Editor’s comment: I find myself remembering and thinking more and more often of the words of poet Carolyn Forche as I watch the news: Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Yeman, Pakistan, Afghanistan: half a world away and almost unreal as I watch and hear of the suffering of others in war-torn parts of the world as the U.S. government continues its destruction with killer drones, with the mess left in Iraq, in sending more weapons to Syria (just exactly what they don’t need). I watch the arrests in the people’s revolution in the streets of Turkey while the U.S. continues to support the dictator who has allowed them to send arms to Syria through Turkey. Iraq today, more killed, the drones in Pakistan, Yeman, the war in Afghanistan, the list goes on.
This video is her reading the final poem in her book The Country Between Us, published in 1982. But timeless. These are the last words of the poem, the last words in the book. In the mass graves, a woman’s hand caged in the ribs of her child, a single stone in Spain beneath olives, in Germany the silent windy fields, in the Soviet Union where the snow is scarred with wire, in Salvador where the blood will never soak into the ground, everywhere and always go after that which is lost. There is a cyclone fence between ourselves and the slaughter and behind it we hover in a calm protected world like netted fish, exactly like netted fish. It is either the beginning or the end of the world, and the choice is ourselves or nothing. —Carolyn Forche from ”Ourselves or Nothing”
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Carolyn Forche performs her poem “Ourselves or Nothing.” It is dedicated to the late Terrence Des Pres, whose book The Survivor, a much-admired account of holocaust survivors’ will to bear witness, entailed a great struggle for the author. Forche, who knew Des Pres later, witnessed forms of that struggle. Des Pres taught at Colgate University and he was one of the first to offer a course in the literature of the holocaust (in the mid-1970s). The poem refers to Forche’s own work in El Salvador supporting those who bore witness to atrocities committed there.