Politics, Punctuated (2004)

The conservative! The exclamation point — there!
At the end of the accusation!
At the end of the war cry! Of the triumphant shout!
At the end of the final, fatal, dismissing expletive!

The liberal?  Well, that’s, you know, the question mark?
The sign of curiosity, of uncertainty?
Of the need to know more, to reexamine certitudes?
You know, the admission both of human limitation
and of human possibility?
Wouldn’t you say so?  What do you think?

The conservative.
The full stop.
That’s it.
End of story.

The liberal, on the other hand, is,
or perhaps could be,
the comma,
suggests that,
there may be more to come,
that the end is not yet in sight,
that something else could be,
or should be,
or must be included
before completeness is finally achieved.

The conservative is the slash
harsh and definitive
dividing alternatives:

The liberal – the hyphen –
connecting things together –
immigrant-American, self-other, low-fat.

The conservative is the colon
at the end of the phrase
“Here are your orders:”

The liberal is the semicolon;
it delineates a list of options;
it joins independent ideas.

(Or perhaps it’s the parentheses
enclosing all the other things you wanted to say
…or perhaps the ellipsis
after the words “Let me think about that…”)


The point being
some people only want
one form of speaking or the other
but how can we hold an intelligent conversation
form a coherent thought
make a valid statement
or even write a poem

if half our available grammar

has been





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