Thursday, February 5, 2009

Poem of the Week #57


The time for words has drawn to a close. Action needs to desperately take its place.
Actor/activist Don Cheadle

Where do words end
and actions begin?
When is enough enough?
200,000 dead or 400,000?
2.1 million displaced or 2.5?
Should we wait for a few more
in Darfur to be slaughtered,
raped, and forcibly moved, before
we look up from over the top
of our People magazines
and the latest scoop on
who is marrying who
and who is having who’s baby
and who is out of control
with drugs and alcohol?

Is a wall of 37 kinds of potato chips
in the grocery store enough,
when a child on the other side of the world
has never seen a potato, never felt a potato,
never heard a potato sing its nourishing, hissing
song when lovingly boiled and buttered?

And if a potato, a tuber,
a deep root vegetable connected
to the quiet brown earth
could give us a word
for this day in Darfur,
this time, this atrocity,
what would it say?

A word coined in 1943
by Raphael Lemkin.
Dear Rafal, a Polish-Jewish
legal scholar, whose father
was a farmer, and whose mother
was a painter/linguist/philosopher
who inspired in her son
a love for languages.
With her help, he mastered
nine of them by the age of 14.

Rafal, you should
know, having lost your mother
and 48 other relatives to the Holocaust.
You studied the massacres
of the Assyrians and the Armenians
and you went straight to the root,
yenos in Greek, meaning race,
and cide in Latin meaning killing—
the systematic killing
of substantial numbers
of people on the basis
of race, ethnicity
religion, politics, social status
or some other particularity:
people who like the color blue,
kill them;
people who take walks early in the morning,
destroy them too;
people who simply want to go about the business
of making a life, raising a child, tilling the soil
for a bit of food
yes, all of them, too.

Lisa Vihos

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