A Man Told Me Once

Carl Sandburg (1878 – 1967)

Bad People

by Robert Bly (1926 –

A man told me once that all the bad people
Were needed. Maybe not all, but your fingernails
You need; they are really claws, and we know
Claws. The sharks—what about them?
They make other fish swim faster. The hard-faced men
In black coats who chase you for hours
In dreams—that’s the only way to get you
To the shore. Sometimes those hard women
Who abandon you get you to say, “You.”
A lazy part of us is like a tumbleweed.
It doesn’t move on its own. Sometimes it takes
A lot of Depression to get tumbleweeds moving.
Then they blow across three or four States.
This man told me that things work together.
Bad handwriting sometimes leads to new ideas;
And a careless god—who refuses to let people
Eat from the Tree of Knowledge—can lead
To books, and eventually to us. We write
Poems with lies in them, but they help a little.



Given the divide that has developed politically and culturally in this country, I have started to think differently. I have considered that maybe I need to focus less on believing that the chasm can be closed and more on recognizing the counterbalance opposing views provide, the positive that comes from different viewpoints in hopefully preventing either side from tipping over backwards. People are not magnets, opposites do not attract. We tend to be attracted to those with similar experiences and ideas, yet if there is not mutual respect and acceptance for our inherent human diversity we can not succeed as a multi-cultural society.

I wonder, do each of us have a ready list of bad people in our minds? Can we equally construct a list of good people just as easily? What about all the people in the middle, the majority we lump into neither bad or good? And if I was on one of your lists, what would it take for me to go from one list to the other or fall out of sight into the pleasantly benign as neither?

I pose those questions because it feels like our political machines and attack ads are constantly putting candidates into one list or the other, depending on who is paying for the ad. The sheer volume of the ads is overwhelming. Is it time to stop seeing the other side of the political spectrum as bad and ours as good and start seeing them as our neighbors who prevent us from getting too carried away with ourselves and tipping over? Gerrymandering voting districts to artificially create majorities on either side do not provide the agile change that we need in these turbulent times. Democracy wasn’t supposed to go to the cleverest most manipulative side, the side that prevails in courts based on obtuse interpretations of legal points, it was supposed to be an opportunity for majority rule and for that majority to change quickly as needed to respond to issues most relevant to the electorate at the moment.

I fear we have gotten hoodwinked by expert marketing. scientific polling meant to influence outcomes, political strategists, political scientists and pundits with their own hidden agendas focused more on money and less on what is the best possible outcome for our communities and for our future. And in the end, as I turn off the TV unable to withstand another political ad, I welcome the opportunity to spend a little time in Carl Sandburg’s world of poetry, where beautiful unanswerable questions await.


Under the Harvest Moon

by Carl Sandburg

Under the harvest moon,
When the soft silver
Drips shimmering
Over the garden nights,
Death, the gray mocker,
Comes and whispers to you
As a beautiful friend
Who remembers.

Under the summer roses
When the flagrant crimson
Lurks in the dusk
Of the wild red leaves,
Love, with little hands,
Comes and touches you
With a thousand memories,
And asks you
Beautiful, unanswerable questions.