March 2009


Poet, you do not know me.  You may claim
that I’ve no right to criticize your choices—
but you have always owed your worldwide fame
to those who stifled other poets’ voices.
While honest writers were locked up at home,
in the cold loneliness of far-off wastes,
you’ve freely exercised your right to roam—
developed highly continental tastes.
With each internal shakeup, you’d defend
the new regime.  You’re every tyrant’s friend.

Poet, I do not know you.  I’ve no right
to criticize the choices you have made—
but I suspect that sometimes in the night
you shudder at the dreadful price you’ve paid.
Those who survived the terror have returned;
their punishment has ended.  They are free
to go on speaking truth–and we have learned
that you were never what you seemed to be.
Now, every time I hear your golden voice,
I think you knew you had another choice.

© 1991 Dorothy Miller Gutenkauf

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I have been to two churches recently—
one Roman Catholic, for a baptism;
one Baptist, for a funeral.
I have been to churches of all kinds—
Episcopalian, Congregational, Methodist,
so many others—and in every one
the minister or priest or preacher
speaks possessively of “our” god
as if the deity they worship and pray to
were theirs alone, the greatest among many.
How exclusive must be the club to which,
excluding all others, they and “their” god belong!

I am weary of hearing them describe
“their” god as if they had a patent and owned
proprietary rights to a particular deity.
How different is their mindset now
from that of those who long ago
prayed to Zeus or Thor or Dagon,
and spoke of each of those pagan deities
as if he were “theirs” and theirs alone?
How many wars have people fought
to give ministers or priests or preachers
the right to declare “their” god the winner,
triumphant over all other deities?

Surely they thought, when they set off to war,
that “their” god demanded higher status
than all the gods of all those they aimed to kill.
Surely, too, they thought that they alone
had the divine right to kill those others
in the name of “their” god, the god they owned.

Has anything changed over all these years,
or are we fighting the same wars over and over
for the right to claim ownership of the deity?
If killing our brothers is still the only way to prove
the triumph of “our” god over “theirs,”
not much has changed since the Garden of Eden.

Those who are believers should know better.
They should know that they are not the owners
of whatever deity they pray to on their Sabbath.
I do not know if the divine exists, but if it does,
I know we do not own it.  Whether one god or many—
he, she, it or they—it owns us, the children of Cain.

©2009 Dorothy Miller Gutenkauf