Tag Archives: political poems

Song Of My True Self

Just as I was
the stupid child, wearing
slippers out into the snow;

just as I was
the lying child, hiding
report cards and failure notices;

just as I was
the teenage fake sensitive, wanting
only to jump someone’s bones;

just as I was
the heedless young drunk, waving
a knife at the local bar;

just as I was
the swollen ego, chasing
grandeur with a pen on a stage;

just as I was
the frightened adult, scrambling,
mystified by the future.

Just as I am
now — what I am now,
with so little grip

on possibility, so much
weight dragging behind;
I lean, I loafe, I invite old words

to explain just
who I was, who I am.
They are never enough.

Just as I am now
is how I have always been — cold feet,
lies, weapons, drunkenness,

inexplicable pools
of lust, ego overriding fear;
a citizen of this place and time,

as I always
have been; like my country
I am stopped 
somewhere, waiting.


Dear America

Dear America,

I can’t with you today
and I’m lucky I don’t have to.

You smell, for one thing. Like
sweat, fear, death mixed in.

It’s unpleasant. 
I shouldn’t have to

smell that just to call myself
a citizen. You cheat

at duck-duck-goose
and granted it’s usually in 

my favor but it’s still not easy for me
to see how you strike the geese

almost at random, almost. And
you’re so damn loud — louder

than electric blues these days,
louder than rock and roll — I knew

how to deal with loud
back in the day but this

new racket, I can’t hear
myself in there at all. It leaves me

a little bit upset.
I’m sorrowing a bit

over the way the night’s fallen
on you, on me. 

Dear America,

I can’t with you today
and lucky for me I can 

work from home and leave
the news off. I think it’s

terrible, how they show
these things and give people

ideas. I think
and I think, I really do, but

sometimes I’m in my feelings
and then I get lonely and reminisce

about how we used to be
together when you never

looked over my shoulder
to notice anyone else. How I long

for a return to your exclusive embrace,
America. How I yearn for

the sweet old smell of myself
on your collar,

the once-clean stripes
on our flag.


Ghazal For The Definitions

there are words that make a difference to people — say “violence,”
watch faces change as people open their thinking to “violence.”

some folks will see there a burning body and say, this is violence.
some folks will see there a court of justice and say, this is violence.

a brick falling from a facade into the street? some say, violence.
a brick falling from a facade into the street? some say, no violence.

there’s a blue knee on a black neck over there. that is violence.
blue knee on a black neck right here, though? law and order, not violence.

history red in a flag, holy red on sacred ground, memorial red in a poppy: our violence.
vile red in a word, terror red on a street corner, spilled red on a tossed-off shirt: their violence.

ceremonial planes built for war overhead in formation? call it a tribute, not violence.
war planes over a neighborhood? think first of profit, not violence.

did you imagine when this began that it would end in something other than violence?
you see in our beginning how it led us here to this smoke, these hands, this violence.


The War

This war being what it is,
a long time will likely pass —
too long, sadly —

before one side will realize 
they are facing those
who will kill and are ready
to do so;

under the misconception
that love is enough,
that what this war demands
is a tsunami of love 
to overwhelm hatred;

even as the ridge
above them fills
with snipers and artillery,
no one among them has the power
to raise that wave
and wash the hills clean

so they vote, they talk, they cry,
they laugh at the war; they mock,
they gossip, they pray — and down they fall.

On the other side of the ridge,
ignored by the killers,
some people are building
a new world within a fortress,

and of course
they have gun slots in the walls,

high above the gardens,
the nurseries, and the homes
they’ve prepared for peace
without assuming it as a given.


I’m Not Machiavelli

I knew a man who used to say,
“I’m not Machiavelli but…
there are days when the old guy
makes a lot of sense.”

I didn’t want to listen to him.
Maybe I should have paid him more mind
when he said things about ends
and means and how to play the game.

He’d say, “You don’t fight Evil from a distance.
You have to take it where it lives.
You have to go where Evil goes
to take it to the ground.

“Your face may set a little harder.
Your hands will not stay clean.
You will get dirty and it will show — 
but dirty is cleaner than filthy.”

I should have listened harder.
I should have paid attention.
It would have made it easier
to look at my hands today.

Tomorrow, another run
to where the Evil lives.
Every day I care less
about the stain and stench.

You can’t do this from a distance.
Can’t do it with words alone.
Can’t do it without feeling
grime beneath the nails.

But someone has to do it
even if, after it’s done,
the ones you did it for 
wring their hands about it.

