The Documents

Terence Winch

The Documents are weeping, fading,
fearing the worst.

They are the messages
that keep coming.
They are promises, dreams, hymns,
i.o.u.’s. Proclamations.
Declarations.

They are word-flags.
Language
security blankets.

You could wrap yourself
in their giant pages.

They want to tell us who we are
or who we should want to be.

They are sails made of speech.

You could navigate
the vessel of your inner life
with their words propelling you along to the horizon.

The Documents tell their stories
over and over, even when you’re asleep,
even when the dark government temple
where they are entombed has shut
down for the night. The Documents never
tire, never shut down. They never expire.

They keep up their endless arguments,
hoping to be heard. Take heart, they insist.
Resist your worst impulses. Fight on,
even against invincible power. Listen
to what we have to tell you, they say, ancient,
faint, yet stronger than a wall ten miles thick.

More by Terence Winch

Grace

Didn’t know if he was a retard or a drunk. 
He would lurch around Gaelic Park 
during game days, grinning like an idiot,
dribbling onto his filthy cassock.  First time
I saw him it was a shock.   And then his
name, which had a funny sound to it:
Father McMenamin.  The drunk priest,
the embarrassment to the whole community.
Happily staggering onto the field, being gently
ushered off again, scolded as one would a
child: now, now, father, mustn’t go there.

The shame of it all.  An affliction from God.
The shepherd, the authority, the man of the cloth
as moron, bum, joke.  The meaner ones
would buy him drinks and make fun of him.
Give us your blessing, Father.  Forgive me
my sins, Father, and I’ll give you a glass.
McMenamin forgave them all,
wondering where he was. Somewhere
far from home it seemed, searching 
for grace in the darkness of the Bronx.

Q & A

Q. How important is theory in this poem? It seems as though
it just starts, goes nowhere, tells us nothing we need to know.

A. The concern here is with necessity, not fact. The poem could tell
you everything you wanted to know, but doesn't.
Some poems begin in the rinse cycle. This one goes right to spin.

Q. We noticed how marvelous the upper strata of the poem is. It suggests
the appeal of authoritarian faith in the old-fashioned
middle class. Did you write it on a train?

A. One day I heard laughter coming from some mysterious source. First I thought
it came from several people who were stuck at the bottom of a well.
Then I speculated it could be a group of teenagers on the level right above me.
After a while, however, I wondered if it might actually be weeping.
I got out my address book and started calling around. In fact, people
were crying when I managed to get in touch with them. Where are
your social contracts now, I snarled, your precious theses on the absolute?
I averted my gaze as their beliefs unraveled.

Q. We can't help but notice how you seem to be suppressing what you
really mean. Are you naked in this poem?

A. I have these pastes and mud packs that I smear all over me, so I'm
never really naked, even when I have no clothes on.
The same thing goes for this poem.
It's beautiful, stark, totally blank, yet colorful, like a sin
you're considering but haven't yet committed.

 

Related Poems

The Buttonhook

President Roosevelt, touring Ellis Island
in 1906, watched the people from steerage
line up for their six-second physical.

Might not, he wondered aloud, the ungloved handling 
of aliens who were ill infect the healthy?
Yet for years more it was done. I imagine

my grandmother, a girl in that Great Hall’s
polyglot, reverberating vault
more terrible than church, dazed by the stars

and stripes in the vast banner up in front
where the blessed ones had passed through. Then she did too,
to a room like a little chapel, where her mother 

might take Communion. A man in a blue cap
and a blue uniform—a doctor? a policeman?
(Papa would have known, but he had sailed

all alone before them and was waiting 
now in New York; yet wasn’t this New York?)—
a man in a blue cap reached for her mother. 

Without a word (didn’t he speak Italian?)  
he stuck one finger into her mother’s eye,
then turned its lid up with a buttonhook,

the long, curved thing for doing up your boots
when buttons were too many or too small.
You couldn’t be American if you were blind

or going to be blind. That much she understood.
She’d go to school, she’d learn to read and write
and teach her parents. The eye man reached to touch

her own face next; she figured she was ready.
She felt big, like that woman in the sea
holding up not a buttonhook but a torch.