Poem of Disconnected Parts

By Robert Pinsky b. 1940 Robert Pinsky
At Robben Island the political prisoners studied.   
They coined the motto Each one Teach one.

In Argentina the torturers demanded the prisoners   
Address them always as “Profesor.”   

Many of my friends are moved by guilt, but I   
Am a creature of shame, I am ashamed to say.

Culture the lock, culture the key. Imagination   
That calls boiled sheep heads “Smileys.”

The first year at Guantánamo, Abdul Rahim Dost   
Incised his Pashto poems into styrofoam cups.

The Sangomo says in our Zulu culture we do not
Worship our ancestors: we consult them.”   

Becky is abandoned in 1902 and Rose dies giving   
Birth in 1924 and Sylvia falls in 1951.   

Still falling still dying still abandoned in 2005   
Still nothing finished among the descendants.   

I support the War, says the comic, it’s just the Troops   
I’m against: can’t stand those Young People.   

Proud of the fallen, proud of her son the bomber.   
Ashamed of the government. Skeptical.   

After the Klansman was found Not Guilty one juror   
Said she just couldn’t vote to convict a pastor.   

Who do you write for? I write for dead people:   
For Emily Dickinson, for my grandfather.   

“The Ancestors say the problem with your Knees
Began in your Feet. It could move up your Back.”   

But later the Americans gave Dost not only paper   
And pen but books. Hemingway, Dickens.   

Old Aegyptius said Whoever has called this Assembly,   
For whatever reason—it is a good in itself.   

O thirsty shades who regard the offering, O stained earth.   
There are many fake Sangomos. This one is real.

Coloured prisoners got different meals and could wear   
Long pants and underwear, Blacks got only shorts.   

No he says he cannot regret the three years in prison:   
Otherwise he would not have written those poems.   

I have a small-town mind. Like the Greeks and Trojans.   
Shame. Pride. Importance of looking bad or good.   

Did he see anything like the prisoner on a leash? Yes,   
In Afghanistan. In Guantánamo he was isolated.   

Our enemies “disassemble” says the President.   
Not that anyone at all couldn’t mis-speak.   

The profesores created nicknames for torture devices:   
The Airplane. The Frog. Burping the Baby.   

Not that those who behead the helpless in the name   
Of God or tradition don’t also write poetry.   

Guilts, metaphors, traditions. Hunger strikes.   
Culture the penalty. Culture the escape.   

What could your children boast about you? What   
Will your father say, down among the shades?   

The Sangomo told Marvin, “You are crushed by some
Weight. Only your own Ancestors can help you.”

Robert Pinsky, "Poem of Disconnected Parts" from Gulf Music. Copyright © 2007 by Robert Pinsky.  Reprinted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Source: Poetry (February 2006).


This poem originally appeared in the February 2006 issue of Poetry magazine

February 2006
 Robert  Pinsky


Robert Pinsky is one of America’s foremost poet-critics. Often called the last of the “civic” or public poets, Pinsky’s criticism and verse reflect his concern for a contemporary poetic diction that nonetheless speaks of a wider experience. Elected Poet Laureate of the United States in 1997, his tenure was marked by ambitious efforts to prove the power of poetry—not just as an intellectual pursuit in the ivory tower, but as a . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Religion, Crime & Punishment, History & Politics, Social Commentaries, Poetry & Poets, War & Conflict, Other Religions, Arts & Sciences, Philosophy, The Spiritual

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

Poetic Terms Couplet

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