World's Fair

Oppression, a Poem

By way of starting to return to the blog, after a few weeks of VT/Blacksburg-only considerations, we offer the poem below, by American poet Marvin Bell. It appeared in The New Yorker last October. Fond of it then; fond of it now.


I begin by a window, a lamp over my shoulder,
and a glance outside to see
if a light snow is falling or if it’s just the day’s
floaters in an old man’s eyes. I check the clouds
for signals and cuneiforms
among the pillows, and the mountain ash
for its resistance to autumn, and only then
am I ready for the news, the artillery,
the detonators, the beheadings,
the bloodstains and marrow, the numbers,
and the black hearts of the officials. I need
the proof Peary sought in ice, and Odysseus
at sea, to believe a fox, say, or a cougar
can get away, and men and women also,
so camouflaged in plain view that we see them
only in the representations, in the stories
or briefly visible in the leaves or sky,
escapees surviving by feel or ducked down
in their thoughts, unable to speak freely.

Marvin Bell, 2006