Minnesota Poetry: Jude Nutter’s “The Ledger”

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.”

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.

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