Tag Archives: political poems

How To Throw A Brick

First of all of course
you must choose the brick.
It can be any shape or size:

being yourself 
in an unexpected place,
one where you’ve been
forbidden, is often brick enough
to break some wall or window;

it may require
a bit more — the purchase
of a wedding cake,
a clothing choice no one foresaw,
stubborn insistence on a name or pronoun —
to crack a thicker wall or head
grown old and bitter
from long authority.

Next, the throw.
It should be overhand —
let it take flight, let it soar
over the ruins between you
and the target. Those
who fell before this time
will look up in the dark
and see a brighter sky and think
of a bird that can fly and land
wherever it wants;
they will rest easier.

You will not be alone in the fight.
Bricks that arc together land harder;
there are so many walls and windows to smash 
before they fully open the gates.

As for yourself in the aftermath?

You may retreat to save yourself
from what they do in response
but the ground where you stood remains yours;
though some may see it as a paradox,
you are also the brick you tossed,
a piece of something new yet to be built.


The Semi-Conscious

To be left uneaten
by the cannibals:
that is the fondest wish
of the semi-conscious.

To see the feeding
and the preceding slaughter
and merely cower:
that is the privilege accorded to them.

To crawl away and hide
and be able to stand up
and pick their way
through the bone-field,

then go safely home
after the feast is done,
to be left untouched and whole,
is their purest joy.

Their dreams mostly
untroubled by the sound
of chewing. Their lives
lived as fatly or thinly

as they choose. Their children
guaranteed to thrive
unbitten or even to grow into
the next class of flesh-eaters:

what else could they desire?
It’s not their fault others 
were designated as fast food.
That so many were roasted

and consumed by the cannibals.
All those people had to do was lay low
and blend in. It would have been
easy to survive, 

camouflaged, half-awake,
just aware enough to know
what it took to survive.
They must have
deserved to be prey.

As for the current sound of cannibals 
gnashing their teeth and thrashing the bush f
or the next meal? 
That sound is meant, they trust,
for someone else to fear.

 


A Bowl Of Bruised Fruit

You have a bowl 
of bruised fruit.
A cloud of tiny flies.
A smell.

Some of it looks
salvageable. Some of it
is clearly spoiled. How much
of the rest is imminently beyond help

is yet unknown and the thought
of sorting it, taking each piece
and finding it soft
and rotten, finding its stain

upon your high and mighty hand?
You aren’t ready. You step away,
the brandied rot of the bowl
hanging in your nostrils.

It’s going to get worse
before it gets better, you know,
but if you ignore it
maybe someone else

will do the necessary dirty work
that lies ahead and you can pretend,
at least to yourself,
that you never knew. 


Three Chords And

Massively revised from 2008, 2015.  Original title, “It’s The ‘Spangled’ That We Love About That Song.”

once you were a chucked salt berry
a fogerty full of sloppy chords
a skip to my lou reed

then you got all slippery
with your own clean sauce

tossed out your faded paper bag

of dark wanderings
bought your commercial anthem
from the fluorescent aisle

come back to your game desire
come slaphappy sharp
to the war against plastic

you used to have
a mouth full of splinters

honored dingbat and idiot

and all those
who broke the social charm
with a fart

you were gas monster
huffer of free roaches
smoker of the right goddamn herbs

who feared not death
when it came through charred fences
borne on tornado cellar blown open

you were the scent
of acorn porridge

delta mysterious

that devil in the crossroads
still valued
your willing ass

you used to not be such a freak for safety
you used to not be
such a doom escape

children
hate you more
now that you’re safer

not a scrap
of care left
for your tradition

we love some of you still
even with your
crystal fraud hippie faking

and your
wall street loving
gutterpunk

bite me
or better yet 
infect yourself

be the sick fuck we loved to love
no matter how bad
you made us feel


Looking At My Cereal Bowl, I See Only That (I Swear)

That hairline crack in my favorite bowl
is going to split open one day, either from
an accidental contact in the sink
or the excitation of the microwave.

This is all I am thinking about
right now: a mess yet to come;
the shards in the soapy water
or the oatmeal splattered on the steel walls.

This is all I am thinking about 
right now: dread for the clean up;
the blood in the water when I seize
an edge or a point without seeing it.

This is the only thing I am thinking about:
how much I’ll miss that bowl even though its end
is obviously near; how much nourishment
it has held for me; how short is its remaining time.


Late Night Phone Call

I make a late night call
to one of the last self-confessed
Americans and ask them
if we can talk about
what that identity means when
we are being asphyxiated
with increasingly little regard
for what anyone thinks about it.

“Who is this?” they ask me.
I cannot speak.
They wait for a beat, maybe two,

before hanging up.
I sit there for a long time

unable to answer, quaking
in the chair until I drift into horror sleep,
waking up hours after that
to the phone. It’s them.

What do I say to them? After
they are done speaking,
do I dare ask, as they did, 
“Who is this?”

What do I do if they also
cannot answer?


