ellen mcbee

She's always up to something…

A Poem Happened Today

on September 18, 2016

So, those of you who know me in person know that I don’t write poetry. At all. I don’t even really like to read it. Have something to say? Well, say it so we know what you’re talking about! Let’s all move on with our lives!

Maybe it’s because the Polish Scouts project has taken a sudden turn for the literary. It’s turning into the kind of thing I might need an MFA for it to be taken seriously. I have a really good idea that I’m still not sure I’m skilled enough to pull off. And earlier today, I finally got my first fragment of this story: the ending scene popped into my head, and I wrote it down.

Tonight I took my son to Santa Fe for orchestra and waited for him at Joe’s Pizza (WHICH IS AMAZING. Shout-out to my new buds there, who seated me near the bar and surrounded me with beautiful artworks). I was doing research–“Nazi Women,” which includes a lot of personal profiles. And I was still thinking about the structure of the book and what I’m going to have to do to it to make it readable and meaningful. And while I was thinking about that, this poem started stalking me.

In the five minutes between leaving Joe’s and arriving at Santa Fe High School, this poem started talking to me. I really can’t describe it better than that. I don’t feel like I wrote it. When I stopped the car I wrote it down, and here at home I spent some time cleaning it up. And here it is.

Evil is never fully-formed

arriving in precise jackboot strides

banging on the door in the middle of the night while we wait, breathless, on the other side

shoving you down the alley, impatient, hot demands into the side of your neck

wearing the burka or the swastika or the turban or the diamond cufflinks

running in the streams of blood, in our veins or at Babi Yar or the ravines and shadows of places even further away

fired from the big gun in the hands of the little man

Evil doesn’t announce itself.

Evil comes in small pieces.

In the relief that the knock is for the neighbor and before that, the casual lie that the neighbor is to be feared. Not like us,

we’re normal.

Calling me a bitch for not being afraid of you, not subservient enough, not decorated enough.

Creeps in the window left open just a crack for the night air to cool you, to soothe you to sleep

(it won’t hurt if it’s just a little bit)

(and it isn’t really bad)

(and no one saw, no one knows I’m meeting you here)

But I did.

Evil in small doses, like a live vaccine

And we think we’re immune

When it’s already living in us.

I’m not afraid of evil that marches in sloppy formation and shoots to kill.

The worst evil shoots to wound, to hurt on purpose.

Wounds heal, and we are not who we were.

Evil floats in on a breeze of not caring, the night air carrying the screams

and we pretend it’s just crickets.

It sees the streams of blood and says “Not mine. So what?”

Starts with a dry academic idea debated by men with voices like dead leaves

Reduces Them to ashes and shadows on the sidewalk.

“So what? It’s just Them.”

An easy lie, smooth words that you think are the truth or you don’t care that they aren’t the truth. “They deserve it.”

And then you help.

And the face of evil becomes your own.

 

 

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