Gris-Gris, an online journal of literature, culture & the arts

Bagay La

by Howie Faerstein

Yet why not say what happened? — “Epilogue,” Robert Lowell

I
When a python encroaches,
swallowing the forest floor,
vervet monkeys cluck then vibrate.
If eagles alight atop an olive tree
they go tick, tick, tick.
When leopards appear,
the troop gobbles & squawks.

For Shia at prayer in the Sadiq mosque,
for Sabbath shoppers in the 12th Arrondissement,
there are no warnings.
Even when there are,
where’s there to run?

II
As Chinese workers inspect
ten thousand pigeon anuses for explosives
eight hundred refugees share four toilets in a Libyan camp.
If a friend’s son dies in September
will there be an October?

In the squad HQ when the general outlines
the hour’s objective and mutters
in other words,
it’s not Sinatra’s phrasing.

Three generations from now
will the wren wheedle still?
Will wasps gorge on fallen fruit?

III
The Devouring, a name the Roma gave their genocide.
Medz Yeghern, great crime, Armenian holocaust.
Shoah, the catastrophe.
Ethnic cleansing: Rwanda, Srebrenica.
Bagay La, that thing, what Haitians
call the earthquake.
Also, Goudou-goudou, the sound
the earth made when it trembled.
Darfur. East Timor.
Then the forgotten:
Long Walk of Navajo,
Sand Creek Massacre of Cherokee & Arapaho.
Exiles in Katmandu self-immolating
Sixty million displaced in 2015.
The Unnamed…the Disappeared.

IV
And you wonder why they even bother
talking about Paris or poetry.
Configuring language they vow
defies consequence & the speed of death.

What’s gained when severing matter from depiction?
What prompts them to counter evil with cool remove?

V
For gannets trapped in a trawler’s net;
for migrants refused refuge,
abandoned on a sinking ship;
for Kuwaiti stallions locked
inside the Emir’s walled garden,
ingesting oil rain from Hussein’s scorched retreat,
the emergency exit is barred.

When wordplay substitutes for expression
does the gulf between love & murder evanesce?
Would you swap inheritance for the spurious now?

VI
It happens every decade or so:
panicked market players flailing
once the bull rally is scotched
taking the world down with them

in the spirit of Scalia
who loves shooting quail with his buddy Cheney,
in the spirit of Bobby Kennedy
who obeyed poppa Joe & served McCarthy as errand boy,
in the spirit of Cardinal Spellman
who worked the Punch & Judy show with Hoover,
denied a request to hold a mass for Lady Day.

VII
Blood roses pulse on weathered clapboard.
American flags droop from every corner.
Eulogists, visionaries, campaigning politicians,
all profess faith in the resilience of the human spirit.
Some especially savor that moment
when a flushed covey rises from the ground.

Like chickens, quail scratch dirt then scurry for cover.

VIII
A photo clipped from the morning paper:
a father touches his son’s casket
just arrived from Baqubah.

He counts himself lucky;
misery like rapture ascends
as quickly as frost in mid-spring.

He’s making short work of emotion.

Better that way than losing everything on a certainty.

IX
And why afterward
is there a low rumbling in the night,
uncertainty about what to say?
Mass graves in the Sawatch
yet to be unearthed.
What’s the reason no one speaks?

Among the vervet
aggression is directed at those lower in the hierarchy.
On Rue 8 Boulevard in Cap-Haïtien
there’s now a dance club called Bagay La.

X
In silence in noise
the Republic stands.
Tell the story,
ba-da-ba & apologists be damned!
The future will kill us all.

Of course, I’m dated, hooked on time,
I’ll face my reckoning when it’s due,
but bless them, for it’s their tilting world,
not mine.

XI
Bloodflow of Indian
has joined the seep
that feeds the creeks & rivers
that cut through the slickrock
where the rockchuck basks
in early spring

hard-blue sky.