Televised Hearings

Simple stoneware cup.
Forty-five degree angle shadow.
Cats dreaming of the outdoors.

In a city south of here
they are telling tales of betrayal
and treason. Criminal stories

broadcast to the world.
Less than half
the listening world

believes the thieves
are thieves and nothing
in the story convinces them

so they will continue 
to burn the world into
white ash and bone.

In this house, cats still
fantasizing escape. The empty cup
casts a longer shadow; reminder

that whatever is out there, 
my loved ones, is still just
as unsafe 
as what’s in here.


Whiteout Storm

You learn this early:
at night when you are
driving in a whiteout storm,
you keep your headlights 
low, focused on what’s
directly before you,
the next three yards of road.

If you turn them up,
put on the high beams,
the whiteness becomes
a blinding tunnel and 
whatever lurks ahead becomes
obscure and potentially
hazardous, if not Death itself.

You learn early that
staying safe in the whiteness
is best served by finding
a solid warm home where
you can sleep safely, have as many
or as few lights on as you want:
all you desire or need in full view.

When you wake and have to leave the house
(you will have to wake and leave the house)
you do it in full daylight. Do it
when you can see all the whiteness
for what it is. Everywhere,
the shroud and cold smother.
Hazards clear. Death, obviously there

but in plain view,
easier to fend off
and avoid for now,
if not forever; as time passes,
a promise rising in the air
that somehow,
all of this will be temporary.


The Holy In-Between

Where will we find
the playing field
where we can triumph?

Where is there
any scoreboard
that shows us ahead?

Where is any pen in hand
scratching a “W”
next to our name?

We are exhausted
and every piece of equipment
we have is secondhand or broken.

We are injured
and our bandages are laden
with toxins and old blood.

We are demoralized
and disorganized, sundowning
and angry and embarrassed.

But I am tired
and demoralized and injured
by refusing to speak in specifics.

I am sidelined
while watching people die
on our streets, in our cages.

I am wounded
and from the edge of the fire
I can feel the heat rising.

If I still had a memory
I might recall a time
when we were winning

but now I only have
the moment, and in the moment
a Hail Mary pass is sinking

from its apogee toward a spot
where no one is waiting
to catch it and run it in to score.

I hate sports metaphors,
to be honest, the two sides
they paint into our lives;

the night and day narrative
that refuses to see the reality of dawn 
and dusk, or the distant existence

of midnight sun in other places
not within their purview; yet I cannot help
but think of winning and losing today,

imagining someone on another team
jackal-grinning as they prepare
to declare the game over, to proclaim

their victory. And then what?
Do they turn from the field
and leave us here to die?

I cannot say what they are thinking
but what I think is this:
where is the playing field

they have long ignored?
Where is the old wisdom
of a game they cannot play?

Where are those
they have never dreamed
of confronting?

We are something else,
something they’ve forgotten,
people they do not know.

They do not know us, the people 
of the dusk, the dawn,
the littoral, the interstitial 

spaces, the neither,
the either, the holy
and resilient in-between;

and what
they cannot fully know,
they cannot ever utterly defeat.


The Rug, The Door, The Ceiling

they pulled the rug from under her feet
just as she stood triumphant preparing to knock on the door
that had always been slammed in her face before
she was certain as she could be that this time things would be different 
and it would be opened to her with a flourish and a fanfare
but instead the rug was yanked and as she fell backward
someone was clearly laughing somewhere behind her 
someone she couldn’t see who might have been
the one who placed the rug before the door in the first place
in just the right spot to facilitate the jerk
and it might have been the same laugh she had heard before
from the other side of the door that nearly crushed her hand
every time it was slammed on her before she could even speak
and as she lay there on the hardwood staring up 
as a ceiling made improbably of opaque glass
(or one-way mirror and who knew who was watching and laughing up there as well)
it hit her at last in a different and better way that after all
whoever was behind all these obvious injuries and cliche assaults
built this place in the first place
built it full of booby traps
built it without her
built it to keep her out

and whoever was behind the door
or above the ceiling
whoever it was
who pulled that rug out from under her

was no one without this structure to protect them
and it was only natural
and long past time
for her to build something else


Gandhi And King, King And Gandhi

From 2017. Revised.

“Though violence is not lawful, when it is offered in self-defence or for the defence of the defenceless, it is an act of bravery far better than cowardly submission. The latter befits neither man nor woman. Under violence, there are many stages and varieties of bravery. Every man must judge this for himself. No other person can or has the right.” — Mahatma Gandhi

“The principle of self defense, even involving weapons and bloodshed, has never been condemned, even by Gandhi.” — Martin Luther King, Jr.

Gandhi and King, you say,
King and Gandhi
Though you never quote them completely
or well

Please stop selling me
hippie shit
about how love is all
I need

and trying to convince me
to unclench my fist
in favor of kissing
the face

of someone who has said
they want to kill me
for my parentage
and my wish to be

left alone to live a life
unlike the one they think I should have
under their god and their sexytime rules
and all their ancient proverbs

So miss me with your
quick spouted peace talk 
If you don’t want to swing on one of them
stay out the way

Some folks have lived generations
ducking their fists
It’s time at last
to swing back

Gandhi and King, you say,
King and Gandhi
You never quote them completely
or well


Ism Schism Game

Originally posted 2015.
With acknowledgments and respect to Bob Marley, whose words inspired this piece.

