On Sholeh Wolpe, ‘A Brief History of Us’
I was first exposed to poetry many moons ago, as a child growing up in Ireland. The nuns at both my primary and high schools made us learn many poems off by heart, and I still remember many of those poems. They were very different from a lot of the poems we are hearing tonight, but still beautiful in their own way. I’m not sure if any of those Irish poets were scientists; I’m not aware of any Irish science-poet or poet-scientist. I am aware, though, that many of those poets were rebels and revolutionaries, and fought for Irish freedom not just with their words, but also with guns. They arepart of Irish history, not just part of the writing of Irish history. So it’s very real to Irish people; and poetry, and literature more generally, are very important in Irish society.
The poem I’m reading tonight I interpreted on two different levels. The first is that it’s about flies, those pesky houseflies that we in Australia love to hate. There are three ‘chapters’, as they are called, to this poem. The first is about how we treat flies — we love to kill them. The second is about how we describe them — as unclean, dirty creatures; and the third is about how we can become afraid of them, and they can prevent us from doing things that we would like to do.
Then, having mentioned revolutionaries and rebels and people who were oppressed in the past, I thought you could interpret this in a different way. The first chapter could be about how we like to treat those who might be different to us; the second you might interpret as to how we start to describe as unclean and dirty the people that we don’t like; and the third, I thought could be interpreted as our becoming afraid of people who are different to us. We can certainly see evidence of this in our society today – are we prevented from doing things through being afraid of those who are different?.
A Brief History of Us
You smack her with a 99 ₵ Store
yellow plastic swatter, knock her dead
to a far corner of the room,
in a second or two, her legs launch into laboured
twitches like an out of practice can-can dancer,
boggy eyes blink-less in life,
as she picks up one vein-swollen wing,
her ovipositor glowing its small Hiroshima.
She shivers her antennae, wiggles
her posterior zombie dance
that lifts its Holy hullaballoo
and takes off in its ferocious buzz, so
stentorian, it echoes from the old
pine table legs and rickety
By nature, human zombies are gluttons,
but the house flies’ palate,
indiscriminate by nature
— feces, vomit or your plate of beans —
is refined in their after-death.
They go for delicacies, the white
of your eyes, kamikaze gourmets,
they target the inside of your toes.
Bellies bulging, they machine gun
zombie eggs into your open bag of chips,
the cut melon on the chopping board,
or fine lining of your baby’s diaper.
Weapons of Mass Destruction gather dust,
while we, Arab, Jew and Hindu, Pope
and Mullah, Mother and General, pool
our brains to build a Lilliputian
army, girded with sharp scimitars
the size of trimmed fingernails.
A legion of zombie fly slayers, riding
tiny air-horses to battle, while we
close shutters, install screens on doors,
and pine for a stroll in the woods, sun
by the ocean, even a catnap in that hammock
right there, out in the garden, under that tree …
forgetting everything we imagined
separated us, human from human.