“I’m Not Calling It a Chasm” by Julie Henson

Julie Henson


Or a misunderstanding. About the Grand Canyon: American
wonder of the world. John Wesley Powell,
explorer extraordinaire,
led the first expedition
in 1869, was the first to call it Grand.
Before then it was just Big.
You name something so it will belong to you.
During my rounds at the retirement home,
the news blaring behind every door:
the president is calling ISIS a cancer.
I can’t hear everything, just garbled Quote from Obama
Quote from Obama, then
We Are Not At War With Islam.
Down my street at home there is sometimes
a small stream running into the gutter.
It’s only there when it rains and I call it Little Niagara.
It takes all the street’s filth with it.
Anyway, the cancer in the president’s metaphor.
He means violent religious extremism.
He means our bodies, these barbaric things.
My father died from cancer. It started with one angry cell.
The president means it’s not enough to pull the trigger,
it’s that we want to shoot.
My sister can field dress a deer without flinching.
I want to say field dress, not gut.
I want to say cut, not behead.
My sister got used to gutting,
but I’m not saying a deer
is equal to a man.
A deer will fall for anything resembling a saltlick.
(I can’t help it, I still picture it’s my father waiting in the tree.)
Scientists say there was no such thing as cancer
before the Industrial Revolution.
That cancer is man-made. God says, Duh.
I find a picture on the Internet: a deer growing out of a wolf
growing out of a bear.
The animal kingdom would call that progress. Call that peace.
A sign on the corner of 6th & Salem reads Stand Here
And Think About Someone You Love.
Okay, No.
I am tonguing too close to the source. All this collective
rage. Let’s call it a madness:
what have we kept near us, a middle name inherited
from some great-great? All the things we take
come back to haunt us. We call them ghosts. We call it
diplomacy. Or war or jihad. Or justice. Whatever.
At its widest point the Grand Canyon
stretches 18 miles across, 6000 feet deep. I can’t help it.
I want to name the person falling off the edge.

Poets Respond
September 28, 2014

[download audio]


Julie Henson: “At work at the retirement home, I heard snippets of Obama’s speech condemning ISIS and ‘the cancer of violent extremism.’ I became preoccupied with the complexities we use to speak about evil or the ‘ugliness’ of the world. What things we claim, and how we claim them. This ownership, I’m asking, does it make us complicit?” (website)

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