” Massive engines lift beautifully from the deck.
Wings appear over the trees, wings with eight hundred rivets. 

Engines burning a thousand gallons of gasoline a minute sweep over the huts with dirt floors.       
The chickens feel the new fear deep in the pits of their beaks.
Buddha with Padma Sambhava. 

Meanwhile, out on the China Sea,
immense gray bodies are floating,
born in Roanoke,
the ocean on both sides expanding, “buoyed on the dense marine.” 

Helicopters flutter overhead. The death-
bee is coming. Super Sabres
like knots of neurotic energy sweep
around and return.
This is Hamilton?s triumph.
This is the advantage of a centralized bank.
B-52s come from Guam. All the teachers
die in flames. The hopes of Tolstoy fall asleep in the ant heap.
Do not ask for mercy. ”

[…] 


 One of the most important poems to come out of the Vietnam protest movement, “The Teeth Mother Naked at Last” represents Robert BLY’s seamless melding of political and contemplative poetry. Bly took inspiration from the political poems of Latin American poets, including Pablo Neruda and César Vallejo, and from American contemporaries Etheridge KNIGHT, Thomas MCGRATH, James WRIGHT, and David IGNATOW, as well as the earlier American poets Walt Whitman and William Carlos WILLIAMS, all of whom wrote about political crises. In his 1980 essay “Leaping up into Political Poetry,” Bly argues for the power of contemplative poetry to engage with political questions: “The life of the nation can be imagined also not as something deep inside our psyche, but as a psyche larger than the psyche of anyone living, a larger sphere, floating above everyone. In order for the poet to write a true political poem, he has to be able to have such a grasp of his own concerns that he can leave them for awhile, and then leap up into this other psyche” (100–101).

 Bly’s greatest political poem was written in three versions. The first appeared in his collection of the same name (1970), the second in Sleepers Joining Hands (1973), and the third in Selected Poems (1986). In all three versions, Bly is indebted to Spanish SURREALISM, and his own DEEP IMAGE style allows him to employ powerful dreamlike images in his description of political events. In his lament over the death of spirituality and thought, he evokes the strange image of books that do not want to be with us any longer: “New Testaments . . . escaping . . . dressed as women . . . / they slip out after dark.” The images are at times brutally direct. Bly describes an attack on a hut by high explosives: “The six-hour-old infant puts his fists instinctively to his eyes to keep out the light.” The final image of the attack is plain and unflinching: “Blood leaps on the vegetable walls.”

 For Bly, the psyche of America will pay for the atrocities and lies of the Vietnam war. In a surreal passage Bly describes a speech by a lying president. Bly warns that this suggests the decline of the nation and asks, “What is there now to hold us to earth?” Even the political arguments Bly offers take on a surreal uncanniness in their immediacy: Bly’s poem is an angry lament, a prophetic warning about the psychic death that threatens America as it piles horror on horror and turns its wealth and power to the production of death.

Alan Bourassa

 

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