Your face will set a little harder.
You won’t say much until you see
the one who needs to hear you say,
“I’m not Machiavelli, but…”


A History Of Masks

In many cultures throughout the world, a judge wore a mask to protect him from future recriminations. In this instance, the mask represents a traditionally sanctioned spirit from the past who assumes responsibility for the decision levied on the culprit.

— from an article in the Encyclopedia Britannica
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Sunglasses may be worn
by a poker player or peace officer 
to conceal their glances, their tells,
eyes grown wide in pleasure or surprise.

Judges may hide their faces
from the people they judge.
Fear of recrimination, they say, or maybe
it’s performative impartiality;

there’s a reason
Justice is shown blindfolded,
though we assume these days
that Justice has always cheated

and peeked at who is to be judged
before going to verdict; likewise,
riot cop helmets are there
for saving face as much as for 

any other reason. There are reasons
executioners wore hoods.
There are reasons the condemned
wear them too.

Plague doctors strolled,
flower beaked and fantastic,
through the streets of 
cadaver cities into 

popular misunderstanding —
they weren’t medieval,
they weren’t trying to scare
diseases away; they were trying

to save themselves. But 
they look good to us now
as we mask up and creep
our own half-empty streets,

thinking they could
lend some elegance
to the fear
we are wading through,

seeking some spirit from the past
to inform us about the spirit 
threatening us: not only the sickness
but the now-unmasked dangerous men;

the judges,
their rogues,
their hired and self-appointed
killers.


Greed (The Blood Window)

To look through a window and see
pedestrians as coin
and imagine them

going about their business
unaware
or carefree, 

draining from your pocket
instead of filling it
it is to forget who you are.

To look out 
your blood window
onto a flesh world

and see only metal people
is to think flesh and
skin are blast-hardened.

Is to be blind to
the way all flesh
tears itself open

under enough pressure,
is to be oblivious to
how a bullet splashes it.

How a machete 
pries it apart.
How a bomb spreads it

across a room. Looking out
your window of blood
and imagining that’s

moneyworld out there,
you have forgotten
you aren’t made of steel, either.


Incantation For Silence

silence to you,
voice of the end.

silence, I command you to 
silence, to your ears
opening wider than your maw
of a yapping face. 

silence I tell you,
silence from your
cottonmouth brain,
your self-important
hemlock breath,
your falsely righteous
gas chamber
world view.

free speech,
you scream, give me my free
spew. as if you’ve ever
paid for any of what you’ve said.
as if there’s ever been 
much if any cost to you
for being this loud.

I hear what clatters 
out of your body
and I cannot call you
by your given name
and feel clean. 
you don’t sound 
like a real person. you sound
possessed, or gone
from your shell, supplanted by 

this stench. this is not sound
you are speaking. this is
odor. this screams in all my parts
that hold history. memory

of hangings, massacres.
of camps and reservations.
of the rule of thumb and 
the machinery of rape. the land
drained. the people drained.

if I were to give you a name 
it would be cristoforo colombo.
it would be bull connor.
it would be aristotle.

if i had magick I’d say:

silence, then.
silence, you voice of 
end all, be all, screaming for 
obedience to the dead and gone.
I bind you to silence.
I cast you into it.
silence, I say.
you are now made historical,
caught in the pages of a book
which can be closed upon you.

we will always know you’re there.
we just can’t know you now.


Casual Friday

Started out as Friday
but became a Monday
and thus the weekend
became confusing. I baked
a flourless cake and wept
over a Sunday dinner 
that felt more like Tuesday’s
leftovers, like the whole
leftover menu from the whole
week. Why do we bother naming
the days anyway — it reminds us
we once had schedules and places
to go on specific days.
I used to put on someone else’s
Sunday best, someone else’s
casual Friday wardrobe. Who
that person was I am not sure
I ever knew. Even the language
is missing its marks, drifting
from its targets, not achieving
its objectives. We used to talk 
of safety and job security and 
professionals and expertise
and those things meant something.
Maybe they will again, on some
future Monday that finally feels like
a Monday, a day on which
to resume our sacred hatred
of routines and dress codes
and learn to walk in lockstep
once again. I cannot wait
to see who it was
who used to wear these clothes.


