EP&M Online Poem -- Frederick Turner

Reply to the Five Thousand
    (The organizers of Poets Against the War now claim
     the signatures of five thousand poets)
                        by Frederick Turner

Never till now was I shamed by the name of poet.
What could it it even mean, if five thousand "poets"
Sign the same misspelled and malicious manifesto?
Is not a poet a truth-teller, a seer of inner visions?
Why do they make this smell, like the back seat of a taxi?

How can they slander the honest officers of the State?
What is this rage, this stink of outraged vanity,
This resentment that finds at last its lusted-for target,
This thick warm glow of the narcissist's solidarity?
Why do they always adore the strongman with the mustache
(The strongman who takes great care of his personal hygiene
And always leaves behind him a sweetness at meetings)?
Why do they gnaw and slaver at the hand that feeds them?
Why do they hate so this dear dear America
That ploddingly over the decades hauls the world into decency?

Were they not given at poetry readings all that they wanted--
The jus primae noctis with the prettiest budding poet,
The right to be rude to the quivering faculty host,
The right to get drunk and spew all over the carpet,
The great claim to stand in the footsteps of giants?
What is this unslaked vanity, this desire to roll over
And over in the stink of of each other's selfrighteousness?
What can the young men and women who guard them from harm
--Who seek to destroy the poisons designed to kill poets--
What can they think when their danger and grief and devotion
And loneliness, losses and pains are counted a crime?

And what can I call myself now that "poet" is murdered,
That the word cannot mean any more the inner glow
Of the vision, the inner voice of the truth that commands me?
Who can my friends be, where are my fellow-eccentrics,
When all that's called "poet" is just a chewing and chewing
On the same miserable piece of cheap cardboard?
Where can I go, but with the soldiers to battle,
To place my spirit in the bright eye of the bomb,
To feel with my wounded belly the pain of the wounded,
To stand near my son so my soul will deflect the bullet,
To find words for the ancient cities of Uruk
Who grope half-blinded into the light of freedom?

And so perhaps I must give up the name of poet
And leave it to those who have wiped themselves with its paper,
And find some name to call myself, now I'm reborn
At fifty-nine, having lost the word for my life,
Or go nameless at last, where I may serve my people,
A spirit who still says Yes to America, Yes
To the world of free citizens, Yes to courage,
Yes to the hope of a world that is rich and growing,
Yes to the fresh wind that blows in the dark of the dawn.

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