1111: The Nation by Roy Fisher

20240505 Slowdown

1111: The Nation by Roy Fisher


I’m Major Jackson and this is The Slowdown.

Walking my neighborhood, I occasionally think, someone should write about that Little Free Library. I adore its loosely stacked children’s books and paperback murder mysteries, its fake roof tiles and colorful red doors made to look like a barn. Further on my walk, I think that someone should compose a praise poem to the three dogs barking behind an invisible fence. Their snarling puts me in mind of the mythic Cerberus and Hercules’s twelfth and final labor.

Making my way around the corner, I consider telling my friend Rick, a poet, that there’s a haiku to be written in the spirit of the elderly couple conversing quietly on their front porch as the day’s light goes down. In this way, collectively, a distinct poetry of place emerges from local details. This is my brand of fieldwork.

Maybe we do this naturally: mark a perimeter of a place through what we most visibly notice or in some cases, hear — all that encodes a region as distinct. I identify the places I’ve lived with certain memories I most recall, like the annual Halloween pumpkin carving contest or a backyard birthday party with the huge inflatable bounce house or in one instance, the late arrival of police in response to a domestic conflict. Imaginative mapping ties us to each other and we find the language to replicate the sensation of walking the streets anew.

However, it’s important for us to avoid what Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka once phrased as “saline consciousness,” that is, the belief that only what lies within our boundaries is worth noticing. We can roam beyond our familiar provinces. Today’s poem satirizes a vision of nationhood that only sees itself in relation to the known and all that has been sanctioned.

The Nation
by Roy Fisher

The national day 
had dawned. Everywhere
the national tree was opening its blossoms
to the sun’s first rays, and from all quarters
young and old in national costume
were making their way to the original National
Building, where the national standard already
fluttered against the sky. Some breakfasted
on the national dish as they walked, frequently
pausing to greet acquaintances with a heartfelt
exchange of the national gesture. Many 
were leading the national animal; others carried it
in their arms. The national bird
flew overhead; and on every side 
could be heard the keen strains
of the national anthem, played on
the national instrument.
Where enough were gathered together,
national feeling ran high, and concerted cries of 
‘Death to the national foe!’ were raised.
The national weapon was brandished. Though
festivities were constrained by the size of
the national debt, the national sport was
vigorously played all day
and the national drink drunk.
And from midday till late in the evening
there arose continually from the rear
of the national prison the sounds of the national
method of execution, dealing out rapid
justice to those who had given way
– on this day of all days –
to the national vice.

“The Nation” by Roy Fisher from THE LONG AND SHORT OF IT © 2012 Roy Fisher. Used by permission of Bloodaxe Books.