In an interview with Bill Moyers, Lucille Clifton said, “Poems are about questions, not about answers. We don’t know. We know very little.” I think she’s right. One of my students said that a trustworthy pattern for a poem is question → answer→ deeper question. Though poetry tries to put into semi-comprehensible words the puzzlements of human life, its destructiveness and generosity, its murky confusion and its brilliance, most poems ask questions, sometimes subtly, sometimes right out in the open. They ask with anguish and wonder, “Why?” “Why not?” as they probe the mystery of goodness and evil. This poem questions war and especially war’s deadly habit of claiming religion and even God as allies for their side.
"The genes have to go to war." (Oliver Stone)
"God knytt us and onyd us to hymselfe." (Dame Julian of Norwich)
How, Julian, "shalle alle be wele
and alle maner of thynge
be wele" while war
still lurks in our genes
like moths morosely
Even if we confess ourselves
those who scream the Name
and even if we throw away
our holy flak-deflectors—
those steel-cased Bibles
that beat out rage
even then we bear
God into battle
and back home again
on the banner of our flesh—
one cunning strand
of the double helix.
But maybe God goes willingly.
For were she to unknytt
herself from trigger-
happy fingers and grenade-
and incarnation be
--Mara Faulkner, OSB
Invitation for your writing:
This idea comes from poets Rita Dove and Eva Hooker: Write five questions that "rattle your heart." Then:
--Write a line with a color of two in it.
--Make a one-line statement about a place you loved as a child.
--Write a line describing a broken object, person, or place.
--Finish a line that begins, "I wish. . ."
--Write a line about work or a job.
--Finish a line that begins, "Next year at this time. . ."
Then write a poem in which you answer one of your questions, using as many of these lines as you can, in any order, changing them as the poem requires. If you can and if the poem lets you do it, end with a new question—or a new version of the first one.