"After the Fact"

A weekly poem, read by the author.
May 4 2010 7:12 AM

"After the Fact"

Click the arrow on the audio player to hear  Mary Jo Bang read this poem. You can also download the recording or subscribe to Slate's Poetry Podcast on iTunes.
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As if the world had four corners—in one, a war;
in another, a revolution against uninvited restrictions
on what one could think. In the third,

messages on microfilm tied to the ankles
of caged birds with teeth and talons pacing
and bickering about what "mine" means.

In the last, alone, someone dressed as the 21st century,
skyscraper hat, flat-screen glasses,
stood at a table wondering about side effects

of medications and reward systems that are triggered
when boredom is bred in brains.
In a parable of panic and habit, a pilot landing

a crippled plane is like a country
where fearful rulers destroy dissent and whatever remains
goes from bad to worse. Sleep tight, you martyrs.

And you criminals who killed for a narrow share
of power and a few rotten spoils.
Enough is enough.

The corners converge, causing the globe to grow smaller
than all of time times space divided
by every petty difference.

The girl newly dead on the sidewalk says, 
"Excuse me, but—
what kind of moral force is brute moral force?"

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Mary Jo Bang's books include Elegy, which won the 2007 National Book Critics Circle Award, and The Bride of E. She teaches at Washington University in St. Louis.