I will spend the New Year at home with my family. No exciting parties- the kids are watching Shrek 2 on TV and eating popcorn. I was thinking of writing about Jim Carroll (the poet, diarist, rock singer) last night, but realized it would take multiple posts and an amount of work I’m unwilling to commit at the moment to do the man justice. I had the pleasure of seeing him give a reading at a local college in the mid-’90s. He was excellent. Among his own work, Jim read a poem by Nicholas Christopher, which sent chills and silence through the room. The poem is called “Terminus.” I posted it below. I think besides Jim’s own “Eight Fragments for Kurt Cobain,” this was the best reading that night. The poem is about the things humans do and have done since the beginning of time. I post it now, at the end of the year, in an attempt to make us think about this long history we have of doing horrible things to one another. Let’s try to change individually.


By Nicholas Christopher


Here is a piece of required reading
at the end of our century
the end of a millennium that began with the crusades

The transcript of an interview
between a Red Cross doctor
and a Muslim girl in Bosnia
twelve years old
who described her rape by men
calling themselves soldiers
different men every night one after the other
six seven eight of them
for a week
while she was chained by the neck
to a bed in her former schoolhouse
where she saw her parents and her brothers
have their throats slit and tongues cut out
where her sister-in-law
nineteen years old and nursing her baby
was also raped night after night
until she dared to beg for water
because her milk had run dry
at which point one of the men
tore the child from her arms
and as if he were “cutting an ear of corn”
(the girl’s words)
lopped off the child’s head
with a hunting knife
tossed it into the mother’s lap
and raped the girl again
slapping her face
smearing it with her nephew’s blood
and then shot the mother
who had begun to shriek
with the head wide-eyed in her lap
shoving his gun into her mouth
and firing twice

All of this recounted to the doctor
in a monotone
a near whisper in a tent
beside an icy river
where the girl had turned up frostbitten
wearing only a soiled slip
her hair yanked out
her teeth broken

All the history you’ve ever read
tells you this is what men do
this is only a sliver of the reflection
of the beast
who is a fixture of human history
and the places you heard of as a boy
that were his latest stalking grounds
Auschwitz Dachau Treblinka
and the names of their dead
and their numberless dead whose names have vanished
each day now find their rolls swelled
with kindred souls
new names new numbers
from towns and villages
that have been scorched from the map

1993 may as well be 1943
and it should be clear now
that the beast in his many guises
the flags and vestments
in which he wraps himself
and the elaborate titles he assumed
can never be outrun

As that girl with the broken teeth
loaded into an ambulance
strapped down on a stretcher
so she wouldn’t claw her own face
will never outrun him
no matter where she goes
solitary or lost in a crowd
the line she follows
however straight or crooked
will always lead her back to that room
like the chamber at the bottom
of Hell in the Koran
where the Zaqqum tree grows
watered by scalding rains
“bearing fruit like devils’ heads”

In not giving her name
someone has noted at the end
of the transcript that the girl herself
could not or would not recall it
and then describes her as a survivor

Which of course is from the Latin
meaning to live on
to outlive others

I would not have used that word.

from “5 Degrees and Other Poems” (Penguin Books 1995)


~ ~

5 thoughts on “Terminus”

  1. Wow. Though there seems to be no end of these types of horrible stories, I still find myself in awe. I wish a plauge would present itself, one that infects the souless, like “the soldiers”

  2. Mr. Christopher,
    I teach “Terminus” in my Poetry Perspectives class at Jefferson County High School in Dandridge, TN. My kids ALWAYS react very viscerally to this piece. Not only is the piece itself beautiful, “Terminus” opens a gateway to get my teenagers to discuss what’s going on out in the real world while we sit cozily in our classroom. I want to thank you for writing this and for sharing this with the world.
    We just read it on Monday (three days ago) and it was on my quiz yesterday. The comments are amazing–you’ve really touched my students with the snapshot of reality.
    Thank you.
    Jodi Niceley

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