It keeps changing shapes and sometimes it looks like prose. It’s in a collection of poems that all call themselves something with the word “Book” in the title. Like this one, “The Book of Broken Bodies.” It goes:
The Book of Broken Bodies is itself a broken book. The cover is torn; the pages are ripped out; and the ink has smeared so that the words can no longer be read. But the images and photographs are more or less clear, and they depict the various bodies that have been found broken in the desert and on the beaches and in the mountains and in the rivers and hanging in the barracks and buried in the mud and trapped in the holes where the rats and dogs devour them.
It goes on: “Here the men with no tongues walk arm-in-arm with the women whose genitals have been electrocuted.”
There’s cascades of this in this poem, I mean “book.” And in all the books that surround. It seems like the perfect moment in history to pick up the comparison between the flesh of a human and the flesh of the book, a page, a binding, a torn cover. Who didn’t shudder at the thought of the 5000 plus books taken away from the Occupy library in NYC and destroyed by the NYPD. I’m not afraid for the format of the book as opposed to the kindle but the embodied book is inextricably linked to us in a way that the electronic book never can be. We feel protective of the old beloved book’s body. So something done to that library for the community downtown is only a step away from what would be done to the occupiers if there were a clean and easy way to commit it. The thing about torture, violence and maiming is that it’s contagious. When it starts, it doesn’t stop happening. Especially if it’s enabled by government. It grows. Daniel Borzutzky’s violent, perverse, tender poem also has multiplied its own force by spreading to all the books that surround it within the small volume it occupies on my windowsill next to the bed. Under the bed, it falls on the floor, I pick it up, I stuff it in a bag. I think about it and leave it out so I’ll think about it some more. He knows what he’s doing and he ends his poem, his book this way:
Yes, the Book of Broken Bodies is a substitute for another book that the authors were too scared to write. Nevertheless, in its aesthetic and moral failure, the Book of Broken Bodies says more about the sky and the fields and the alleys and the sewers than all of the other books combined.
One of the saddest things I’ve read lately in the news is the fact that Ieng Thirith, the most powerful woman in the government of the Khmer Rouge will not stand trial for the crimes she committed against her people because of her senile dementia. It makes me wonder. . . in the absence of books, in the absence of memory did all those broken bodies occur. Is the poem true? Is Daniel Borzutzky’s poem, book evidence enough? We will only have only our own broken bodies to turn to. Are they broken enough? This testifying poem will have to do. We will remember today, when we read it.
Eileen Myles was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1949, was educated in Catholic schools, graduated from the University of Massachusetts-Boston in 1971, and moved to New York City in 1974 to be a poet. She gave her first reading at CBGB's, and then gravitated to St. Mark's church where she...