Jude Nutter took home the Minnesota Book Award for poetry this weekend with her collection “I Wish I Had A Heart Like Yours, Walt Whitman” in which she revises Whitman’s civil war poems using contemporary and female perspectives. Nutter was born North Yorkshire, England, and grew up in northern Germany. She has been living and working in Minneapolis since 1998. Here’s a poem from her award winning collection, called “The Ledger.”
Imagine if everything the Buddha claimed is true and all
things external are illusions. But who wants a world,
illusion or not, in which a witness can sit all day
on the banks of the Kagera watching bodies
from the war in Rwanda coming over the falls
and then later describe how they never once appeared
to be really dead: they looked, he said, like swimmers
because strong currents invested them with the power
of movement. The past might be over
but it’s never done with. Leave them in peace,
said Stalin of his favourite scientists who were lost
in projects important to the state; we can kill them
later. History: a ledger of atrocities. Remember
those who never ceased trying
to undermine the rhetoric of governments: Goya
at the end of his life–deaf and lonely but still
bearing witness, painting directly onto the walls
of his country house outside Madrid. It is said
that after Goya there were no more innocent rifles in art,
no more sticks uttering puffs of smoke and fire. Remember
Ed Murrow, live from Buchenwald after liberation.
For most of it, he said, I have no words. For most of it.
Not all of it. Murder, he said, rags and remnants.
I looked out, he said, over the mass of men to the green
fields beyond. A ledger of atrocities. Another hostage, another
smart bomb gone astray in the market; collateral
damage and acceptable losses and somewhere one more child
dead before it can be named; and for millions, home
the place they are homesick for, even as they live there.
Here and there, the ragings of art: a ledger of atrocities. History.
- “The Ledger” by Jude Nutter, as published in her collection I Wish I Had a Heart Like Yours, Walt Whitman, published by University of Notre Dame Press.