State briefly the ideas, ideals, or hopes,
the energy sources, the kinds of security,
for which you would kill a child.
Name, please, the children whom
you would be willing to kill.
The poem presents itself “as if” it were a questionnaire, a bureaucrat’s dream of order, each of its four stanzas framing for us a set of questions in a pattern, a form, that is familiar.
Berry’s questions, however, are not a request for information from a specific audience for a specific audience. The poem captures how language can be used to divide us from one another; and how easy it is to deny the humanity and the rights of others. By the time we reach the fourth stanza, the questions amount to a difficult interrogation: are you willing to value things over children? We are meant to doubt the degree of consciousness with which we respond to the world.
To understand the brutality that drives the questions framed in Berry’s poem, we need a sense of irony–the ability to see the distance between what is and what should be; that and a willingness to interrogate the values built into the frame of the questionnaire, the assumptions and the rationalizations at play. [Read more…]