Libya: Gargoyle Laughing, Fist Pounding


First Muammar Gaddafi, Guernica-like, bombed his people.  Now the United States and several western countries are bombing Gaddafi. As this Carl Sandburg poem makes clear, the nightmare has no end: Gaddafi jeering and Allied responding go on and on (if not in Libya, then elsewhere) as America enters its third war in ten years.


I saw a mouth jeering.  A smile of melted red iron ran over it. Its laugh was full of nails rattling.  It was a child’s dream of a mouth.

A fist hit the mouth: knuckles of gun-metal driven by an electric wrist and shoulder.  It was a child’s dream of an arm.

The fist hit the mouth over and over, again and again.  The mouth bled melted iron, and laughed its laughter of nails rattling.

And I saw the more the fist pounded the more the mouth laughed. The fist is pounding and pounding, and the mouth answering.

Many of those supporting U.S. intervention are those who also supported the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.  Hussein was an evil man but wars, almost by definition, overflow their bounds, and the subsequent death and destruction in Iraq was far worse than anything that Hussein could have visited on his people, not to mention the impact of the war on the United States and and its allies.  Only nightmarish mouths and fists flourish when the dogs of war are unleashed.

The only hope I see in Libya is a quick withdrawal by the Allied forces.  The world will always have jeering gargoyles, but a fist that restrains itself has a better chance of ending the cycle of violence.

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  1. Susan
    Posted March 22, 2011 at 8:42 am | Permalink

    Robin-When I heard about the no-fly zone being put into effect, I immediately thought of Brother Fire, the poem you posted a few weeks ago. I shuddered at the truth I saw in myself, a tendency to move into the “gotcha” posture. Here’s a concrete example of your blog helping me to live out of my better self: to seek peace, to notice that in me which enacts the gargoyle, to wake up, to feel sadness, or anger, to enact the virtues that I desire, to seek a way forward.

    Like you, I also trust that we will leave quickly. Perhaps there are times to use force against violence, (“might for right” ) but I have a hard time believing that we have the wisdom to know how to do this well. Carl Sandburg speaks the truth. There are parts of me that fear we will just prolong the pounding and answering and that the darkness will continue to laugh.

  2. Robin Bates
    Posted March 22, 2011 at 11:08 am | Permalink

    I find your post very gratifying, Sue, because it reenforces just how vital poetry is to our lives. I wasn’t at first sure how to respond to the no-fly zone. After all, wasn’t Gaddafi a monster who was slaughtering his people?! Sandburg’s poem gave me place to meditate on the events, a place that is far away from the media and political hysteria. With the poet’s help, I was able to remind myself that war is not a surgical instrument that we use to excise a tumor before moving calmly on. Rather, it is a pounding fist, filled with rage and a desire for vengeance. The urge to smash the face of a gargoyle is something I feel within myself and something that I, and we as a nation, must resist. Though the name of the gargoyle we smash may keep changing (it’s Bin Laden at one point, Saddam Hussein at another, Gaddafi at yet another), the pounding never stops the jeering. And of course, in the eyes of the 9-11 terrorists, the gargoyle took the form of the United States. It doesn’t matter whether gargoyle or fist win. In the end, we are all spitting nails while the gargoyle laughs.


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