By the Waters of Babylon

Rosmarie Waldrop

We take language for granted, as we do sitting and weeping. Unfamiliar speech we take for inarticulate gurgling. Filtered through sandbags.

A searchlight beam makes a statement.

The order of the world is so foreign to our subjective interests that we cannot imagine what it is like, says William James. We have to break it. Into histories, art, sciences, or just plain rubble. Then we feel at home.

I could list the parts of the body as in a blason. And how they can get hurt.

Unless we recognize a language we do not recognize a man. We wrap entire villages in barbed wire.

My father used to close his eyes and remain as motionless as possible to let his body-image dissolve.

I repeat myself often.

Time has no power over the Id. But heat passes from a warm body to a cold body and not in the reverse direction.

Language plays a great part in our life.

There is chaos and void. No man or beast. Not a fly or stalk of ragweed. We think “primal soup,” and already there is a world. And fed.

Then somebody thinks “Operation Ivy Cyclone.” “Operation Plymouth Rock.” “Operation Iron Hammer.”

In 2005, in Baghdad, 92% of the people did not have stable electricity, 39% did not have safe drinking water, 25% of children under the age of five were suffering from malnutrition.

Whereas the concept of spatial measurement does not conflict with that of spatial order, the concept of succession (bombings?) clashes with the concept of duration (US presence?).

Tanks enter the discussion, and the case for absolute time collapses.

We speak our own language exclusively. It embodies the universal form of human thought and logic.

I toss in my sleep. As do many women.

4000 to 6000 civilians have been killed in Fallujah.

It is impossible to describe the fact which corresponds to this sentence, without simply repeating the sentence.

A cat chases a yellow butterfly. My father sneezes.

Unlike the id, the ego, through which alone pleasure becomes real, is subject to time.

There used to be harbor where downtown Providence is, a pond full of perch under the civic center, Roger Williams’s body under an apple tree.

Where the Sumerian cities of Umma, Umm al-Akareb, Larsa, and Tello were there is now a landscape of craters.

The ultimate origin of the idea of time, it is said, lies in our perception of difference and resemblance.

When I look at the mirror in the morning I see a grey mist. Then it is hard to rescue distinctions.

Trenches filled with trash. Sandbags filled with archeological fragments. Men filled with fear.

Language is a network of easily accessed wrong turns.

At the dedication of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, the President compared his War on Terror with Lincoln’s war against slavery.

Sometimes the clouds race along Elmgrove Avenue. Sometimes they hover over city hall.

In one version, reality is desperate attacks by a few desperate individuals. In another, we have been in a civil war for a long time.

We place mirrors in our bedrooms. We hope their virtual depth might reflect on our loves.

Greater accuracy in measurement can be obtained by means of atomic and molecular clocks. Implicit is the hypothesis that all atoms of a given element behave in exactly the same way, irrespective of place and epoch.

If I try to say the whole thing in one sentence I say the same thing over and over.

My father, from his balcony, looks at astral spaces. where the orbiting of a planet, a suicide bombing, and his breath condensing in cold air are equally part of the system.

He wonders whether he must fit his perceptions to the world— which world?— or the world to his perceptions.

50,000 US soldiers in Iraq had no body armor in 2005. The equipment manager had placed it at the same priority level as socks.

Some do not like blood outside the body. Others do not like body counts.

In Swan Point Cemetery, there is a gravestone in the form of a little house. With the inscription GONE HOME.

“Assassinated: four clerics, two officials from the Ministry of Defense, the dean of a highschool; killed by bombs: nine National Guards, thirteen civilians, two engineering students. In all, thirty-one dead, forty-two injured, and seventeen abducted. A fairly quiet day here in Baghdad.”

The flux of time helps us to forget what was and what can be.

I would prefer to be able to explain the air. The sun. The Adam’s apple.

Corpses of small children, families lying in pools of blood in their homes. The President promises investigation. And sidesteps the problem.

Heine’s curse: Nicht gedacht soll seiner werden.

One way of thinking links thoughts with one another in a series, another keeps coming back to always the same spot.

The flux of time is society’s most natural ally in maintaining law, order, conformity. We learn that every pleasure is short and are resigned even before society forces us to be so.

The spring rain splashes up cones of water from puddles formed by the broken asphalt.

The crimes of U.S. soldiers in Iraq are as inevitable as the crimes committed by soldiers of other imperial armies. It takes many years before it comes to light that they are official policy. 50 years, in the case of No Gun Ri in South Korea.

The aspects of time that were significant for primitive man were repetition and simultaneity. Even in his first conscious awareness of time man sought to transcend, or abolish it.

My writing is nothing but a stutter.

Nothing new under the sun. Which comes and goes. When it stood still at the prayer of Joshua, did time nevertheless continue?

I would like to concentrate on the rotation of the earth and the winds it brings about.

Eight months before the invasion, the chief of MI6 reported to Tony Blair that the US was going to "remove Saddam, through military action... But because "the case was thin, Saddam was not threatening his neighbors, and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran...the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.”

Our language seduces us into asking always the same questions. As long as there is a verb ‘to be’ that seems to function in the same way as ‘to eat’ and ‘to drink, we’ll be asking questions of identity, possibility, falsehood, truth.

"Well, I knelt down. I said a prayer, stood up, and gunned them all down."
As the physicist Stephen Weinberg said, for good people to do bad things it takes religion.

I suddenly start to wonder at birth, death, sleep, madness, war. As if awakening.

Time helps us to forget, and to forget means to forgive. What should not be forgiven.

My father cuts himself shaving. While he looks for a bandaid he thinks of his astral body and if it is bleeding too.

Time is the form of our inner sense, said Kant. And Guyau, that a being who did not desire, did not want anything, would see time shut down in front of him.

Everywhere people wind clocks to prevent this from happening.

The battle of Agincourt was fought in hours, Waterloo in a day, Gettysburg lasted 3 days, the Battle of the Somme four and a half months, Verdun ten, Stalingrad six. There were the Seven- and the Thirty-Years Wars. The President told the West Point cadets: “Iraq is only the beginning.”


Source. About the poet. Illustration: "Baghdad Burning"


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