In San Diego, the birds do not perch still long enough for me to identify them. But this afternoon I could hear owls hooting to each other and the wings of mourning doves in flight. Later I watched t.v. while my mother chopped potatoes and taro roots for a fish curry.
I can still hear her butcher knife, now as I write, as it quickly rendered the roots into cubes, manageable pieces. A second can last longer than you think it should, slicing into flesh just as easily as a nicely whetted kitchen blade fulfills its destiny, clicking on a cutting board with hypnotically regular rhythm. Neither can be as successful without the other; the cutting board, too, accomplishes its destiny through that blade.
You might think this is too poetic or pointless, people often confuse one with the other. Yes, I seem to make more than enough of the mundane, but that is what poets do. The mundane is never innocent of meaning or history, I remembered as I watched the evening national news, an announcer droning over image after image of American soldiers aiming weapons at Iraqis and their homes and meeting-places. There were images of soldiers shaking the hands of Afghani villagers, but, aside from their smiles and handshakes, the soldiers did not look different from the ones holding weapons.
So while upon a block of wood a butcher knife met its destiny and camouflaged men cradled weapons and shook hands in a region of the world they might have never known if they had not the weapons or imperial investiture, I thought about a poem written in 1940.
. . .
Newsreel by C. Day Lewis
Enter the dream-house, brothers and sisters, leaving
Your debts asleep, your history at the door:
This is the home for heroes, and this loving
Darkness a fur you can afford.
Fish in their tank electrically heated
Nose without envy the glass wall: for them
Clerk, spy, nurse, killer, prince, the great and the defeated,
Move in a mute day-dream.
Bathed in this common source, you gape incurious
At what your active hours have willed—
Sleepwalking on that silver wall, the furious
Sick shapes and pregnant fancies of your world.
There is the mayor opening the oyster season:
A society wedding: the autumn hats look swell;
An old crock's race, and a politician
In fishing-waders to prove that all is well.
Oh, look at the warplanes! Screaming hysteric treble
In the long power-dive, like gannets they fall steep.
But what are they to trouble--
These silver shadows to trouble your watery, womb-deep sleep?
See the big guns, rising, groping, erected
To plant death in your world’s soft womb.
Fire-bud, smoke-blossom, iron seed projected--
Are these exotics? They will grow nearer home:
Grow nearer home--and out of the dream-house stumbling
One night into a strangling air and the flung
Rags of children and thunder of stone niagaras tumbling,
You'll know you slept too long.