I came upon the poem below as a result of the kind consideration of my son, Wesley, who (after seeking my authorization) registered me with poets.org to receive a Poem-A-Day. Yes, this is “a poem”, which I will define (without any qualifications whatsoever to do so) as the written word, artfully and succinctly presented in a manner intended to stir thought or emotion. Rhyme in iambic pentameter is not required. Nor are stanzas.
As I read this poem I squirmed in horror and rage,… no doubt, emotions at which the poet aimed. Then I thought,… and things became even much, much worse. It got “personal”. I thought about how my experiences here in Africa have included my staring into desperate poverty and suffering,… how I have struggled with this feature of humanity and the challenges it presents,… how I have even blogged about it and cried out to you for counsel, which has been provided by many,… how I philosophize (just as I suppose I am doing now),… how I have taken photograph after photograph (but will demonstrate enough sense to post none with this present blogpost),... how “fascinated” and guarded and even judgmental I have been and still am, as I do far, far less than I am capable of doing. How the adverse judgment may be for me, rather than the one I have judged and failed to help. Enough from me. On to the art that will hopefully stir thought and emotion:
Preliminary Report from the Committee on Appropriate Postures for the Suffering
by Jon Davis
We who wear clean socks and shoes are tired of your barefoot complaining, your dusty footprints on our just-cleaned rugs. Tired, too of your endless ploys—
the feigned amputations, the imaginary children you huddle with outside the malls, your rags and bottles, the inconvenient positions you assume. Though we remain impressed by your emaciation and your hunger and,
frankly, find you photogenic and think your images both alarming and aesthetically pleasing, to do anything more than sigh will require a complex process of application and review, a process that is currently in the development stage. Meanwhile, may we suggest you moderate your public suffering at least until the Committee on Appropriate Postures for the Suffering is able to produce guidelines. Do not be alarmed. The committee has asked me to assure you that they are sensitive both to the aesthetic qualities of your suffering—the blank stares, the neotonous beauty as the flesh recedes and the eyes seem to grow larger, the haloes of flies—and to the physical limitations of human endurance and the positioning of limbs. They will, I am certain, ask that you not lift your naked children like offerings to the gods. On this topic, discussion has centered around the unfair advantage such ploys give the parents of such children. The childless, whether by choice or fate, are left to wither silently in the doorways while those with children proffer and gesticulate in the avenues unabated. This offends our cherished sense of fairness, the democratic impulse that informs and energizes our discussions. Therefore, we ask for restraint, and where restraint is lacking, we will legislate. Please be forewarned. In addition, the committee will recommend that the shouting of slogans, whether directed at governments or deities, be kept to a minimum. Not only is such shouting displeasing aesthetically, but it suggests there is something to be done. Believe me, no one is more acutely aware of your condition than we who must ignore it everyday on our way to the capitol. In this matter, we ask only that you become more aware of your fellow citizens, who must juggle iPods, blackberries, briefcases and cell phones, lattes. Who must march steadily or be trampled by the similarly burdened citizens immediately behind them. Your shouting and pointing does not serve you well. Those of us employed by the agency are sworn to oversee you. If we seem, as you suggest, to have overlooked you instead, that is an oversight and will be addressed, I am certain, in our annual review. Please be aware: To eliminate your poverty, your hunger, your aesthetically pleasing, yet disturbing, presence in our doorways, above our heating grates, in our subway tunnels and under our freeways would mean the elimination of the agency itself and quite possibly a decline in tourism. Those of us employed by the agency have neither the stamina, persistence, nor the luminous skin tones that you present to the viewing public. Finally, to those who would recommend programs, who would call for funding and action, I must remind you that we have been charged not with eliminating your suffering but with managing it.