Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Autobiography of Bertrand Russell, Volume Three

Russell and Sartre convene the war crimes tribunal.
No one will pay the price of Vietnam
on the gallows, in prison, or in life
abbreviated; McNamara, say,
whose mea culpa amounts to little
more than outcries over the book he writes
and sells well because outrage demands it
be read to be condemned, and so it is . . .

Russell and Sartre are both dead by the time
McNamara heaps his share of wet earth
with words from unrepentant celebrants.
Mourners? There were none. The right wing said so,
. . . Danton rose in outcry, Robespierre frowned
and ordered the guillotine greased to fall
without a sound, the revolution saved . . .
this country’s defense industry salvaged.

After Vietnam accountants are hired
to track the map of wars: Kuwait, Iraq
the same war with Afghanistan between–
O they forgot the little Balkan wars!
Why do so many die in little wars?
The Khyber Pass closed, but nobody leaves
without a body bag, the enemy
above and below and hidden in caves . . .

Russell’s History of Western Philosophy
sells. Principia Mathematica
not so well. Nobody reads volume one
let alone volumes two or three. I don’t
and I alone talk about volume one . . .
I loved too many women to be wise.
Each woman thought she was the only one.
Lately I read Sartre’s Nausea once more.

That was before the spontaneous strike
against the pricks who would set the country back
on its back, enslaving labor again
eighty years after the movement triumphed.
Not so fast! the people cry and raise fists
ready to be used when the scabs come through
and push up against their collective face.
Our brothers and sisters form a phalanx . . .

I like to think I’m young enough again
to fight the fire dragons would torch us with,
blow it back upon them, set them afire . . .
or kneel covering our heads as the blows
begin, billy clubs and boots in the ribs
once upon the time America said,
Enough! Johnson triumphant, Civil Rights
gives way to the great mistake, Vietnam.

I do not know what to make of this day.
I wish Obama were our FDR.
I wish Sartre would return to tell us why
he wishes he had been more radical.
Why did Russell die believing thinking
wasted the time he could help heal the world,
and all he had left to do was confess
he regretted nothing, then die with pride . . .

(20 February 2011)

copyright 2011 by Floyce Alexander

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