Over at Making Light, they posted an open thread linking to Robert Bly’s great anti-war poem, “The Teeth-Mother Naked At Last.” I hadn’t thought about that in years.

Now, I am far too young to have any memories of Vietnam. I’ve known a few veterans–not all that many, there’s a pretty significant age gap, and about the only place where I ran into ’em regularly was back when I taking martial arts classes–but I was just plain born too late for anything but secondhand knowledge. So as a specific war poem, hell, what do I know?

But back when I was about fifteen, my stepfather Tom handed me a copy of Robert Bly’s Sleepers Joining Hands which included this poem, and the book rocked my brain, because along with Rumi’s quatrains, it was my first exposure to poetry that wasn’t Robert Frost or Shel Silverstein.

And I was young and angsty, and it was the right words at the right time.

Well, I’m…almost exactly twice the age I was then. (Good god!) These days, if you say “Robert Bly,” I imagine cheesy outdoor drumming workshops for men. I suspect we learn too much context for everything, and it filters our experience. It is hard to have poetry simply slammed raw into our brains the way it did when we were young and passionate and terrified and desperate to get laid.

Ah, well. I regret nothin’.

A few lines from Bly have always stayed with me, though. I remember that these were the words that really got to me, despite the whole poem being blood and death and torture and explosions.

I know that books are tired of us.
I know they are chaining the Bible to chairs.
Books don’t want to remain in the same room with us anymore.

Somehow, the notion of books being ashamed of their creators broke my heart. I never forgot those lines.

It’s odd to think of that again. Good? Bad? I don’t know. Odd. That’s all.

(Full text)

Leave a Reply