The School Among the Ruins

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Posted by Jeff from ( on Thursday, February 06, 2003 at 3:09PM :

The School Among the Ruins

Beirut.Baghdad.Sarajevo.Bethlehem.Kabul. Not of course here.


Teaching the first lesson and the last
--great falling light of summer will you last
longer than schooltime?

When children flow
in columns at the doors
BOYS GIRLS and the busy teachers

open or close high windows
with hooked poles drawing darkgreen shades

closets unlocked, locked
questions unasked, asked, when

love of the fresh impeccable
sharp-pencilled yes
order without cruelty

a street on earth neither heaven nor hell
busy with commerce and worship
young teachers walking to school

fresh bread and early-open foodstalls


When the offensive rocks the sky when nightglare
misconstrues day and night when lived-in

rooms from the upper city
tumble cratering lower streets

cornices of olden ornament human debris
when fear vacuums out the streets

When the whole town flinches
blood on the undersole thickening to glass

Whoever crosses hunched knees bent a contested zone
knows why she does this suicidal thing

School's now in session day and night
children sleep
in the classrooms teachers rolled close


How the good teacher loved
his school the students
the lunchroom with fresh sandwiches

lemonade and milk
the classroom glass cages
of moss and turtles
teaching responsibility

A morning breaks without bread or fresh-poured milk
parents or lesson-plans

diarrhea first question of the day
children shivering it's September
Second question: where is my mother?

One: I don't know where your mother
is Two: I don't know
why they are trying to hurt us
Three: or the latitude and longitude
of their hatred Four: I don't know if we
hate them as much I think there's more toilet paper
in the supply closet I'm going to break it open

Today this is your lesson:
write as clearly as you can
your name home street and number
down on this page
No you can't go home yet
but you aren't lost
this is our school

I'm not sure what we'll eat
we'll look for healthy roots and greens
searching for water though the pipes are broken


There's a young cat sticking
her head through window bars
she's hungry like us
but can feed on mice
her bronze erupting fur
speaks of a life already wild

her golden eyes
don't give quarter She'll teach us Let's call her
when we get milk we'll give her some


I've told you, let's try to sleep in this funny camp
All night pitiless pilotless things go shrieking
above us to somewhere

Don't let your faces turn to stone
Don't stop asking me why
Let's pay attention to our cat she needs us

Maybe tomorrow the bakers can fix their ovens


"We sang them to naps told stories made
shadow-animals with our hands

washed human debris off boots and coats
sat learning by heart the names
some were too young to write
some had forgotten how"

-- Adrienne Rich

It would not have been possible for me ever to trust someone who
acquired office by the shameful means Mr. Bush and his abettors resorted
to in the last presidential election. His nonentity was rapidly becoming
more apparent than ever when the catastrophe of Sept. 11, 2001, provided
him and his handlers with a role for him, that of "wartime leader",
which they, and he in turn, were quick to exploit. This role was used at
once to silence all criticism of the man and his words as unpatriotic,
and to provide the auspices for a sustained assault upon civil
liberties, environmental protections, and general welfare. The
perpetuation of this role of "wartime leader" is the primary reason--
more important even than the greed for oil fields and the wish to blot
out his father's failure-- for the present determination to visit war
upon Iraq, kill and maim countless people, and antagonize much of the
world of which Mr. Bush had not heard until recently. The real
iniquities of Saddam Hussein should be recognized, in this context, as
the pretexts they are. His earlier atrocities went unmentioned as long
as he was an ally of former Republican administrations, which were
happy, in their time, to supply him with weapons. I think that someone
who was maneuvered into office against the will of the electorate, as
Mr. Bush was, should be allowed to make no governmental decisions
(including judicial appointments) that might outlast his questionable
term, and if the reasons for war were many times greater than they have
been said to be I would oppose any thing of the kind under such
"leadership". To arrange a war in order to be re-elected outdoes even
the means employed in the last presidential election. Mr. Bush and his
plans are a greater danger to the United States than Saddam Hussein.

-- W. S. Merwin

-- Jeff
-- signature .

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