In reading Ariel Dorfman's poem, "Hope," from his collection of poems entitled "In Case of Fire in a Foreign Land," impressions come fast and furious in this compelling, and tragically ironic piece that delivers its message so powerfully in so few lines.
There is a son, and my first thought is that he young: I assume he is at least a teen—but expect he is older. What comes after this line could be anything, especially in light of the poem's title: he has been...away (college, traveling)? Or has been up late studying or on a date?—"been" dangles with seeming uncertainty before dropping to the word "missing," which also dangles, all alone—but with a sense of hopelessness. How can this poem be called "Hope?"
"May 8" answers few questions except that it did not happen yesterday, last week or last month, but last year!
My son has been
since May 8
of last year.
It's a statement of fact. For these first few lines, I am filled with images from a crime drama: Law and Order, perhaps. Living in the United States, this kind of image is (if you're lucky) something from fiction. If luck has no place in the story, it means someone else's life has been changed forever—as you sit slumped on the couch, watching the television, shaking your head in disbelief...or horror...or both. My question is: how can there be hope? Is it foolish hope or empty hope? I'm afraid now to know what happens next...but the poet is relentless.
I read that the son will be kept "for a few hours" for "routine questioning." However, we "see" the car that took him: it had no license plate. This is in a place where the car is unidentified (has no official markings) and unidentifiable (it cannot be traced after the fact); I am deeply dismayed. This is something out of a movie like Taken with Liam Neeson. It is not possible (I think) here. At least I think it's not possible here. But is it? How is it possible there? Any where? They said "for a few hours," but that was on May 8. This is the information around which the poem revolves. What happened to him? What happened to him? We can almost hear the parents asking the question over and over. And it's been so long. Where is the hope?—I want to know!
The line of the next stanza begins with "But," and suddenly the action and the direction of the poem has been altered. A compañero, a friend or neighbor, has just been released from "the red house"— the son has been missing now five months—but while there, the friend heard his voice! He heard their son's voice!...and his screams...And here is hope? I'm sorry, but that's not possible. Is this a nightmare?
Well, yes, it is—and everything depends upon perspective. For all they knew before, their son was dead. Now they know that at least he is alive. For now. And for this, they have hope. HOPE?!...he's still alive...
The reader is brought back to earth with a crash. The speaker ask our question—it could be my voice: what kind of a world is this? Where could this happen? How is it possible that parents could find joy in this moment? The word "joy" stands on a line, alone—critically important!
What I'm aksing is
how can it be
that a father's
that they are still
The answer: he is still alive. And they can only hope he will be alive still next year, when after eight months they are still torturing him. God in heaven...because at least they will have hope...because he will still be...alive.