Tuesday, October 21, 2008


For some time now I have been interested in poems functioning as curses. At first I had an Old Testament model in mind, a Jeremiad or calling down of the wrath of God onto someone or some thing. My friend poet/painter Stephen Petroff turned me on to the curses of Antonin Artaud, written during his institutionalization, pieces of paper with writing and drawing, scorched or burned through with cigarettes or matches, sent by mail to the cursed person. This is writing that comes alive, lives inside of you, calls out demons, and changes your life.
Here is a curse I came across today, in the collection The Best American Poetry 2008, edited by Charles Wright.
A poem by Maxine Kumin, originally published in The Hudson Review:

Though He Tarry

"I believe with perfect faith in
the coming of the Messiah
and though he tarry I will
wait daily for his coming"
said Maimonides in 1190
or so and 44 percent
of people polled in the USA
in 2007 are also waiting
for him to show up in person -
though of course he won't be a person.

Do we want to save our planet,
the only one we know of,
so the faithful 44 percent
can be in a state of high alert
in case he arrives in person
though of course he won't be a person

According to Stephen Jay Gould
"science and religion are
non-overlapping magisteria"
See each elbowing the other
to shove over on the bed
they're condemned to share?
See how they despise, shrink back
from accidental touching?
It's no surprise that
60% of scientists
say they are nonbelievers.

But whether you're churchy or not
what about the planet?
Damn all of you with dumpsters.
Damn all who do not compost.
Damn all who tie their dogs out
on bare ground, without water.
Damn all who debeak chickens
and all who eat them, damn
CEO's with bonuses,
corporate jets, trophy wives.

Damn venal human nature
lurching our way to a sorry
and probably fiery finale...
If only he'd strap his angel wings on
in the ether and get his licensed
and guaranteed ass down here -
though of course he won't be a person -
if only he wouldn't tarry.

Maxine Kumin