Okay, today’s poem is by somebody you’ve likely never heard of. Why? Well, because most living poets you’ve never heard of. And yet some of them are quite good. As witness the following:
The plaque on the Pioneer spacecraft
that was designed
to tell extraterrestrials
all about us could easily outlive us.
Then the centerpiece of the design,
the naked woman standing beside the naked man,
his hand raised in a bland greeting,
both of them exposed to the elements
in a way that testifies to their indifference,
could easily be interpreted as a man saying good-bye
while his one true love stands with him,
perhaps saying good-bye in her own way.
Eons after the last human has died,
this image might be found
and read as the last act of life,
stuffed into the bottle of a spaceship
and sent into the sea of the cosmos
saying we had it all
we could have lived forever
but there was something in us
that we could not help
which just wanted everything to die.
Nice stuff, eh? I trust I don’t have to tell you guys that the Pioneer was the first space probe to leave the Solar System, that a plaque was put on it against the unlikely chance that in some far distant future intelligent aliens might find it, nor that it was an awfully bland bit of work. (It was put together by that same committee which, challenged to design a horse, came up with a camel.)
See here the transformative power of words! Milosevic has taken that sad plaque and, through an act of interpretation, made it into something interesting and moving.
This poem appeared in a book titled Poets Against the War, which was put together after Laura Bush canceled a White House symposium on poetry because she learned that many of the invitees were planning to read poems critical of her husband’s invasion of Iraq. So there is a political dimension to it as well.
Percy Bysshe Shelly said that “Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.” Well... that was a pretty dicey statement even then. But observe how (and whether you agree with their politics or not is irrelevant here) the real legislators and other politicians are afraid of them. That’s because poetry’s primary loyalty is to truth.
Which is all for today. Except to note that the sharp-eyed among you have noticed that this poem is neither in the public domain nor taken from a source where permission to copy was implicit. Which is why I contacted the poet (it’s my good fortune that we’re on speaking terms) and got his permission. I’m sending him a token payment even though, being a nice guy, he would have let me copy it free, just for the courtesy of my asking. But, as Sean will testify, there is one iron-clad rule in this household: THE ARTIST ALWAYS GETS PAID.