Robert Pinsky

II. From the Surface

A country is the things it wants to see.
If so, some part of me, though I do not,
Must want to see these things—as if to say:

“I want to see the calf with two heads suckle;
I want to see the image of a woman
In rapid sequence of transparencies
Projected on a bright flat surface, conveying
The full illusion and effect of motion,
In vast, varying scale, with varying focus,
Swallow the image of her partner’s penis.
I want to see enormous colored pictures
Of people with impossible complexions,
Dressed, often, in flamboyant clothes, along
The roads and fastened to the larger buildings.
I want to see men playing games with balls.
I want to see new cars; I want to see
Faces of people, famous, or in times
Of great emotion, or both; and above all,
It seems, I want to see the anthropomorphic
Animals drawn for children, as represented
By people in smiling masks and huge costumes.
I want to shake their hands. I want to see
Cars crashing; cards with a collie or a pipe
And slippers, dry flies, mallards and tennis rackets—
Two people kissing for Valentine, and then
A nicky-nacky design, a little puppy
Begging for me to like the person who mailed it.”

In Mexico, I suppose they want to see
The Eyes of God, and dogs and ponies coupling
With women, skeletons in hats and skirts,
Dishwashers, plutocrats humiliated,
Clark Gable, flashy bauhaus buildings, pistols.
It always is disturbing, what a country
Of people want to see…In England once,
A country that I like, between two Terms,
In Oxford, I saw a traveling carnival
And fair with Morris dancers, and a woman
Down in a shallow pit—bored-looking, with bored
And overfed, drugged-looking brown rats lolling
Around her white bare body where it was chained
Among them: sluggish, in a furtive tent.

And that was something, like the Morris dance,
Which an American would neither want
To see, nor think of hiding, which helps to prove
That after all these countries do exist,
All of us sensing what we want to see
Whether we want it separately, or not.

But beyond the kinds of ball or billboard, or what
The woman must undergo, are other proofs,
Suggesting that all countries are the same:
And that the awful, trivial, and atrocious
(Those “forms receptive, featureless and vast”)
Are what all peoples want to see and hide,
Are similar everywhere, and every year
Take forms that are increasingly the same,
Time and Der Spiegel, Chile and Chicago,
All coming to one thing, whether sinister
Or bland as a Christmas card from “Unicef.”

What do I want for you to see? I want—
Beyond the states and corporations, each
Hiding and showing after their kind the forms
Of their atrocities, beyond their power
For evil—the greater evil in ourselves,
And greater images more vast than Time.
I want for you to see the things I see
And more, Colonial Diners, Disney, films
Of concentration camps, the napalmed child
Trotting through famous news film in her diaper
And tattered flaps of skin, Deep Throat, the rest.

I want our country like a common dream
To be between us in what we want to see—
Not that I want for you to have to see
Atrocity itself, or that its image
Is harmless. I mean the way we need to see
With shared, imperfect memory: the quiet
Of tourists shuffling with their different awes
Through well-kept Rushmore, Chiswick House, or Belsen;
“Lest we forget” and its half-forgotten aura.
I want for you to see a “hippie restaurant”
And the rock valley where a hundred settlers
Were massacred by other settlers, dressed
As Indians—like the Boston tea-tax rioters
Or like the college kids who work for Disney,
Showing the people what they want to see.