Patrick White

Rookie (September l5, l948 / Campbell River, British Columbia, Canada)

Why Do Children Of The Poor - Poem by Patrick White

Why do children of the poor die so readily?
By the age of five
they're already disarmed for life.
Is money a gene they're missing?
Or is their suffering
just a diminished immunity to the rest of us?
The gluttons of knowledge
discuss James Joyce in a loud voice
in well-lit universities.
With great nuance and finesse
they enumerate the seven kinds of ambiguity
and the mean diameter of the vowel O
in the context of neo-Chicago Aristotelianism
in the latter plays of Shakespeare
where the commas fall like worms
out of every page of his art
as if he couldn't punctuate
the death-rage in his heart
with the subtler points
of the neo-critical literati.
I think Shakespeare would have seen
the sterling irony
of debating proto-Nostratic linguistics
while living children all around him
can't read their names in their own mother-tongue.
If the same word for oak
was the word we used for door
when we all learned to speak the same language
milennia ago
it's not hard to imagine
given modern advances in communication
that the word for child
that we used way back then
is the root of the word we use for atrocity today.
Why do the children of the poor die so readily?
Nature or nurture?
Is it because the children of the rich
are taught that wealth is longevity
and the children of the poor
who can't read the fine print
bleed to death like expired medical plans?
Why do the rich think that the poor
are the reason their children suffer
and the best thing to do is make orphans of them
by sending the poor of one nation
to war against another
to keep the economy growing
and cut back on the unemployed
like deer culled from a budget in hunting season?
If you're a child born from this womb
and you grow up fat and cuddly
you've still got
a back-up heart transplant in the bank
but if you're a child born from this one
to thrive on nothing
you look for lifeboats
and see nothing but rocks.
You reach out to the watching world
like a camera
with big questions
in your unaccusing eyes
about what is happening to you
in the arms of your helpless mother
and the world looks back at your tiny corpse
swollen with hunger
like the uninhabitable planet
of your empty stomach
as if it were all just part of your bad luck
that you were born at the mercy of flies
clustering like first world pharmaceuticals
on the black market
of your third world eyelids.
Why are the children of the rich
born into health and favour
and the children of the poor
are slaves to sex and labour?
Have you ever thought about
how many children had to die
to make your running shoes?
Like all those who died
giving birth to the blues
so you could put your suffering
to their music
like the lyrics of the squeamish rich
to the heart-sick voices of the poor?
Why do the children of the poor
die so readily in bad neighbourhoods
where the streets are named for strangers
who all live somewhere else like slumlords?
Insane waste of light and love.
Desecration of heart and mind
Of genius and compassion.
Of cures for cancer
and violins that can play
like willows by a river in the wind.
There's nothing unfinished about a child
as if the green apple
were any less than a ripe one.
Growing up among the living means
that at every moment of your life
you've reached your full potential
and you realize that nothing's ever missing.
Everything is whole and beyond perfect just as it is.
That's innocence from the inside out.
And then someone steps in
and teaches the child
how much it must suffer like the rest of us
just to be itself.
That's the beginning of a rich man's religion
from the outside in.
This child's afraid of losing face
and this child's not allowed to have one.
Why do the children of the poor die so readily?
Why do some children go to summer camp
the way others go to prison
to earn their tats like scout badges?
Why are the children of the poor
turned into baby rattlesnakes
like seven year olds with AK-47s
that are as poisonous as the adult ones?
Why do the children of the poor go to war
while the children of the rich go to college?
There's nothing in the world
a poor child can take for granted.
Life is a wound
that deadens the mind in time
if you're alive enough to endure it.
There are young girls in Afghanistan
who are risking their lives every day
just to learn to read.
Omar Khayyam says
The moving finger writes
and having writ moves on
nor all thy piety nor wit
can lure it back to cancel half a line
nor all thy tears wash out a word of it.
So the Taliban are resorting
to splashing acid in the eyes
of their sisters and daughters
to see if that works better than water.
And the National Rifle Association
inside the classroom
and outside the hospital
is defending the right
by force of the second amendment
as it's written in the Constitution
for every child to pack a lunch
the way their teachers pack guns to school
in pursuit of American happiness
and higher learning
with a competitive edge.
Why do the lean children of the poor die so readily
like one of the seven plagues of Egypt
in back alleys and abandoned buildings
with needles stuck in their arms
while the obese children of the rich
are having the fat of the land removed surgically?
Why do the rich spend twenty million dollars
on a painting of a child
with impressionist skin by Renoir
while a real child lies torn at their feet
in a surrealistic abattoir
signed in its own blood
like the masterpiece of an unknown genius?
Why is so much squandered on the rarity of things
than on their commonality
like children and green oxygen?
Why are movie-stars and football players
paid more on a yearly basis
to live out our fantasies of sex and violence
than it would take
to keep all the children in the Sudan
healthy and alive for a year?
Is it better in this world
to be born a corrupt politician
with a command of words like maggots
than it is to be born innocent
and have nothing to say for yourself
because you're too young
to speak for anyone else
even when you're murdered?
Why do the children of the poor die so readily?
How does it come about
that the United States Supreme Court
accords an oil corporation
all the rights and privileges
of a genuine bigger-than-life individual
backed up by a birth certificate
from a lapwing government
though it's a succubus among humans
and twenty-five million children a year
die anonymously in misery
right at the peak of their suffering
like the fame of the nameless logos
on a generic death
where one size fits all?
Why do the children of the poor die so readily?
Is it because the poor are waiting for lung transplants
that have been inflated into footballs
to score political points
for a ghoul in a governor's office
to balance the budget like death
in favour of the rich
who are waiting for yachts?
Is it because the road we were on
just suddenly got up one day
like human evolution
and walked away from us in disgust
to go look for the lost children
we left like the wings on our heels in the dust?
Is it because as Basho says in a haiku
for those who say
they have no time for children
there are no flowers
and we're so blind to the peach blossoms
we can't see the depth of the curse in this
that we give so little mind
to what we have uprooted from the garden
as if the children of agrarian Adam
scratching for a living in the dirt
weren't as legitimate as those
that were sired
by an industrial
Johnny Appleseed?
Is it because the children of the poor
are born first
to be thrown into the mouths
of corporate Moloch and Wall Street Baal
like a blood sacrifice to a cosmic monstrosity
just so Carthage doesn't fall again
to the venture capital
of down-to-earth Romans
like the price of salt on a sterile market
or the soil of the Love Canal?
Is it because the children of the poor
are the expression of a death-wish
to raise our own assassins
as the only way of finding forgiveness
for what we did to them
before during and after they were born?
Why do the children of the poor die so readily?
Is it because we think of the children of the profligate poor
as the repeating decimals
of a future that goes on forever incommensurately
like one generation after another
or a clepshydra of blood
or a tiny thread of a mindstream
trickling down from the top of the world mountain
like a loose thread of life
that we think we can sever their lives anywhere
or pull down the pillars of pi
by cutting their legs out from under them
like the fundamentals of life
without drawing the knife across our own jugular
like the intestate balls of a castrated ram
or the throat of a wedding bell without a womb?
Why do the children of the poor die so readily?
Is it because...


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Poem Submitted: Sunday, April 22, 2012



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