On February 27, 2009, I got up before dawn, as I often did, to write a poem. However, this time I knew that later that same day I would be conveying the news of layoffs to nearly forty percent of my IT department–people I had worked alongside for years, had come to admire, and whose families I knew. It all stemmed from the financial crisis. And so my greatest temptation, in the face of finding myself in the middle of such a difficult moment, was to hate those who had precipitated this painful event.
But a vitriolic rant was not the poem that came out. Although I mentioned this experience in my commencement speech at my MFA graduation later that year, I did not read the poem. In the groundswell of Occupy movements, stretching from Wall Street to my own alma mater, now somehow seemed like an appropriate time to share this piece. It came out of my own private protest, years ago, in the hours before sunrise.
Blessing the Bankers
“…one of the principal Chinese curses heaped upon an enemy is, ‘May you live in an interesting age.'”— Frederic R. Coudert
They are still out there, the stars, commanding
more depth than ever. The light from Venus
seems closer than is safe, more luminous
than a bad idea ablaze in an innocent mind.
But what is innocent? We think, at first, a baby,
upon whose face the weather moves in bursts,
who has not discovered volume control
and empties his bellowed lungs with wailing.
Here, too, in the dusk of life, we wail.
We thought the good times would never end,
forgot the dams were built against bursting,
how terrible the water, still and black.
We troubled no-one with our dreaming.
The surface of the sky went on with changes.
The blessings laid by our mothers on our foreheads—
let this one live a simple life, uncomplicated—
catch fire beneath the weak-but-omnipresent moon.
Let this one be a banker, made of bricks.
Even the tear-down crews are out of work, must find
something else to pull against, at home.
It is winter still, though it feels like spring.
The newspapers print ads for filing bankruptcy—
such a word, the rupture of banking, which means
to pile up, as along the edge of a river—banks
to guard against the overspill, the rebel wave,
the slow rising water, seeking the floodplain.
Gather that child into your arms, the one
you hoped was owed a simple life. The waters rise.