C K Williams
She’s magnificent, as we imagine women must be
who foresee and foretell and are right and disdained.
This is the difference between we who are like her
in having been right and disdained, and we as we are.
Because we, in our foreseeings, our having been right,
are repulsive to ourselves, fat and immobile, like toads.
Not toads in the garden, who after all are what they are,
but toads in the tale of death in the desert of sludge.
In this tale of lies, of treachery, of superfluous dead,
were there ever so many who were right and disdained?
With no notion of what to do next? If we were true seers,
as prescient as she, as frenzied, we’d know what to do next.
We’d twitter, as she did, like birds; we’d warble, we’d trill.
But what would it be really, to twitter, to warble, to trill?
Is it ee-ee-ee, like having a child? Is it uh-uh-uh, like a wound?
Or is it inside, like a blow, silent to everyone but yourself?
Yes, inside, I remember, oh-oh-oh: it’s where grief
is just about to be spoken, but all at once can’t be: oh.
When you no longer can “think” of what things like lies,
like superfluous dead, so many, might mean: oh.
Cassandra will be abducted at the end of her tale, and die.
Even she can’t predict how. Stabbed? Shot? Blown to bits?
Her abductor dies, too, though, in a gush of gore, in a net.
That we know; she foresaw that – in a gush of gore, in a net.
(From the April 3, 2006 issue of the New Yorker)
To be right is not always to win. There are times when everyone loses, times when you almost wish you had got it wrong. For those of us who believed that the US should not have invaded Iraq, there is little satisfaction in knowing that time has proved us right. Rather there is only the frustration, and a terrible sense of loss for so many lives needlessly wasted.
Williams’ poem captures that sense of bitter vindication perfectly, invoking Cassandra (a connection that seemed so obvious after I read it that I still can’t believe I didn’t think about it before) and delivering some truly superb lines along the way. I didn’t think much of the second part of the poem, but I loved the opening, loved the “it’s where grief / is just about to be spoken, but all of a sudden can’t be” line, and loved the way the poem ends, the repetition of that final phrase combining menace with a sense of trapped helplessness.