The Teeth Mother Naked at Last… Robert Bly… for Poetry Month

Robert Bly

The Teeth Mother Naked at Last



Massive engines lift beautifully from the deck.

Wings appear over the trees, wings with eight

hundred rivets.

Engines burning a thousand gallons of gasoline a minute

sweep over the huts with dirt floors.

The chickens feel the new fear deep in the pits of

their beaks.

Buddha with Padma Sambhava.

Meanwhile, out on the China Sea,

immense gray bodies are floating,

born in Roanoke,

the ocean on both sides expanding, “buoyed on the

dense marine.”

Helicopters flutter overhead. The death-

bee is coming. Super Sabres

like knots of neurotic energy sweep

around and return.

This is Hamilton’s triumph.

This is the advantage of a centralized bank.

B-52s come from Guam. All the teachers

die in flames. The hopes of Tolstoy fall asleep in the

ant heap.

Do not ask for mercy.

Now the time comes to look into the past-tunnels,

the hours given and taken in school,

the scuffles in coatrooms, 

foam leaps from his nostrils,

now we come to the scum you take from the mouths of

the dead,

now we sit beside the dying, and hold their hands, there

is hardly time for good-bye,

the staff sergeant from North Carolina is dying—you

hold his hand,

he knows the mansions of the dead are empty, he has an

empty place

inside him, created one night when his parents came

home drunk,

he uses half his skin to cover it,

as you try to protect a balloon from sharp objects. . . .

Artillery shells explode. Napalm canisters roll end

over end.

800 steel pellets fly through the vegetable walls.

The six-hour infant puts his fists instinctively

to his eyes to keep out the light.

But the room explodes,

the children explode.

Blood leaps on the vegetable walls.

Yes, I know, blood leaps on the walls—

Don’t cry at that—

Do you cry at the wind pouring out of Canada?

Do you cry at the reeds shaken at the edge of

the sloughs?

The Marine battalion enters.

This happens when the seasons change,

This happens when the leaves begin to drop from the

trees too early

“Kill them: I don’t want to see anything moving.”

This happens when the ice begins to show its teeth in

the ponds

This happens when the heavy layers of lake water press

down on the fish’s head, and send him deeper, where

his tail swirls slowly, and his brain passes him

pictures of heavy reeds, of vegetation fallen

on vegetation. . . .

Hamilton saw all this in detail:

“Every banana tree slashed, every cooking utensil smashed,

              every mattress cut.

Now the Marine knives sweep around like sharp-edged

jets; how beautifully they slash open the rice bags,

the mattresses. . . .

ducks are killed with $150 shotguns.

Old women watch the soldiers as they move.



Excellent Roman knives slip along the ribs.

A stronger man starts to jerk up the strips of flesh.

“Let’s hear it again, you believe in the Father, the Son, and the

              Holy Ghost?”

A long scream unrolls.


“From the political point of view, democratic institutions are

              being built in Viet Nam, wouldn’t you agree?”

A green parrot shudders under the fingernails.

Blood jumps in the pocket.

The scream lashes like a tail.

“Let us not be deterred from our task by the voices

              of dissent. . . .”

The whines of the jets

pierce like a long needle,

As soon as the President finishes his press conference,

black wings carryoff the words,

bits of flesh still clinging to them.

              *   *   *

The ministers lie, the professors lie, the television lies,

the priests lie. . . .

These lies mean that the country wants to die.

Lie after lie starts out into the prairie grass,

like enormous caravans of Conestoga wagons. . . .

And a long desire for death flows out, guiding the

enormous caravans from beneath,

stringing together the vague and foolish words.

It is a desire to eat death,

to gobble it down,

to rush on it like a cobra with mouth open

It’s a desire to take death inside,

to feel it burning inside, pushing out velvety hairs,

like a clothes brush in the intestines—

This is the thrill that leads the President on to lie

              *   *   *

Now the Chief Executive enters; the press

conference begins:

First the President lies about the date the Appalachian

Mountains rose.

Then he lies about the population of Chicago, then he lies

about the weight of the adult eagle, then about the

acreage of the Everglades

He lies about the number of fish taken every year in the

Arctic, he has private information about which city is

the capital of Wyoming, he lies about the birthplace of

Attila the Hun.

He lies about the composition of the amniotic fluid, and

he insists that Luther was never a German, and that

only the Protestants sold indulgences,

That Pope Leo X wanted to reform the church, but the

“liberal elements” prevented him,

that the Peasants’ War was fomented by Italians

from the North.

And the Attorney General lies about the time the

sun sets.

              *  *   *

These lies are only the longing we all feel to die.

It is the longing for someone to come and take you by the

hand to where they all are sleeping:

where the Egyptian pharaohs are asleep, and your

own mother,

and all those disappeared children, who used to go

around with you in the rings at grade school. . . .

Do not be angry at the President—he is longing to take

in his hand

the locks of death hair—

to meet his own children dead, or unborn. . . .

