“On Losing Our Names” by M. Doretta Cornell

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Martha Dunfee


On Losing Our Names

There are malls in Iraq,
and even Kuwait, we learned.
We bombed one, first thing.
Maybe the pilot failed
to recognize so modern a place,
no sand-fort walls thrown up like snow
against our not-snowball weapons.
They sold cell phones, radios, luggage.
The luggage was almost all gone,
except the best stuff:
why take good luggage into a firestorm?

NASA’s robot unfolds its spider legs, taps
the pocks and lumps of Mars, drills into
rock and hurls the names of molecules
two hundred forty-nine million miles

to Houston. In Egypt and Syria
democracy explodes in the streets,
crumples under the delusion
of a right to unending rule.

The padded child in her purple leggings,
sweeping snow from her mother’s van,
what future will explode from her
mittened hands? Or the boy sitting
on his khaki tank, reading a novel
he barely skimmed in school, what will tell
his terror of the dark, its loud fountain
of bombs, its more lethal stillness?

How do we begin to
know who we are,
we who name ourselves
by faith and science
as one with all,
with Godhead, even;
we who in a moment’s news
hear robot and rampage
and do not throw ourselves
between death and the children?

Oh, but those savage blades,
the dust and blood of bombs.
And the distance.
And the delicate
cuttings at the window
with their roots
long enough to pot.

And so the fervor dulls
and we fumble just a bit
as we make a sandwich,
while letters of our deepest
names crumble, voiceless,
off our hearts.


After many years as a professor of English at Pace University, Doretta Cornell is a poet and author of articles about justice issues. She is a Sister of the Divine Compassion and chair of the community’s Social Justice Board and is also a volunteer with the Partnership for Global Justice, an NGO with special consultative status at the United Nations. She writes for and edits the PGJ monthly newsletter. She is also a member of the Westchester Interfaith Connection, Pax Christi Metro New York (a Catholic peace organization), the Poetry Caravan, GreenFaith, and ROAR (two environmental organizations).

Doretta head shot for Patch blog