Dictionaries
tell you with authority
how words are used

to do work
on behalf
of Authority

If they mention 
when primary meaning is 
in dispute

or when primary meaning
is a cornerstone
of a prison or when

that cornerstone
rests firmly on negated
backs and necks

If they do tell you a meaning
came from a definition 
written repeatedly in blood

with pens
made from bones
plucked from slain infants

they wink it off with
a bandage label such as
“colloquial” or “obsolete” —

trying to chase 
unquiet ghosts of struggle into 
forgotten fields of rubble

left over from 
construction of 
their order

The dictionaries
have no words
to sing of those who

having come up from under boulders
having come free of rejections and crush
having come from understanding

to see this ism schism game
for the death match it is
and then sing new words to win it

Words of how stones refused
by builders become soon enough
cornerstones and

keystones of
aqueducts to carry fresh water
to those who still thirst

and they do so
by any definition
necessary


Troll

Hoots and jeers,
big noise from a cheap seat.

His name is Ken or Chad
or something just as obvious.

He likes the old ways,
his team’s stank mascot,

his Blue Lives Matter 
refrigerator magnet,

his right to bear
grudges. There’s 

a blanket-size flag
mounted in the bed of his Dodge

for him to suck on, thumb
in his mouth any time

he isn’t yapping about
patriotism or his other

idols. Always quick
with an LOL or J/K.

Maybe he’s a rich man or maybe he’s
a poor man but either way he’s certainly

as pale as his liquor
and just as light and stingy.

Lets you know he’s been through
his own tough times and 

whining doesn’t cut it with him
though talk of bootstraps

and increasing gunfire
sound like a whine from here.

How does he miss
the glitter of rich eyes behind him

and the manipulating hand 
up his ass?

Does he even know
he’s fodder for what’s coming?

When the puppeteer
pulls away, he still won’t

understand. Will stand by,
staring at the Flood,

uncertain if it’s fake
but sure that if it isn’t

there will be a place saved for him
on the last island.


A Door That Leads To A Fight

Before us, a door
that leads to a fight.

We’ve been afraid
to open it for too long.

Hand on the knob, 
hesitating, stepping back

to wipe our hands so dry
no sweat remains, no blood,

no tears. We deny
what we’ve lost by not 

opening that door
to engage what’s there.

We can hear it. We can smell
smoke and iron flavor. 

Ghosts of past massacres
slip underneath to shake us.

Hints of firelight
and snickering flame

offer us a sense  
of the horrid delight

the enemy is feeling.
It’s a thick door but

not thick enough
to hold that all back — 

and yet, and yet there’s
our own hand on the knob

and the start of the turn
and the growing readiness

to become 
smoke eaters and 

water for the blaze
even if we fail;

though we shake and cower
and hesitate,

to fail from cowardice
means so little now

when what’s behind the door
is coming through

no matter who
opens it first.


What’s Missing

Was it in the last place you looked,
that tall shelf

of obscure mementoes
laden with dust; or was it

in a flag’s ripple, obvious
but ephemeral; 

does it live in the wind
or in the fabric? It’s not there,

though. What is it, even? It feels like
what’s missing can’t be defined.

It should be a simple act 
to first identify what is missing,

explain where to find it,
then go and get it.

But something’s missing.
The news has been emptied;

each day seems paler,
no longer suffused with it.

It’s not joy. While that’s grown scant,
it still appears from moment to moment.

It’s not contentment;
some have plenty of that. They

hide behind it, show it off,
their coat of complacent arms.

If it has a name it might be
hope, or even the promise of hope,

but to call it that and declare it absent
is so cold; seems 

counterintuitive in such heat.
To say that hope’s gone missing

seems so nearsighted; can’t see it
right in front of you and the horizon

has grown shady
with smoke from guns and pyres.

Maybe it’s buried under rubble,
in pipeline trenches or mass graves,

and that’s why it seems elusive.
Maybe planting a telescope

in a sacred place
and using it to seek hope

while trampling
the site of a desecration

keeps us more ignorant
than wise, and that’s why hope

stands apart from us, hiding its face,
shaking its head. 

But what if what’s missing 
isn’t hope at all? Perhaps

what is disturbing the flag
is another thing

entirely. Perhaps what we can’t find
on the shelf where we keep our treasures

is integrity or righteous anger or
the will to move against

the evils of this time. We lend
no color to the world. We offer

no tangible proof of being 
a vital part to all of this.

We are in the last place
now. We are sitting on a high shelf

that’s ready to collapse
and the flag can’t save us.

We thought it could,
thought we could take it

for a blanket
and not a shroud,

though it has always 
been both.

Maybe that illusion
is what’s missing.