He is drifting sideways toward the dusty places


This is what it’s like for a rich country to make war

this is what it’s like to bomb huts (afterwards described

as “structures”)

this is what it’s like to kill marginal farmers (afterwards

described as Communists”)  

this is what it’s like to watch the altimeter needle

going mad


Baron 25, this is 81. Are there any friendlies in the area? 81

from 25, negative on the friendlies. I’d like you to take out as

many structures as possible located in those trees within 200

meters east and west of my smoke mark.

diving, the green earth swinging, cheeks hanging back,

red pins blossoming ahead of us, 20-millimeter can-

non fire, leveling off, rice fields shooting by like tele-

phone poles, smoke rising, hut roofs loom up huge as

landing fields, slugs going in, half the huts on fire,

small figures running, palm trees burning, shooting

past, up again; . . . blue sky . . . cloud mountains

This is what it’s like to have a gross national product.

It’s because the aluminum window shade business is

doing so well in the United States that we roll fire

over entire villages

It’s because a hospital room in the average American city

now costs $90 a day that we bomb hospitals in

the North

It’s because the milk trains coming into New Jersey hit

the right switches every day that the best Vietnamese

men are cut in two by American bullets that follow

each other like freight cars

This is what it’s like to send firebombs down from air-

conditioned cock-pits.

This is what it’s like to be told to fire into a reed hut with

an automatic weapon.

It’s because we have new packaging for smoked oysters

that bomb holes appear in the rice paddies

It is because we have so few women sobbing in

back rooms,

because we have so few children’s heads torn apart by

high-velocity bullets,

because we have so few tears falling on our own hands

that the Super Sabre turns and screams down toward

the earth.

It’s because taxpayers move to the suburbs that we

transfer populations.

The Marines use cigarette lighters to light the thatched

roofs of huts because so many Americans own their

own homes.


I see a car rolling toward a rock wall.

The treads in the face begin to crack.

We all feel like tires being run down roads under

heavy cars.

The teen-ager imagines herself floating through the

Seven Spheres.

Oven doors are found


Soot collects over the doorframe, has children,

takes courses,

goes mad, and dies.

There is a black silo inside our bodies, revolving fast.

Bits of black paint are flaking off,

where the motorcycles roar, around and around,

rising higher on the silo walls,

the bodies bent toward the horizon,

driven by angry women dressed in black.

              *   *   *

I know that books are tired of us.

I know they are chaining the Bible to chairs.

Books don’t want to remain in the same room with

us anymore.

New Testaments are escaping . . . dressed as women . . .

they go off after dark.

And Plato! Plato . . . Plato wants to go backwards. . . .

He wants to hurry back up the river of time, so be can

end as some blob of sea flesh rotting on an

Australian beach.


Why are they dying? I have written this so many times.

They are dying because the President has opened a

Bible again.

They are dying because gold deposits have been found

among the Shoshoni Indians.

They are dying because money follows intellect!

And intellect is like a fan opening in the wind—

The Marines think that unless they die the rivers will

not move.

They are dying so that the mountain shadows will

continue to fall east in the afternoon,

so that the beetle can move along the ground near the

fallen twigs.


But if one of those children came near that we have set

on fire,

came toward you like a gray barn, walking,

you would howl like a wind tunnel in a hurricane,

you would tear at your shirt with blue hands,

you would drive over your own child’s wagon trying to

back up,

the pupils of your eyes would go wild—

If a child came by burning, you would dance on a lawn,

trying to leap into the air, digging into your cheeks,

you would ram your head against the wall of

your bedroom

like a bull penned too long in his moody pen—

If one of those children came toward me with both hands

in the air, fire rising along both elbows,

I would suddenly go back to my animal brain,

I would drop on all fours, screaming,

my vocal chords would turn blue, so would yours,

it would be two days before I could play with my own

children again.


I want to sleep awhile in the rays of the sun slanting over

the snow.

Don’t wake me.

Don’t tell me how much grief there is in the leaf with its

natural oils.

Don’t tell me how many children have been born with

stumpy hands all those years we lived in St.

Augustine’s shadow.

Tell me about the dust that falls from the yellow daffodil

shaken in the restless winds.

Tell me about the particles of Babylonian thought that

still pass through the earthworm every day.

Don’t tell me about “the frightening laborers who do not

read books.”

Now the whole nation starts to whirl,

the end of the Republic breaks off,

Europe comes to take revenge,

the mad beast covered with European hair rushes

through the mesa bushes in Mendocino County,

pigs rush toward the cliff,

the waters underneath part: in one ocean luminous

globes float up (in them hairy and ecstatic men—)

in the other, the teeth mother, naked at last.

Let us drive cars


the light beams

to the stars . . .

And return to earth crouched inside the drop of sweat

that falls

from the chin of the Protestant tied in the fire.

[From Sleepers Joining Hands by Robert Bly. Copyright © 1973 by Robert Bly. Reprinted by arrangement with HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.]