Delicious

How delicious it would be
to have a world that did not require
all this thinking — where instinct
and emotion were enough to carry civilizations
from birth to death — where guns
and brawn were acceptable in the face of
disease — where fear of the unknown
was codified into quick and dirty law —
where the individual could stand supreme
as long as they did not stand out too much
within the ranks — there would only be
a handful of Gods to choose from (if that)
to simplify the view — there could be
cultural differences if they were colorful
and easily adapted to commerce or control — 
where those who dared to philosophize
or speculate could be swiftly neutralized
or vaporized — where appropriate addictions
could be nationalized — where the bees 
flew in diminished numbers away from us
when we went outdoors — where the oil content
of every river basin was measurable
and extractable — where the sharks 
stayed in the movies — where the scent of sex
was routinely worn behind the ears — 
where flowers bloomed in the right beds
and only the right beds — where it all went away
at night — where night went away in the daylight —
where daylight was a property — where we all
understood the Rules and nobody balked at them
except to volunteer as a cautionary tale —
where the flags flapped regardless of wind —
where the wind blew regardless of flags —
where thought was good only for counting coin — 
where coins looked their best on closed eyes —
where all our eyes could be closed at any time.


The Grand Mask

Some say we must mask ourselves
to save ourselves and others

Others say we must unmask
to save America

and as for the world
beyond America

it can kiss 
our collective unmasked ass

Then again 
the face we know of 

America itself has
always been a mask

covering hypocrisy
with good intentions

Contradiction
is how it stays on

Putting a mask on a mask
like putting a hat on a hat

is as American as
viral pie

Ask anyone 
Ask Batman or

his predecessor in that
all-American myth of

the wealthy fighting oppression
Zorro

Ask the bleached out
Lone Ranger

They’ll sing you
the Star-Spangled Banner

through the blood
clotting in their mouths

and so many people 
masked or unmasked

will likely stand up
and sing along

as the Blue Angels
fly over trailing 

the ties for the grand mask
behind them


One More White Riot

All I have to do is look at pictures of them
standing with wide mouths and flags and guns
while cameras take it all in

and I can smell them as clearly as if
I’d found them playing greasy cards in a sod house
on the old prairie; a little body stench, a little dirt;

on their clothing the stink of blood — maybe
pig, maybe chicken, maybe human; over all a fetid reek
of flesh burning upwind of here in a village overrun

with pioneer spirit. All I have to do is see their faces
and there is at once no need to learn their names:
all of them no doubt answer to some variant 

of Custer, Columbus, Jefferson Davis,
or Nathan Bedford Forrest; and damn glad of it, too,
even if they can’t tell you much

of who those people were. I can
smell them from here through the screen,

through all my multi-purpose masks,

through the swelling odor of my own anger
and fear. They smell like the land I live on
without living in it, like an age old paleface shivaree.

It’s time to hide my face, I think,
to shield my breathing from them, yes;
but also to give myself a certain license 

to move toward them
if they dare to claim
their right to deal us out.


Our Guy

Forged a storm 
out of an old scrap heap;
rode it to ruin.

Gave a nod
to where we’d been,
then left it scorched.

Didn’t stop.  Didn’t pause.
Did not give the smallest shit
for any of it.

Sat alone at night in a bare room.
Reeled gangster movies out,
regurgitated them worse,

called them scriptural;
in fact, worshipped them
then deified himself in their light.

If there was a moment
when he reckoned himself wrong,
had a doubt, a fear of failure,

he turned in in upon itself
and consumed it like a meal
before it could fester.

Grew fat with
contradiction. One day,
blew up.

Splattered
everywhere
with all there was inside him

now smearing us.
So ugly, so fetid.
So familiar — so like

what we’d always
perfumed away, painted
over, pretended was

an offer
we had
always refused.


Pop Quiz

A day comes
when an army of wisps,
ghosts in foul clothing,
rises from graves
marked and unmarked,
floats to the White House.

Suspended there, impervious
to attempts to dispel it,

the army chants as one voice:

you killed us.

The President
behind the curtain,
trembling,
tries to deafen himself.

Close your eyes
and tell me:

who is in the army?
Who is the President?


The Animal Song

This is an animal that needs to be trapped
with its fireplace pelt and its bulging frame
with its mimic cries and its fat thick name
This animal needs to be trapped and tamed

This is an animal needing a cage
with its long reach and hoarseness and rape and disease
with its cavalier blubbering face full of lies
This animal needs to be taken and held

This is an animal that must come from here
with our painted-over history and veneer on our God
with our love for the surface and our hate for the horses
we used to get here then shot and consumed

This is an animal on a stage we provided
This is an animal foaming with contagion
This is an animal that needs to be caged
This is an animal we bred for our needs