Elisa Gabbert

Elisa Gabbert is a poet and essayist whose books include L’Heure Bleue, or The Judy Poems, forthcoming from Black Ocean in 2016; The Self Unstable (Black Ocean); and The French Exit (Birds LLC). Follow her on Twitter at @egabbert.

 

In one of those blank

 

spaces of the day

 

I lost the little notebook
where I was collecting
place-name phrases:

 

California stop.
Giving it English.
Irish goodbye.

 

There is so much time.
No wonder we’re unable
to account for it all,

 

to reconstruct it later.
I flip through a book
called History in Pictures

 

but they’re only pictures—
no one event
is more historical than the next.

 

But it’s pseudointellectual
to dwell on the arbitrary
in any distinction.

 

Intelligence without wisdom—
that’s what I despise.

 

Jack would say,
Even crows have a theory of mind.

 

 

When I was a girl,

 

 

setting the table,
I was very careful

 

where I placed the odd knife,
the faded napkin
or the chipped plate.

 

Whomever got it,
I imagined they would die.
That was my power.

 

I usually gave it to my brother.
Later, my father.
(But never my mother.)

 

Older, I’d take it for myself.
(The prophecy unfulfilled,
my bravery went unnoticed.)

 

Whether or not I believe in fate
is academic—fate trumps belief,

 

the relentless happening
continues to happen.

 

When things get stuck,
I leave the house,
a spell for the random.

 

 

When we argue about war,

 

 

I say I’m a pacifist
and he looks for a loophole.

 

He brings up Hitler, genocide—
these noble causes.

 

The problem I have
is distinguishing between atrocities:
the genocide on one hand

 

and on the other
atomic bombs (their eyeballs melted),
torture, women and children

 

raped and murdered
for the greater good.
It’s like the difference between

 

a billion and a trillion—
I believe they are different
but can’t conceive of it.

 

The moral imperative
justifies the amoral,
the technically lesser atrocity.

 

I think citizens don’t have to think
like countries.

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