Sunday, May 14, 2006

Take Me to the River

Just finished reading Dreaming the End of War, the new book of poems by Benjamin Alire Saenz. Wow. What a wonderful collection. It's a booklength sequence, told in a prologue and twelve dreams. The "war" in question is many wars: the violence boys learn as children, our violence against the animals we use for food, men's war against women, men's war with their fathers, immigrants at war with themselves and the lands they have come to live in, and the world's countries at war with each other. All of these are woven together in the series of twelve dreams. And it's truly moving to read in one sitting, I could not put it down. Reading them one after another, you can hear the themes return and reprise.

Here are a few excerpts (most of the poems use white space very well; sorry, but I am unable to reproduce the formatting):

from "The First Dream: Learning to Kill"

The Curanderos say
the animals will save us
in the end. Be good to animals.
Esos inocentes son la salvacion
del mundo. They will be waiting

when you die
. . . .

from "The Second Dream: Killing and Memory and War"

. . .

My uncle Frank told me the peace sign
was the footprint of the American chicken
My uncle Frank never fought in a war.

. . .

from "The Fourth Dream: Families and Flags and Revenge"

I don't believe a flag
is important
enough to kiss —
or even burn.

Some men would hate me
enough to kill me
if they read these words.

from "The Sixth Dream: Animals, Food, Aesthetics"

I live in a century of aesthetics.


Though I can take a thought and dress it up
Then take it out to eat, and then pretend

That alexandrine couplets are my friends;
Alone, my thoughts are wrinkled and unpressed,

And I take of my clothes so I can rest —
My thoughts are more important than the dress.


Though I can take a word and make it rhyme,
I cannot shove the world into a couplet.


The final poem ("The Twelfth Dream") is Saenz' dream of his own death, seen as an end to war. All of the themes from the prior dreams come back, which in music is something like a _______, I think. It's beautiful and stunning. A great read . . . I highly recommend it.