Lake Michigan, Scene 6

by Daniel Borzutzky

copyright ©2018, Daniel Borzutzky

The golden sand of Lake Michigan was here

The chromium spilled from the US Steel plant in Portage, Indiana was here

The raw sewage was here

The animal waste was here

The waters that in the sunlight reminded Simone de Beauvoir of silk and flashing diamonds were here

The seagulls were here

The liquid manure was here

The birds colonized by E. coli were here

The police removing the homeless bodies on the beach were here

The police removing the illegal immigrants on the beach were here

The police beating the mad bodies on the beach were here

The public hospitals were not here and the police had nowhere to take the sick ones to so they kicked them in the face     handcuffed them and took them to jail

A woman screamed and the external police review board heard nothing

No one heard the woman screaming and no one saw the children vomiting

No vomiting children     wrote the external review board     no dead or decaying animals

The members of the external police review board belong to the Democratic Party and they love to play with their children on the beach

They belong to the ACLU and they love to play with their pets on the beach

They volunteer at their kids’ schools and they don’t believe in the bones of the disappeared

The pigs colonized by E. coli were here

The cattle colonized by E. coli were here

The humans colonized by E. coli were here

The police were here and they murdered two boys and the external police review board saw nothing

Notes on the Poem

Our Poem of the Week choices over the next several weeks come from the seven works on the newly announced 2019 Griffin Poetry Prize shortlist. This selection comes from the astonishingly powerful Lake Michigan by Daniel Borzutzky. Just last week, when we examined a selection from the work of Borzutzky's fellow 2019 shortlist nominee Raymond Antrobus, we contemplated the power of different forms of repetition in poetry. Antrobus employs the pantoum form to gently rock and shift us towards a soothing and optimism denouement. Borzutzky wields repetition to stunningly different effect in "Lake Michigan, Scene 6". Borzutzky determinedly rolls out increasingly horrifying subjects abutted to the past tense of "to be", line after unremitting line. Subjects, objects and clauses are repeated, but each variation in which they appear is more hellish than the last. The repetition - accentuated with stark double line spacing - produces an almost emotionless, flat affect delivery, yet at the same time suggests different perspectives and interpretations of the same scene, as in these three successive lines: "The police removing the homeless bodies on the beach were here The police removing the illegal immigrants on the beach were here The police beating the mad bodies on the beach were here" As the 2019 Griffin Poetry Prizes judges observe
“Technically brilliant in its use of repetition and variation, leavened with touches of embittered, and yet, in the end, resilient, drollness, Lake Michigan is an eloquent, book-length howl, a piece of political theatre staged in a no-man’s land lying somewhere between the surreal and the real.”
This is leavened to some extent by the touches to which the judges refer, breaking up the appalling inventory with lines such as: "The waters that in the sunlight reminded Simone de Beauvoir of silk and flashing diamonds were here" and, made justifiably ridiculous and infuriating by their insertion in this sickening litany: "They belong to the ACLU and they love to play with their pets on the beach They volunteer at their kids' schools" Each sentence, though, has no terminating punctuation, suggesting that the horror might never end. With what feeling does this stunning poem leave you?

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