I wrote another poem inspired by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s short book, Letter To A Hostage. At a time of genocidal fratricidal war in Ukraine, it’s hard to talk about friendship across enemy lines. But some of my friends have family on both sides of the war. Many people in Ukraine do.
This poem is dedicated to the memory of Russian poet of protest Yevgeny Yevtuschenko, and to his fellow Ukrainians.
If you’re in the US or UK, please reach out to your lawmakers to demand tighter sanctions against Russia to keep step with our NATO allies, and ask for a ban on importing Russian fossil fuels.
This poem was inspired by a very special book I’ve been re-reading this week, written in exile by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, entitled Letter to a Hostage, in which the famed pilot and children’s book author wrote about his worry for his friends living in Nazi-occupied France. Although he is most famous for writing the children’s classic The Little Prince, it is his WWII writings that seem most relevant today.
If you liked this poem, please support the work of Nova Ukraine, United Help Ukraine or Razom, three experienced local organizations helping war refugees and internally displaced civilians on the front lines.
So Putin captured Chernobyl. A symbolic victory for someone who threatens to nuke Europe if he is opposed in his wars of aggression. Do we even have a plan for how to respond if he follows through? Because this is 1939 all over again, only with nuclear weapons on both sides.
The youngest of them stood before his brothers,
and under Wyatt’s stare he spoke his mind.
“How long can we subsist on infamy,
and smile at outlaws over decks of cards?
Women and their children live here, too.
We could stand between them and these gunmen,
we are all they need for safety’s sake.
They don’t know where to turn when we hang back,
their desperation blinds them now to hope.
Everything we’ve built here is a sham.
When I was younger, I looked up to you,
I thought you stood for something more than this.
But in the end, you’ll let them slit our throats,
for we’re as mortal as the ones they’ve killed.”
They mayor slapped his back and thanked the Earps,
for making good the writ of Tombstone’s laws.
Tonight we shall sing and give thanks,
to salute the strength of our realm.
Lift your spirits and move with the drum,
the tambour and pipe call the tune.
Bring forth the trumpets – the moon is new,
and our fortunes can only grow.
For it is the custom in Denmark,
to toast royal alliances well.
The manners are sensible here,
and this is no novel fashion,
none can remember another.
“A son need not mourn forever,
nor shroud himself in strange despair.
Your grief calls out – I would set you free.
I speak with a king’s magnanimity.
I admit, there is a test in this.
My court is your audience, prince.
I would have you soften your grief.
For how can a king command mourning,
when the queen’s new consort reigns?
I am the head of your royal house,
who names you the throne’s only heir.
Show me your needs and I’ll meet them.
Now you say not one word to us,
and ask no blessing, discontent.
I would give my wife’s son good leave
to take his own counsel, dear prince.
If our people are well moved
to settle on me a king’s cares,
with what alacrity I’d strike
to show our rivals our full strength!
Our enemies would be dismayed,
and back to hell their ghosts would slink.
Acknowledge, prince, my regency,
stay here, drink up the honeyed wine.”
Although the Terrence Malick film originally titled Pocahontas takes a settler’s perspective on the conquest of Virginia, it has at least a subtext about resistance and negotiation. Qorianka Kilcher delivers a powerhouse performance in her big screen debut. Still, the lives of the First Nations that the Jamestown colony turned upside down come across mainly in pantomime, in this visually stunning epic about the rape of a native princess.
Historiography tells a rather different story.
When Captain Smith’s life was spared in a peacebuilding ritual involving the chief’s young daughter, the Captain took the role playing rather literally, and believed himself to be the object of her affections. His natural reaction? To run away – as he always did under such circumstances, in his long career of mercenary work and piracy on the borders of the Turkish empire and along the Mediterranean, before it occurred to him to sign up for a colonial adventure. This was only the third time in his life he’d been rescued by a princess, and the satirists of his day would never let him forget it, writing ditties about his amorous adventures in the popular press.
