Photo by Suzy Hazelwood from Pexels.
Philip Resnick has a number of poetry collections to his credit, including his most recent book Pandemic Poems, covering the period from the outset of the pandemic to the end of 2020 (Vancouver: Ronsdale Press, 2021). The pandemic is still with us, but Philip Resnick’s muse has also directed his attention to other subjects, as the following selection of poems illustrates.
Happy Slaves Day
“Happy Slaves Day,”
the graffiti an Azeri dissident,
Bayram Mammadov by name,
had dared to scrawl
on a monument to the founder
of Azerbaijan’s reigning Aliyev dynasty.
Condemned to ten years in prison
on a trumped-up drugs charge
– the fashion in matters of raison d’état –
he was pardoned in 2019,
or so it seemed,
living ever since in exile in Istanbul.
On May 4 of this year,
the body of the twenty-five year old,
was found floating in the Bosporus,
as the Internationale of Autocrats
scored yet another hit.
As the Earth Turns
As the earth turns,
heatwaves trail drought,
cyclones and typhoons
generate devastating rainfalls,
mutations of the virus
leapfrog through the Cadmian alphabet,
wreaking havoc in every time zone they visit.
Perhaps there are simply too many of us,
almost eight billion and counting,
pillaging the seas,
plundering the landscape,
elbowing other species into extinction.
Perhaps the fault lies in our insatiable nature,
our recourse to conquest and to war,
irreconcilable divisions over ethnicity,
religion, political orientation,
an incessant desire for more.
Perhaps the gods,
who the faithful claim
first moulded us out of clay,
should have rethought the blueprint of creation,
entrusting a species
with far too big a brain for its own good
with custody over the planet.
Those who are forced to migrate
and those who are not,
those who perish in the waves
and those who do not,
those who flounder along the way
and those who will not,
those who can live and die in peace
and those who could not.
* inspired by Claudio Lomnitz, Nuestra America
(New York: Other Press, 2021)
The population of Canada,
an election underway,
its outcome unlikely to sway
the course of daily life in any major way.
The population of Afghanistan,
a major cross-roads breached,
as twenty years of Western intervention
turn into ignominious defeat.
Fate decrees that some will savour modernity
with its virtues and its flaws,
and others languish where a desert creed
dictates a harsher moral code.
What if we could undo
the last twenty years of cyber-wars,
terrorist attacks and retaliatory strikes,
return COVID to the lab or bats
whence it emerged,
turn down the global temperature a notch or two,
get failed states back on track
and the population bomb under control,
learn – at least the affluent in our planetary mix –
to live with less,
remember that community precedes and supersedes
the unchecked libido,
that civility is not a secondary trait
to functioning democracies,
that no religion or ideology has a monopoly on truth.
In the papers … I read little that comforts me.
— Ingeborg Bachmann, Autumn Maneuvers
Hegel, in one of his more effusive moments,
characterized morning newspapers
as a form of morning prayer.
Perhaps they are
– or what remains of them in a digital age –
if one confines oneself to the sports pages,
crossword puzzles, recipes,
feel-good stories about locals getting ahead.
But of late,
the news is grey on grey, black on black,
with little levity to outweigh
endless accounts of ICUs overrun,
longevity in retreat,
drought and food shortages
the lot of the destitute left behind,
even as the potenti of the earth
merrily go about stuffing their ill-gotten gains
into fiscal paradises,
beyond mortal reach.
History is argument.
— Simon Schama
They seemed innocent enough,
Kings on mounted steeds,
Confederate generals in public squares,
Prime Ministers who had fostered residential schools.
To which one could add
slave-traders and colonizers of every sort,
whose names adorned the streets and towns
of every corner of an empire
on which the sun refused to set.
Well set it has,
and with a thud,
as the global South comes into its own,
though the legacy of empire lives on,
in banking firms with roots in the opium trade,
in states still formally tied to a foreign crown,
in racial biases that never seem to fade.
So what should one do
with the history we teach,
the monuments some want to keep,
the self-image we hasten to project?
Welcome to another quarrelsome age.
Meanwhile, Here in B.C.
First a heat dome,
the aged and infirm
gasping for their every breath,
next raging fires,
felling dwellings and woodlands in their path,
now diluvial rains,
mud slides shutting highways,
threatening properties in waterlogged terrain.
All this within six months
of a single year,
before the climate gauge
goes into overdrive.
The town besieged by Edward III,
its burghers with ropes around their necks,
surrendering the key
and with it their liberties
in an episode from an endless war
immortalized by Auguste Rodin.
Now the site of would-be migrants/refugees
from the global South
desperate to reach by any means
the chalk cliffs overlooking Dover Beach
where Matthew Arnold famously rued
an old world yielding to an unfamiliar new.
In the background
the festering sore Brexit has unleashed
as yesterday’s adversaries square off again
and we learn, as though we’d never really known,
that island and continent can never meet.
For more of Philip Resnick’s Poetry, click to read Pandemic Poems – Year II.