kept calling,
calling to each other, (or had the birds waked up?)
And retreated, always retreating behind it.”
Little man, I said, keep the wolf
from my door: one more night,
one more wretched night and day.
The wolf said wait and the season
was packing its bags, but it would
not leave and it would never leave.
— Joseph Campana is a poet, critic and scholar of Renaissance literature. He is the author of two collections of poetry, “The Book of Faces” (Graywolf, 2005) and “Natural Selections,” which won the 2011 Iowa Poetry Prize.
— After Katrina, 2005
At first, there was nothing to do but watch.
For days, before the trucks arrived, before the work
of cleanup, my brother sat on the stoop and watched.
He watched the ambulances speed by, the police cars;
watched for the looters who’d come each day
to siphon gas from the car, take away the generator,
the air conditioner, whatever there was to be had.
He watched his phone for a signal, watched the sky
for signs of a storm, for rain so he could wash.
At the church, handing out diapers and water,
he watched the people line up, watched their faces
as they watched his. And when at last there was work,
he got a job, on the beach, as a watcher.
Behind safety goggles, he watched the sand for bones,
searched for debris that clogged the great machines.
Riding the prow of the cleaners, or walking ahead,
he watched for carcasses - chickens mostly, maybe
some cats or dogs. No one said remains. No one
had to. It was a kind of faith, that watching:
my brother trained his eyes to bear
the sharp erasure of sand and glass, prayed
there’d be nothing more to see.
— Natasha Trethewey, the new U.S. Poet Laureate. Her book “Beyond Katrina” chronicles the personal accounts of how people of the Gulf Coast region, including her family, have lived with the treat and consequences of natural disaster for generations.