Poet Mary Jo Bang has the unique ability to write a polemical poem that is both a superb example of straight talk-there is not mistaking her fevered sentiment for anything else--and an elegant sample of exquisitely placed similes and metaphor The power of "After the Fact" comes from the first lines, a narrator setting up the world he/she lives like it were subject to templates from which only tragic outcomes can result. The sin of this all, the source of the outrage, are the actors in the self-limiting melodramas--buffoons peacocks, egomaniacs, narcissists with trigger fingers mistaking the contrived circumstances of their cause for the way things required to go.
Sleep tight, you martyrs.And you criminals who killed for a narrow shareof power and a few rotten spoils.Enough is enough.
This is very tough stuff, an indictment with a sting, an x-ray to the heart of the matters; while those who wage wars justify their aggression in the many slippery rationalizations that seek "justice" through a rhetorical back door, the results of their righteousness, their efforts to set the world right, only make the tragedies worse. The calamity multiply, the genocides continue, the planet darkens even more and becomes unlivable-the only thing that seems to renew itself is the rhetoric that proclaims a vision of aggressive human perfection, a heaven here on earth, while the heart grows harder, colder. The fatal schemes, the complete waste of what's best in this existence, contract not just the heart, but makes the universe appear to shrink to a burned out cinder.
The corners converge, causing the globe to grow smallerthan all of time times space dividedby every petty difference.
The center would not hold for Yeats; it contracts for Mary Jo Bang, become a flaming ball of contentious bad faith. It's a simple morality tale, a simple but profound choice that each of us needs to make, to make decisions exclusively based on self-seeking, or to help others, create community, cooperation. Bang's poem/polemic provides the profound example of selfishness when it's codified with a language that adopts some leaner rhetoric of justice, peace, and harmony and uses the terms to rationalize an institutionalized State of War. It is the tragedy of trying to make the mystery of life comprehensible through fear-- investigating the life and ways of a Villainized Other is to trade with the Devil.
The girl newly dead on the sidewalk says,"Excuse me, but—what kind of moral force is brute moral force?"
The poem can be said to lack subtlety, but a muted message in this instance could be so finely wrought that even an informed reader would miss the point in searching for clues among the ambiguities. This has the brilliant, placard bearing power of Ferlinghetti's political poems, particularly "I Am Waiting"; it is a succession of one lines and witticisms that crystallize the crisis and makes it memorable. This is a poem meant to get you thinking about something besides whether it works as a poem. It does just that.
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