Poetry Is the Gnomic Utterance from Which the Soul Springs, Fluttering

by Joyce Carol Oates

Joyce Carol Oates

At the podium
measured and grave as a metronome
the (white, male) poet with bald-
gleaming head broods in gnom-
ic syllables on the death
of 12-year-old (black, male) Tamir Rice
shot in a park
by a Cleveland police officer
claiming to believe
the boy's plastic pistol
was a "real gun"
like his own eager
to discharge and slay

while twelve feet away
at the edge
of the bright-lit stage
the (white, female) interpreter
signing for the deaf is stricken
with emotion?—
horror, pity, disbelief?—
outrage, sorrow?—
young-woman face contorted
and eyes spilling tears
like Tamir Rice's mother
perhaps, or the sister
made to witness
the child's bleeding out
in the Cleveland park.
We stare
as the interpreter's fingers
pluck the poet's words out of the air
like bullets, break open stanzas
tight as conches with the deft
ferocity of a cormo-
rant and render gnome-speech
raw as hurt, as harm,
as human terror
wet-eyed and mouth-grimaced
in horror's perfect O.

Last updated September 26, 2022