We who wear clean socks and shoes are tired
of your barefoot complaining, your dusty footprints
on our just-cleaned rugs. Tired, too of your endless ploys—
the feigned amputations, the imaginary children
you huddle with outside the malls, your rags and bottles,
the inconvenient positions you assume. Though we remain
impressed by your emaciation and your hunger and,
frankly, find you photogenic and think your images
both alarming and aesthetically pleasing, to do anything
more than sigh will require a complex process
of application and review, a process that is currently
in the development stage. Meanwhile, may we suggest
you moderate your public suffering at least
until the Committee on Appropriate Postures for the Suffering
is able to produce guidelines. Do not be alarmed.
The committee has asked me to assure you
that they are sensitive both to the aesthetic qualities
of your suffering—the blank stares, the neotenous beauty
as the flesh recedes and the eyes seem to grow larger,
the haloes of flies–and to the physical limitations
of human endurance and the positioning of limbs.
They will, I am certain, ask that you not lift
your naked children like offerings to the gods.
On this topic, discussion has centered around the unfair
advantage such ploys give the parents of such children.
The childless, whether by choice or fate, are left
to wither silently in the doorways while those with children
proffer and gesticulate in the avenues unabated.
This offends our cherished sense of fairness,
the democratic impulse that informs and energizes
our discussions. Therefore, we ask for restraint,
and where restraint is lacking, we will legislate.
Please be forewarned. In addition, the committee
will recommend that the shouting of slogans,
whether directed at governments or deities, be kept
to a minimum. Not only is such shouting displeasing
aesthetically, but it suggests there is something
to be done. Believe me, no one is more acutely aware
of your condition than we who must ignore it everyday
on our way to the capitol. In this matter, we ask only
that you become more aware of your fellow citizens,
who must juggle iPods, blackberries, briefcases
and cell phones, lattes. Who must march steadily
or be trampled by the similarly burdened citizens
immediately behind them. Your shouting and pointing
does not serve you well. Those of us employed
by the agency are sworn to oversee you. If we seem,
as you suggest, to have overlooked you instead,
that is an oversight and will be addressed, I am certain,
in our annual review. Please be aware: To eliminate
your poverty, your hunger, your aesthetically
pleasing, yet disturbing, presence in our doorways,
above our heating grates, in our subway tunnels
and under our freeways would mean the elimination
of the agency itself and quite possibly a decline
in tourism. Those of us employed by the agency
have neither the stamina, persistence, nor the luminous
skin tones that you present to the viewing public.
Finally, to those who would recommend programs,
who would call for funding and action,
I must remind you that we have been charged not
with eliminating your suffering but with managing it.
“Preliminary Report from the Committee on Appropriate Postures for the Suffering” appeared in Preliminary Report (Copper Canyon Press, 2010).
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