Alec Soth's Archived Blog

November 2, 2006

Friday Poems

Filed under: poetry — alecsothblog @ 11:29 pm

In preparation for next week’s election, here are two poems about politics, sort of:

by Donald Rumsfeld (as printed in Slate)

You’re going to be told lots of things.
You get told things every day that don’t happen.

It doesn’t seem to bother people, they don’t—
It’s printed in the press.
The world thinks all these things happen.
They never happened.

Everyone’s so eager to get the story
Before in fact the story’s there
That the world is constantly being fed
Things that haven’t happened.

All I can tell you is,
It hasn’t happened.
It’s going to happen.

—Feb. 28, 2003, Department of Defense briefing

Of Politics, & Art
by Norman Dubie

Here, on the farthest point of the peninsula
The winter storm
Off the Atlantic shook the schoolhouse.
Mrs. Whitimore, dying
Of tuberculosis, said it would be after dark
Before the snowplow and bus would reach us.

She read to us from Melville.

How in an almost calamitous moment
Of sea hunting
Some men in an open boat suddenly found themselves
At the still and protected center
Of a great herd of whales
Where all the females floated on their sides
While their young nursed there. The cold frightened whalers
Just stared into what they allowed
Was the ecstatic lapidary pond of a nursing cow’s
One visible eyeball.
And they were at peace with themselves.

Today I listened to a woman say
That Melville might
Be taught in the next decade. Another woman asked, “And why not?”
The first responded, “Because there are
No women in his one novel.”

And Mrs. Whitimore was now reading from the Psalms.
Coughing into her handkerchief. Snow above the windows.
There was a blue light on her face, breasts and arms.
Sometimes a whole civilization can be dying
Peacefully in one young woman, in a small heated room
With thirty children
Rapt, confident and listening to the pure
God rendering voice of a storm.


  1. Norman was my teacher. He is a great man, and this is one of his terrific poems. His work is entirely too infrequently read I think. Thanks for putting it here. There’s a poem of his that makes me think of your photographs now that I have seen your photographs – Ars Poetica. You should look him up next time/if you are ever in Phoenix AZ where he teaches at ASU. He doesn’t drive, so if you visit and you have a car, he may ask you to help him run some errands.

    Comment by Jorn Ake — November 13, 2006 @ 9:06 pm

  2. Thanks so much Jorn. I found the poem. It is as good as it gets.

    Ars Poetica
    by Norman Dubie

    It is almost polio season. The girls

    From the cigarette factories in Massachusetts
    Are still visiting the northern beaches.
    At midnight, the milky rubbers
    In the breakers are like a familiar invasion.

    Of sea life.
    Sitting on the rocks we watch a runner:
    Weight shifted, some tick, tick,
    Almost of intelligence—
    The bone catching of balance…

    From behind, a red-haired girl appears—
    Missing a thumb on her left hand,
    Breathless, she asks for a light:
    A crumpled pack of Lucky Strikes
    At the top of a nylon stocking;
    The other leg bare, her abdomen
    And breasts plastered with white sand.
    Drunk, she says, “He just swam out
    Past the jetty—that was twenty minutes
    Ago. You think I give a damn?”

    We lit the cigarette for her. Her hands

    No moon, it took an hour
    To find all her clothing,
    Dropped as they ran
    Down the rock shelf through dunes…

    He hadn’t drowned. He swam around the jetty,
    Crawled to the grasses and over the granite shelf.
    Gathering his clothes, he left
    Her there as a joke.

    Her hair was colored
    That second chaste coat of red on the pomegranate.
    We were eating sandwiches on the rocks.
    She frightened my mother and me. My little
    Sister just thought she was funny.
    In thirty years I have dremt of her twice, once
    With fear and once without. I’ve written
    This for her, and because

    Twice is too often
    Considering how beautiful she was.

    Norman Dubie

    Comment by Alec Soth — November 13, 2006 @ 10:20 pm

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