in a time of intemperate speech
Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding. Proverbs 17:27
The speakers meet, shake hands, ready to debate
The issues of the day before tense groups
Of partisans the moderator calms
With calls for quiet, respect, and courtesy.
Each takes his place—one stage left, one stage right—
Clutching a podium, his shoulders hunched,
Eyes glaring hard at hard eyes glaring back,
Fingers tapping mikes, turning the volume up.
In the center the moderator sits,
His table’s placement proper for his job
Of keeping time and order, making sure
That fairness and civility prevail.
But soon cool argument becomes heated dispute
Between the speakers and their rowdy crowds
Across an orchestra no music fills
Except for a jarring point and counterpoint.
The moderator does his best to find
By tempered questioning a middle way,
Some tentative and balanced compromise
With gracious conversation setting the tone
For reasoned discourse, open-mindedness . . .
But pride and pride’s fixed will are rooted deep
And listening is disrupted by a rage
That shouts down dialectic, dialogue.
And so the moderator loses control,
The audience chanting sloganized clichés,
The speakers both abandoning the grounds
Of claim and warrant, evidence and proof,
Their uncontestable hypotheses
In violent speech inciting violent acts—
Intimidation’s spittle, shoving, fists—
Their language but a bludgeon made of air.
And when at last police clear out the place
Dimming the lights, one lingers there to see
A pit and stage that have, for music’s words,
Silence and emptiness, in euphony.