Poem #1022

When the cold optics of domination are left unchallenged, the dead die twice. The cruel euphemism of profit and the genocidal language of extermination meet their answer in Daniel Borzutzky’s “Poem #1022.” Borzutzky, in this selection from “Written After a Massacre in the Year 2018,” draws his inspiration from César Vallejo’s “Brief Responsory for a Hero of the Republic.” In Vallejo’s poem, a book sprouts from the corpse of a dead soldier of the Spanish Civil War. In Borzutzky’s poem, living poems emerge from the dead, too, and without these poems, “the dead are assassinated.” Beginning with the chilling abstractions of the dealers of death, “Poem #1022” moves from the distant to the intimate. The language of the poem becomes starker as it arrives at the last word, which sits alone on a line, a devastating clarity. Selected by Anne Boyer

Credit…Illustration by R. O. Blechman

Poem #1022

By Daniel Borzutzky

There is not much excess
and what there is is barely perceptible
the blank ones disappear from our vision
no one notices until
there is a dramatic decrease in surplus value

the war is born
and the blank ones disappear again
but really their disappearance is subjective
some see no one
while others see everyone

for some the extermination of the cancer is
inseparable from the decreation of the city
others associate the decreation
with an unstoppable flow of leakage
while others associate the decreation
with falling rates of profit
and the barely perceptible
appearance of the human body

out of the dead refugee sprouts
a breathing poem

out of the dead soldier sprouts
a breathing poem

out of the dead city sprouts
a breathing poem

but when the city disappears
so do the poems

and when the poems disappear
the dead are assassinated

picture a heart covered in dust
and picture a poem sprouting out of it

picture a heart covered in dust
and picture a child chasing it

picture a bullet that kills a child
and picture the soldier who tosses the child into the sea

the soldier kisses the earth and says
it’s not my fault the people are being born and dying

the pastor calls out the names of the children to the congregants

to each name they respond

Anne Boyer is a poet and an essayist. Her memoir about cancer and care, “The Undying,” won a 2020 Pulitzer Prize in general nonfiction. Daniel Borzutzky is a poet and translator from Spanish. His 2016 collection, “The Performance of Becoming Human” (Brooklyn Arts Press, 2016), won the National Book Award for poetry. His most recent titles are “Written After a Massacre in the Year 2018” (Coffee House Press, 2021); and “Lake Michigan” (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2018), a finalist for the Griffin Poetry Prize.

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