The McCarthy Hearings

May 31, 2019

Today’s poem is “The McCarthy Hearings” by Ira Sadoff. He’s published six collections of poetry, most recently True Faith (BOA editions) and is currently working on a new book called Country Living. He’s also published a novel, and a critical book on poetry and culture called History Matters. He taught at Colby College for 39 years.

He writes, “My first memories of TV come from the McCarthy hearings and my family sitting around, frightened about the fascist scare accusations of Senator McCarthy and his gang. In the poem, and probably in life, the very young boy doesn't understand what's going on except he puts together the personal abuse with the political. I can see why the poem speaks to us today with a President who promotes fear and exile of every kind of otherness, from race to gender. Could we really be returning to becoming a hate-filled country again?”

The McCarthy Hearings 
by Ira Sadoff

Everything’s under suspicion:
the gray clouds, the rust-colored trees.
Muffled sounds from the television,
and parents glued to every word, as though
its talk were personal, were meant for them.
No one has a right to speak.  When the child
comes home, shivering from the rain, 
chin straps and galoshes, he is left alone, sent
to his room. This man who dictates 
everything, who fears all those unlike himself, 
won’t let him out.  The man who yells at mother,
whose body sinks into the couch, rises up
in anger when the boy speaks.  This enclosure
of the past, this atmosphere, this anger
he cannot express.  But the rain 
that penetrates the body leaves a chill,
and years later there’s still a shudder
that shapes the trees in winter, and the boy
locked in a room, the sheen of memory
mastered by the past, skilled in speechlessness.  

Poem copyright © 1978 Ira Sadoff. Reprinted from Poetry Magazine, August 1978, by permission of Ira Sadoff.