This poem, based on the 80th Psalm, tells the story of her people’s glory days and their hopes of repelling the first settlers, before the outcome of the war was decided.
Spirit, lift the welk to your ear,
mother of rivers our ancestors crossed,
distant enchantress of starlight, bend near.
stir your sandbar-twisting sinews from rest,
and help your peoples repel this new threat.
Sister of the west wind, return our land,
and smile again on the Algonquin tribes.
Fathomless child of all rivers, what have you brought us?
We receive from you our own tears,
and the tears you bring threaten to drown us.
Our trust is betrayed by our guests from the sky,
and behind their hands they mock our compacts.
Sister of the knife’s edge wind, retake our homes,
and grace our displaced peoples with your smile.
You who led by the hand our ancestors,
you routed whole nations that we might grow.
You spread the topsoil above the marshes
and protected all our streams and gardens,
and our alliance spanned great watersheds.
Ancient mountain passes bowed to our laws,
and densely we built among the great pines.
You gathered our strength all the way to the sea,
and up every river and stream to their roots.
Why have yo sundered Powhatan’s royal line
so that these passers-by pluck his daughter’s skirts?
The wild deer have stripped our homes of bark,
the wild rabbits and squirrels eat our stores.
Sister of the harrowing cold, come back,
turn your gaze from the scooting clouds and look,
if you even recognize your people,
the chieftans you once gave your blessing –
their holy places are burned down and wrecked,
and naked, their children perish at your touch.
Stretch your swift wings out to our refugees,
shelter the people you once called your own.
And we will not falter, drawing your breath.
Return to us all that we held in your name.
Sister of the raven’s wind, take us home.
Break open your secret smile between us.
The Missing showcases a side of Ron Howard I never expected to see, and brings a wealth of stunning performance moments from an all-star cast in an epic adventure about family, race, and survivorship. Starring Cate Blanchett, Tommy Lee Jones, Evan Rachel Wood, Eric Schweig, Val Kilmer, Aaron Eckhart, and Jenna Boyd, the story follows the long journey home of a homesteading family in New Mexico after a renegade Apache brujo and his men attack in search of girls to sell in Mexico. Along the way, the white women of this family learn the hard way that their ignorance of Apache values and Apache claims to the land where they live cannot continue to go unchallenged.
My favorite scene in this movie is still the very first one, but I won’t give that away if you haven’t seen it yet. This poem, based on the 79th Psalm, is in Lilly’s voice (Evan Rachel Wood), ruminating in captivity about her odds of being rescued by white soldiers.
What has become of my mother? Strangers
have fouled our ranch with monstrosities,
nothing is sacred to these traffickers.
Our homestead reeks of violation.
the men of our household are carrion,
unburied and impossible to mourn;
their witch cooked Brake alive to feed wild crows.
The land we called our own soaked up their blood
through leaves and snow, as naturally as rain,
and no one left behind to dig their graves.
Before we were the butt of townsfolks’ jokes,
but what we’ve been reduced to – I’ve no words.
How can this have happened to me? How long
will my life be dragged through the mud, how long?
Why don’t these catastrophes strike people
more deserving of contempt, know-nothings,
people with no curiosity,
those who would’ve amounted to less?
Are there not enough fools and laggards
to surfeit their dens of iniquity?
Am I to suffer for my father’s crime?
surely the army will come for us,
for without their help, we are done for.
Someone is bound to attempt to save us,
for we have been stolen from Christian homes,
and no one dare blame us for going along,
so long as we fight in our hearts for grace.
These outlaws and drunks mock our hopes and prayers.
But when cavalry troops come, they’ll turn tail,
eager to outrun avenging lawmen.
When the officers see us bound and gagged,
they’ll be quick to cut our ropes and help us.
They’ll show these shameless bottom-feeders scorn,
and drive home their regard with bayonets.
We here are all that remains of our homesteads.
what we pray for is the barest minimum.
In our mothers’ names we cry for revenge.