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On "The Disease" and "The Bill"

John Lowney

The Congressional inquiry into the power companies' financial culpability is blocked as the breathing of stricken miners is blocked. The words of the subcommittee investigating the silicosis deaths have little impact: these "Words on a monument. / Capitoline thunder . . . cannot be enough" ( OS 37). In response to the futile words of this official monument, the poem counterposes its own monumental figure: "dead John Brown's body walking from a tunnel / to break the armored and concluded mind" (OS 37). Brown, the heroic figure whose "whole life becomes an image reaching backward and forward in history, illuminating all time" (LP 35), returns us to the poem's introductory survey of local West Virginia history, to the "granite SITE" of Brown's execution, but the history of this site has been rewritten.

from "Truths of Outrage, Truths of Possibility: Muriel Rukeyser's 'The Book of the Dead'" in "How Shall We Tell Each Other of the Poet?": The Life and Writing of Muriel Rukeyser. Ed. Anne F. Herzog and Janet E. Kaufman. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1999. Copyright 1999 by Anne E. Herzog and Janet E. Kaufman.

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