I THINK EMILY DICKINSON
WOULD HAVE BEEN POLITICAL TODAY
by Sharon Olds
She's so good, isn't she, Ruth [Stone]? She's so good. And then when I think of the power of poetry, and I think of Denise Levertov, and I think of Muriel Rukeyser, I think of poets against the war in Vietnam. And whatever happened, the power of those events, and of those readings, had something to do with what happened, I believe. So I wanted to read one more poem by Muriel Rukeyser, a poem written during the Vietnam war, about a cockroach, called "St. Roach":
For that I never knew you, I only learned to dread you,
for that I never touched you, they told me you are filth,
they showed me by every action to despise your kind;
for that I saw my people making war on you,
I could not tell you apart, one from another,
for that in childhood I lived in places clear of you,
for that all the people I knew met you by
crushing you, stamping you to death, they poured boiling
water on you, they flushed you down,
for that I could not tell one from another
only that you were dark, fast on your feet, and slender.
Not like me.
For that I did not know your poems
And that I do not know any of your sayings
And that I cannot speak or read your language
And that I do not sing your songs
And that I do not teach our children
to eat your food
or know your poems
or sing your songs
But that we say you are filthing our food
But that we know you not at all.
Yesterday I looked at one of you for the first time.
You were lighter than the others in color, that was
neither good nor bad.
I was really looking for the first time.
You seemed troubled and witty.
Today I touched one of you for the first time.
You were startled, you ran, you fled away
Fast as a dancer, light, strange and lovely to the touch.
I reach, I touch, I begin to know you.