Friday, March 19, 2010


Sherod Santos's "The Olive Stump" (which I discussed in my previous post) connects Aeneas and a Hutu soldier as figures of war; Maureen N. McLane's "Haunt" does the same with the Iraq war (or at least a war that closely resembles it?) and Scottish "murder ballads," again asking the implicit question of how to respond to violence beyond one's control or influence. "Haunt" concludes (with lineation I don't know how to reproduce here):

there's a dead soldier in the desert
& three crows wonder over and over
whether to cry out
an elegy
or to sit on his breastbone and pike out
his bonnie blue een

Is the poem considering whether one's proper response to violence should be to participate in it (piking out the dead soldier's eyes) or to memorialize its victims (crying out an elegy)?

Earlier, a different kind of memorializing is mentioned:

testimony weaving its own
shimmering cloth
we wear to keep ourselves warm
& to spare the others
our nakedness

"Testimony" appears here as something done both for oneself (to keep ourselves warm) and for others (to spare them), but even the latter is for oneself, in a way (to spare them our nakedness). And beyond that, the poem continues by apparently rejecting "testimony" entirely: "better not to have heard / the stories."

"Haunt" captures the deep ambiguity of the relationship between the individual and "murder ballads" old and new: what is "testimony" for? What are elegies for? Whom does memorialization serve? The "three crows" cannot choose between elegy and the continuation or confirmation of violence, and McLane's poem raises the haunting issue of how much "elegy" and "testimony" (and even "murder ballads") participate in the violence they describe.

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