28 May 2009

Adjust, Adjust -- Christopher Bursk

[1943–current, American]

I was born committing suicide,
holding my breath; they had to drag me kicking
out of this damp garage, this airtight inside,
the gases I struggled back to
until the doctors slapped me alive
and shouted: survive, survive.

After Hiroshima, turning four,
I battered my head at the master bedroom door;
every night I dreamt I was a child burning at that town dump
At the world’s edge, Japan;
and every night my father yelled: be brave,
behave, behave.

I ripped his set of Plato at eight,
the year my mother was put away at Boston State,
and war was fought in some darkness called Korea;
all winter, I played dead in the corner
while my teachers clapped:
adapt, adapt.

Grandmother took me in till I was ten;
with her best silver carving knife I locked her with me
in the den, all night, clinging to her bathrobe, demanding
to cut our wrists in a lover’s pact;
the only promise I could secure
was: endure, endure.

I threw tantrums in to eleven;
I couldn’t sleep; McCarthy lashed out at reds in the nightmares
where he held me witness; they nailed grandmother up for heaven,
that year; I pounded my fingers bloody on the pews
while the minister spit:
submit, submit.

I counted my bones, waiting to be dead;
at thirteen, an invalid in this nursing home, my bed,
between commercials, curse the first graders
whom they tried to storm,
shrieking: conform, conform.

At fifteen, in South Station where I ran away,
every week, I bedded down on papers inksmudged with the blood
of freedom fighters, left in heaps in Hungary to decay,
while old men rubbed against my thighs,
lulling me to them with the hum
of succumb, succumb.

I couldn’t. Even with sleeping pills,
razor blades, I couldn’t. While the U.S. played chicken
in the hills with atom bombs, I gave up my body like sixteen years
of hardened clay to be moulded slippery
under the touch of my girl’s hand and thigh
while she moaned all night: comply, comply.

Why couldn’t I? When the world lapsed wide
and elastic into too much, too bright space when Kennedy died
and the roads wore bald; and the yards stretched between houses,
and the towns gleamed like chrome, I drove into walls,
day after day while police barked:
obey, obey.

Can’t you bleed? Coward, you can’t die
while wrists are cut, throats slit, those children, all suicides,
are gassed in Vietnam; at twenty-four can you only cry
while men shoot themselves to death
in the DMZ, and your analyst coughs; you must
adjust, adjust.

Source: Lowenfels, W (ed.), 1969, The Writing on the Wall: 108 American Poems of Protest, Doubleday, p. 65.

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