Monday, November 30, 2020

"Inalienable / As DNA, / Self-evident / As fingerprints": "The Stain", by A. E. Stallings, and the Declaration of Independence

The first sentence of "The Stain", by A. E. Stallings, lists ways the titular stain "remembers / Your embarrassment", mixing liquids with verbal "stains" from writing to rumors. Then the poem evokes the impossibility of removing the stain with echoes of the Declaration of Independence: it is "inalienable / As DNA, / Self-evident / As fingerprints." While DNA and fingerprints figure individual biological uniqueness, "inalienable" recalls the Declaration's "rights", and "self-evident" the truths that include such rights. Yet the Declaration has its own "stain": the reference to "merciless Indian savages" as a threat to be exterminated. Stallings's poem thus connects the embarrassments of individual biography to the indelible stains of history. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 30 November)


Two passages from the Declaration of Independence:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.


[The King] has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.


The Stain

A. E. Stallings, Like, 118



Your embarrassment,

Wine or blood,

Sweat or oil,


When the ink leaked

Your intent

Because you thought

Truth couldn’t soil,


Or when you let

The secret slip,

Or when you dropped

The leaden hint,


Or when between

The cup and lip,

The Beaujolais

Pled innocent,


Or when the rumor’s

Fleet was launched,

Or when the sheets

Waged their surrender,


But the breach

Could not be staunched

And no apology

Would tender;


When over-served,

You misconstrued,

And blurbed your heartsick

On your sleeve;


When everything

Became imbued

With sadness, yet

You couldn’t grieve.





As fingerprints,


It will not out

Although you spray

And presoak in the sink

And rinse:


What they suspect

The stain will know,

The stain records

What you forget.


If you wear it,

It will show;

If you wash it,

It will set.

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