A Woman Named Thucydides

- 1948-
Having slept in a turnout in the backseat
of her car, she awoke before dawn, shivering,
hungover, unsure of where she was. 
To her surprise, the sodium lights on the billboard 
she had parked beside were no longer on. 
Wind gusts, the smell of rain, the raw, unbroken 
landscape like a field of ice. If this had been a movie,
someone would've been sitting up front, 
someone who held her fate in his hands.
Though she couldn't see them, she could hear 
birds passing overhead. Why do they even bother
to cross so vast and empty a space? 
At the moment, none of the usual explanations 
made sense. Her head ached, her feet were cold, 
she couldn't find the words. And the man up front,
what did he think? What would he do?
Must something still happen before the end?

More by Sherod Santos

A Feeling of AND, a Feeling of OR

The window in mid-summer raised, and where 
the screen intersects with the frame, a web of circular 
tensile silks radiating outward from the central lair 
where a yellow spiny-backed spider waits, its six 
thorn spurs protruding rose-like from its abdomen, 
its casing imprinted with a wax seal ring. Attached 
to the foundation lines, clusters of white cottony tufts, 
lures, I suppose, for insects, and suspended 
from a single thread, a much smaller egg-shaped 
spider (the male?) swaying imperceptibly in the air: 
an image from childhood that reminds me of "childhood," 
a word that so often crosses my mind that it long ago 
ceased to mean anything other than a period of time 
when things occurred not to me so much as him, 
and all of them linked only by AND. As in the span 
of a single moment, the afternoon after the all-clear 
when the sun rose on a bloated, fly-stung pygmy goat 
in a gravel slough he crossed to wave to a woman 
with a Red Cross band on her arm. AND: the red 
pinball bumper cap ("5000 when lit") in a tented 
arcade on Brighton Pier when he was twelve.

Related Poems

September 1, 1939

I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death
Offends the September night.

Accurate scholarship can
Unearth the whole offence
From Luther until now
That has driven a culture mad,
Find what occurred at Linz,
What huge imago made
A psychopathic god:
I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.

Exiled Thucydides knew
All that a speech can say
About Democracy,
And what dictators do,
The elderly rubbish they talk
To an apathetic grave;
Analysed all in his book,
The enlightenment driven away,
The habit-forming pain,
Mismanagement and grief:
We must suffer them all again.

Into this neutral air
Where blind skyscrapers use
Their full height to proclaim
The strength of Collective Man,
Each language pours its vain
Competitive excuse:
But who can live for long
In an euphoric dream;
Out of the mirror they stare,
Imperialism's face
And the international wrong.

Faces along the bar
Cling to their average day:
The lights must never go out,
The music must always play,
All the conventions conspire
To make this fort assume
The furniture of home;
Lest we should see where we are,
Lost in a haunted wood,
Children afraid of the night
Who have never been happy or good.

The windiest militant trash
Important Persons shout
Is not so crude as our wish:
What mad Nijinsky wrote
About Diaghilev
Is true of the normal heart;
For the error bred in the bone
Of each woman and each man
Craves what it cannot have,
Not universal love
But to be loved alone.

From the conservative dark
Into the ethical life
The dense commuters come,
Repeating their morning vow;
"I will be true to the wife,
I'll concentrate more on my work,"
And helpless governors wake
To resume their compulsory game:
Who can release them now,
Who can reach the deaf,
Who can speak for the dumb?

All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.

Defenceless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.