From the Republic of Conscience

I ran across the poem below by Seamus Heaney from a collection of his poems, and thought it somehow apt for the political stalemate in Thailand today. Enjoy!

PS: I read the premise for Jose Saramago’s new book and so want to get my paws on it.

In Nobel Prize–winner Saramogo’s best known novel, Blindness, an unnamed capital city experiences a devastating (although transient) epidemic of blindness that mysteriously spares one woman, an eye doctor’s wife, who helps a blinded group survive until their sight returns. His new novel, set in the same capital city four years later, depicts a legal “revolution,” when 83% of its citizens cast blank ballots in a national election. The president declares a state of siege, but even though soldiers cordon off the city, nothing affects the city’s maddening cheerfulness. The president receives an anonymous letter revealing the case of the eye doctor’s wife (she and the group she helped had kept her support secret), and the minister in charge of internal security sends undercover policemen to investigate her connection to the “blank” revolution.

*********************

From the Republic of Conscience

I

When I landed in the republic of conscience
it was so noiseless when the engine stopped
I could hear a curlew high above the runway.

At immigration, the clerk was an old man
who produced a wallet from his homespun coat
and showed me a photograph of my grandfather.

The woman at customs asked me to declare
the words of our traditional cures and charms
to heal dumbness and avert the evil eye

No porters. No interpreter. No taxi.
You carried your own burden and very soon
your symptons of creeping privilege disappeared.

II

Fog is a dreaded omen there but lightning
spells universal good and parents hang
swaddled infants in trees during thunderstorms.

Salt is their precious mineral. And seashells
are held to the ear during births and funerals.
The base of all inks and pigments is seawater.

Their sacred symbol is a stylized boat.
The sail is an ear, the mast a sloping pen,
The hull a mouth-shape, the keel an open eye.

At their inauguration, public leaders
must swear to uphold an unwritten law and weep
to atone for their presumption to hold office —

and to affirm their faith that all life sprang
from salt in the tears which the sky-god wept
after he dreamt his solitude was endless.

III

I came back from that frugal republic
with my two arms the one length, the customs woman
having insisted my allowance was myself.

The old man rose and gazed into my face
and said that was official recognition
that I was now a dual citizen.

He therefore desired me when I got home
to consider myself a representative
and to speak in their behalf in my own tongue.

Their embassies, he said, were everywhere
but operated independently
and no embassador would ever be relieved.

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