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Vol 38  No 15
June 8, 2006


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Address to Convocation

Dr. Paul Muldoon

The Dove Of Ut-Napishtim

“Between the chances, choose the odd;
Read The New Yorker, trust in God;
      And take short views…”
From Auden’s commencement address
To students at Harvard, no less,
      I’ll take my cue

In terms of both content and form
As hoof-beats steal the thunderstorm
      From which they flee.
For, I recall, when Auden spoke
In 1946, war-smoke
      Still wreathed her trees

And Europe’s bushes, stained with blood,
Were waiting for another flood
      To wash them clean,
While now our own Bush leads us back
Toward the brink in North Iraq,
      Now Byron’s scene

In which the great Sennacherib
We knew from the cut of his jib
      To be a wolf
Shifts to a bloody aftermath
In which God shows his righteous wrath
      And him engulfs

In a wave of blood, a blood-tide
In which a steed’s nostril’s “all wide,”
      Now dead horseflesh
Is what we know only too well,
Now we must meet that self-same swell
      From Gilgamesh

Where Ut-Napishtim made his mark
By pushing off his pitch-seamed Ark
      Into the pit
And putting that pit on the map.
For the great chasm, the great gap,
      I would submit,

That lies before us on this day’s
Not just between the “do” and “say”
      Of public men,
Nor yet between the rich and poor
Be they in Upper School or Ur,
      Nor yet the wren

And turkey vulture, thin and fat,
Nor from the shore at Barnegat
      Or Beach Haven
To the great maelstrom in the East
Where once Ut-Napishtim released
      Dove and raven

In hopes of finding solid ground.
No, that abyss is also found
      Between oneself
And the massive inundation
Of Crash Bandicoot’s PlayStation,
      The unveiled Stealth

Bomber, U2 “hawking” iPods,
Whales still thrashing it out with cod
      For H2O,
The moguls who mollycoddle
America’s Next Top Model,
      Guantanamo

On eBay, Proof out-grossing Doubt,
Captain Underpants grossing out
      Bibliosophs,
A Senate that will pass muster
Only on the filibuster
      While we’re palmed off

With “wild” salmon that’s raised on farms,
A teen with “the right to bear arms”
      Shooting Santa,
The small coffee we know as “tall,”
The “direct flight” stopping after all
      In Atlanta

Or Dallas-Fort Worth, the deluge
Of doubletalk and subterfuge
      With which we cloak
The gush-gushings of the cloacal,
The Great Sewer’s multivocal
      Take on the smoke

And mirrors behind the tidal
Wave of American Idol
      And Survivor,
Where the lewder and the ruder
And all their shrewder colluders
      And connivers

See in bread and circuses bread
Mostly. Yet somewhere off Bay Head
      Ut-Napishtim
Still searches for significance
And hopes that there will be a chance,
      However slim,

Of the dove’s finding out his mast
With an emblem of the steadfast
      Against the splurge,
A sign that some of the ideals
That kept him on an even keel
      Might re-emerge

From a sky in which every plane
Bodes ill, where every weathervane
      Is quite at odds
With itself. That’s why I, for one,
Prefer to think of the long run
      And ride roughshod

Over Auden’s adhortation
From that Harvard graduation
      To think short term.
Ut-Napishtim, proto-Noah,
Complete with two protozoa,
      Two pachyderms,

And one pigeon strutting its stuff
Has been at sea more than enough
      And needs a sign
Of some green shoot, some little slip
Of a thing with a sticky tip,
      A columbine

Which that pre-Columbian dove
Might take back, when push comes to shove,
      As a token,
A columbine (or a cornflower)
Set to the peephole in a tower,
      An unbroken

Line of cornflowers at eye-level
With an eye that loves to revel
      In what’s reviled,
In truth, in beauty, in its bent
For saying straight up what it meant,
      In growing wild

While all about, even our corn,
Is engineered, our jeans pre-worn
      By Calvin Klein,
The judge rehearsed, the jury rigged.
And look… Look how that cornflower-sprig
      (Or columbine),

Holds out the possibility
To Ut-Napishtim that we, we
      Ourselves attest
To the fact that, for what it’s worth,
Life is sustainable on Earth,
      That from our rest-

Less eye that sprig may be plucked out
And in Nineveh, crazed by drought,
      May sprightly spring…
And listen… Listen… That flutter
In our heart’s surely the flutter
      Of a dove’s wing.

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