Poet's Choice

By Robert Pinsky
Sunday, August 27, 2006

Using words in law, in politics, in daily life, we keep some associations and discard others, depending on the context. On a form to fill out, "occupation" means something like "profession." On junk mail or in a lease, "occupant" means the person in a dwelling. On the bathroom door, "occupied" means that someone is in there. In conflicts between nations, "occupied" means that alien forces are present and in control. These English forms of the Latin occupare all have the same general significance. But within that general significance, to make sense of the world, we disregard some shades of meaning and apply others.

Or sometimes there is reason to do the opposite, letting two different kinds of nuance, basically irrelevant to each other, fuse or collide. That can be a way of discovering meaning or expressing feeling. Suji Kwock Kim does this in a poem that comes out of the long, cruel Japanese occupation of Korea:


The soldiers

are hard at work

building a house.

They hammer

bodies into the earth

like nails,

they paint the walls

with blood.

Inside the doors

stay shut, locked

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