Shaping the Words


By José Clemente Orozco (1883 – 1949), The Demagogue” 1946 – painter (Mexican) Born in Jalisco. Details of artist on Google Art Project [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

“This is the way the world ends

Not with a bang but a whimper”

–T.S. Eliot, “The Hollow Men”


Commencing countdown–

how shall we shape the words

to describe this moment,

did it really happen?

hollow men speak lies—

so many lies—

too many lies—

lies upon lies–

repeated over and over,

they land, seeding fertile brains,

sprouting, growing hate,

a bumper crop this year.


Ten, nine, eight–

continue countdown,

centuries of science, exploration,

the processes of experimentation and learning

(inquiring minds want to know)

But the words,

shaped and twisted

turning thought inside out.

“Ignorance is strength,”

cry the demagogues,

as they insist,

two plus two equals five,

and the people cheer.


Blast off!

to unseen worlds you go,

but what is your mission?

Do your cylinders and circuits let you dream

and hope there are other beings out there

with other, better words?

I think of how our world might end

with little protest,

a sigh,

a whisper,

but your brief life ended not with a whimper

but with a bang and a crash,

and we are left here to wonder,

what you might have seen

and what truths you might have told us,

and if we would have believed you,

and how we would have shaped the words.


This poem is for Secret Keepers Writing Challenge.

The prompt words were: Brief/End/Shape/Land/Blast

This poem was inspired by the recent crash of the Schiaparelli spacecraft ion Mars, the movie, Denial, and the alternate reality viewpoint of DT and his supporters (among them crazy conspiracy theorists and Neo-Nazis). Also, of course, T.S. Eliot and the book, Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell.

I will be seeing some of Orozco’s work later this week at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, although I’m not sure if the painting above is in the exhibit, “Painting the Revolution.”



34 thoughts on “Shaping the Words

  1. As I read it I wondered if this was about the upcoming POTUS election – for that is how I ‘heard’ it – and it tied it with what’s happening here in South Africa – bang crash destroy – excellent prose Merril bringing in many topical issues. Thank you 🙂

    • Thank you, Susan. Yes, I suppose it applies to South Africa, too, and elsewhere. Listening to demagogues seems to be a constant. People want to believe, but they don’t want to think. I get really upset by it. 🙂

  2. These lines struck me especially:
    to unseen worlds you go,
    but what is your mission?

    And the last three, for their beautiful rhythm, their haunting questions–especially the last with its call to writers and its reference back to the demagogues.

  3. was kind of expecting Major Tom to go floating by in his tin can…great cultural mashup…could it have turned out any other way? did we collectively have actual options, or were things destined to unfold as predictable as the rockets we built? language our blessing and our curse…

      • hope and create…yes, indeed…always end up going back to Camus who posited that the value of the artist to a community is not in any particular produced work of art (society is not doomed if the Mona Lisa was never painted), but that they engage in the process of creativity irregardless of what is produced (all of which the tides of time will eventually get rid of eventually).

      • Yes, that is true. The act(s) of creating and the witnessing of creations, whatever they are, are probably more significant than the individual and actual works produced.

  4. I love how you put so much of what is happening in our world into your prose and poetry. “Ignorance is strength” reminded me of a conversation my husband and I had recently about education and how there are those opposed to education (or find ways to dumb it down) because they don’t want the masses thinking for themselves or recognizing the lies.

    • Thank you so much, Robin.
      I get so upset about the glorification of ignorance–some people seem so proud of not being educated and not reading. I also get up
      Not knowing how to reason and not having the tools to do so is connected to believing all the lies. And then there’s censorship instead of actually discussing ideas. UGH. I’ll stop ranting. 🙂

  5. I agree, Merril, we have so much space, projects and future impacts on the world which need to continue. . .
    I am one raised by a NASA rocket engineer, who also believed in possible ancient astronauts. So many possible ways to head into the future!
    Dad left NASA by retiring when money was taken from space exploration (Nixon administration) and always mentioned how inventions such as remote surgical and exploratory equipment, were direct results from many programs of NASA. He also said one nuclear missile would fund many projects like his team’s “non-polluting” gas engine which was promoted to the Detroit car companies in the 1970’s. It would have been nice if the funding had not been cut. . . Just think what we may be driving now! 🙂

    • I’m glad my poem sparked so many memories and thoughts of the past and future! I think many scientific discoveries have led to other totally different uses or applications–which is also a way of thinking creatively.

  6. Merril, so glad you included Orwell’s, “1984.” I am bereft, up late at midnight, voting night into morning. I am appalled that we may wake up to President Trump. Your post was so true, lies and ignorance (can you imagine it meaning strength?) competing or giving in to such negative results. 😦 tears. . .

  7. Pingback: Shaping the Words – Why Do I write?

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