Apology to a Rabid Conscience

[for Larry Milligan]

You asked me once, could I read
my poetry to the ragged man
living in the cracks between our eyes

and I never answered you; I couldn’t
say the ears are torn, open
to what I have and cannot give.

The men are outside the mission
waiting to earn stale bread
by the sweat of their ears;

I have nothing to say to them
sleeping in the all-night horror show;
I am sorry their hands were stolen
but the police station is locked
and only thieves are welcome.

I have no storage space for pain
where the ragged man could sleep
or gnaw my words in charity.

So call me hypocrite; you will
have to be true to your logic
which condemns all but victims,
saints and heroes.

I have no skill to comfort ghosts;
my words are for those with hands
firmly in their ears;
they refuse to become bread.

Nothing I say will open
the freezers where pride is kept
lest it melt in the eyes of the Sun.

It is too late for words
but there is nothing else
to heal the killers

Forrest Curo
1984

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5 responses

  1. This is here via my error, but I think it relates vaguely to our brief discussion of Luke 9.1 nearby.Larry Milligan: surrealist poet of considerable power and occasional clarity, pro-homeless activist, somewhat damaged human being with redeeming good intentions, 1946 – 2011.

  2. Please don’t take down this poem. There’s more here than meets the eye. I need to clean up messes elsewhere. And come back and say why this poem is the Word of the Spirit. Please hold. ~ Jim

  3. I’ve not forgotten this poem. It’s been almost too powerful when I’ve come back to it. “It is too late for wordsbut there is nothing elseto heal the killers.Ouch. Painful. The systematic apathy of not-caring for the poor. I had to look up Larry Milligan. Outstanding. The words about “the killers” struck me sharp. I came home. Late at night. After working with a family (not clients) who reminded me of the family in Akira Kurosawa’s, Ran. I wandered home driving in the dark. Thinking about “the killers” inside. Feeling empty and drained. Lost. It’s true there is nothing else other than words to heal the killers. If I’m reading the poem correctly. And sometimes it feels too late for words. Yet, this poem gave me a weird and unexpected hope. Counter-intuitive that it did. I can’t explain why. I felt a jolt. A jolt of, “rest tonight. Get back to work tomorrow. Using words best you can.” I later saw this poem might have been posted here by accident. No way. A divine accident. Words of life. Inexplicable. Powerful.

  4. A question.The, “Apology to a Rabid Conscience.” This pulls a double meaning on me. Is there a single meaning intended? Maybe other than the two that speak to me? – 1) the apology using words of apologetics to a conscience that is rabid to do social justice and that needs the words of poetic apologetics to stay rabid? – 2) the apology is really to the lost and dull social conscience of all the closed police stations and every other uncaring institution, that is, words spoken to closed social conscience in pleading apologetics despite the fact that it seems fated that words won’t make any difference?

  5. Try simple.I was apologizing to my friend for having realized that one can't "condemn all but victims, saints and heroes."He'd criticize some other poet for not being a perfect human being– and I'd have to say, hey, The criterion for someone being a good poet is: His poetry is good. The minute you introduce some other criterion, you're cheating. Saying God shouldn't inspire somebody you happen to disapprove of. Laying judgements on somebody when you don't know, can't know, what temptations and confusions have been part of what is, after all, a potentially bewildering gift.Not that we're "sensitive". I like what an old lady poet had to say about that: "I don't know how normal people stand it, going through all they go through and not being able to write poetry about it!"Sometimes people are Assigned to make noble gestures. Sometimes not.Ten years before either of us were doing pro-homeless activism… Norma Rossi was leading groups of women and kids into the plaza outside of City Hall here, being faced with rows & rows of cops dressed in riot gear. By the time we got into it, she was running a small nonprofit. Every few years some people would come to her about the police having stolen all their possessions, id, personal keepsakes and thrown them into dumpsters. She'd hook them up with a lawyer and they'd sue. They'd win a small settlement, the City would agree that they couldn't legally throw away people's personal property. Once they even put out a training film for the police; probably they still have it somewhere.And a few years later, some downtown poobah would want the police to drive away homeless people from someplace he owned, and they'd throw their property into dumpsters, and the victims would sue the City again.Long ago I decided the social institution of homelessness was literally intolerable. But it continues to exist. A koan, of sorts.

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