Tag Archives: political poems

An American Poem

This is an American poem;
I should insert
a nature image here.

I should purple
the mountains up,
like a god. Then I’ll chew

the scenery
until there’s nothing left
to suck from it.

This is an American poem;
it contains a rigged dance
of myth and cynicism.

In here we
we step on 
each others’ toes

then apologize nonstop until
the pain becomes so strong
we cannot help but lash out.

In every true American poem
there should be exuberant
ghosts and the sound

of babies, crying, screaming,
playing. Doing all the things
American babies have always done.

If you write it, they say:
Not the babies, please. Leave
the babies out of it, they are precious

and innocent. Bah, humbug,
you say even though it’s 
the Fourth of July. The Fourth

of July is built on dead children,
uses fireworks to justify 
a war everlasting.

In every great American poem
should be an America over half
of its readers do not recognize.

What’s that about ghosts? Don’t you 
recognize yourself in there?
Still cheering, still writing,

but reversed. A good mirror
shows you your other side.
A better one shows you more than one.

This is my American poem and if it’s any good
it’s chafing you like the dish on the table
with the turkey and all those sides

while the country, the nation,
even the purple mountains above it all 
look at all of us wondering

where they went wrong
that this is how it feels now
to write an American poem.


Across The Street

Across the street
Joe has hung
an American flag
with one blue stripe
out the window.

Calls the cops 
on the Black folks next door
at least once a month
for “looking in his windows”
or “parking too close to his driveway.”

It’s a narrow city street
in a low down part of town
and no one’s got room enough
to park their cars without being
on top of each other,

but Joe still blows the snow
from his driveway
against the windows of 
his neighbors all winter long
in an expression of his displeasure.

Loudly calls the folks next door
“the monkeys.” The cops
always come when he calls,
never do a damn thing,
but come out every time.

Joe likes to complain out loud
to everyone about all of this.
“What? I’m not supposed to have
property rights just because
I’m a registered sex offender?”

Joe’s son has a daughter.
I see her now and then
on the porch
sitting on Joe’s lap when they
come to visit.

At least, 
I assume it’s his granddaughter.
There can’t be any other
explanation. There just
can’t be. 

One time, someone
put a brick through
Joe’s windshield. He
called the cops and blamed
the next door neighbor.

The cops came 
and talked to everyone.
Kept them separate,
said they could 
prove nothing, did nothing.

I wish there was
something just and right
to say here,
but all I’ve got is that 
I’d move

but where is it going to be
any different unless
you go so far away you can’t
be found? Until then, I take comfort
knowing that I still have

more bricks in the backyard
should it come down
to that again, and 
the cops have yet to cross the street
whenever they’ve come:

the same cops who told me
that I should have known better
than to live here after the break-in
a few years ago, that things like that
never get solved in this neighborhood;

the same cops who took four hours 
on a Saturday night to come look at
the totaled cars when the stolen car
sideswiped half the street and was left
at the bottom of the hill in pieces;

the same cops who came through
our backyards with assault rifles
and dogs looking for a killer who
(we later learned) walked right by them
in drag down the sidewalk.

I could go on and on and on
but it’s all happening across 
the street right now, and 
I can’t move, so here I sit
on my bricks without a flag to fly.


What You Can Get Away With

What you can get away with
in here is

at least three murders a day
depending on your
choice of food and 
drink and how much
electricity you use and
where you drive and how far
and for what purpose

What you can get away with
in here is 
tossing out a storm cloud
of sharp words for fun
as we used to do
with good old
lawn darts
(c’mon, you never met
a soul damaged by lawn darts
after all
must be one of those 
legends the weak tell
to shut the strong up)
and then laughing 
when they penetrate
someone’s head

What you can get away with 
in here is

cartoons on sports jerseys
and high school recreations of 
important-to-the-infrastructure
massacres by bullet
by oil and steel and a hundred
paper cuts from lethal treaties

What you can get away with 
in here is

blinkered messaging and 
whistling for hunting dogs
for some moonlight or daylight scramble
after prey you don’t even know but
once you corner them you can decide
you know enough
to pour blood out on the soil
(not to spill it
it’s no accident) 

What you can get away with 
in here is

blindly misunderstanding
who lets you get away
with all this and why
it serves them to have you
become what you are

and remain here laughing 
and tossing and shooting and 
buying and selling and 
what’s a little blood anyway


The Back Room

No matter what the front room thinks,
the back room knows this business stinks.

The front room puts its smile up front.
The back room’s smile is kept covert.

The front room just assumes it’s safe.
The back room knows it’s all a cage.

Whenever the front room goes to sleep
the back room fortifies its keep.

No matter what the front room thinks
what’s cooked in the back room always stinks.

 


Armor Song

To be openly ourselves nowadays 
too often feels like resisting an assault:

routinely forced to learn
muscular new love songs, forever

bulking up for the strain
of trying to hold on to each other.

Daylight comes up
on another round of attacks, snipers

watching for us to dare
to be openly together and say,

beloved, here we can sing out loud
to each other, 
here we can be safe.

At night, assassins roll up on our homes
where we thought we could leave

the curtains open at least through dinner
so we could watch the city twinkle

or see fireflies grace the neighborhood
as night took hold. We dare to say

beloved, even in darkness there’s light,
however small, however fleeting;

then, too often, comes the shot
or the knife, the fire on the lawn.

Somehow, bewilderingly so,
so many still hate us here

who smile and pat our backs 
in public, then slink into corners to plan

how we might be removed or 
erased completely from our own lives.

If we ever escape the need to be
this perpetually strong, this might be

a good place to hold on to one another
more loosely and engage the softness

we keep behind armor now; until then
we flex, we watch, we love, we guard. 


Dare

Say “that’s not music”
often enough and someone
will soon enough
sing you wrong.
You don’t have to agree,
but you’ll still be wrong.

Say “that’s unnatural”
often enough
and soon enough
someone will offer you science.
You don’t have to like it,
but you’ll still be wrong.

Say “that’s un-American.”
Go ahead. I dare you. 


The Question In Your Sleep

On your walk home
after dark last night
you were daydreaming
about the future
when you were
confronted:

she stepped out
from behind a pillar
on the outside edge of
a decaying parking garage
and looked into you.

She appeared, this time, 
as a little girl dressed
in distressed clothes
from a fantasy frontier era.
You saw the gingham,
the dirt, the torn hem. 
You thought something
was off but you couldn’t 
put a finger on it
until you saw the pillar 
was a tooth and the garage
was a mouth and you 
had to run from being swallowed
by whatever
had coughed her up.

At home, you sat
and slowly ate
cold canned soup
while catching up
on the news and did
a spit take
when she showed up
in the background of
a story about 
something unrelated
to her — a crisis tale
wedged between
atrocities.

She cradled a puppy
in her arms, a puppy with
huge teeth, a lolling tongue. 
A mouth you recognized at once.

This morning, waking up
from a question that lasted
all through your sleep:
asking yourself
how long has this been going on — 
torn clothes, betrayal,
innocent fantasy masking darkness
and the devouring behind it.
The beloved dog that becomes 
the vulpine Other. The pleading eyes 
fixed upon your own. 


On The Inability To Feel (The Dike)

In order to stop snickering
at the humor lurking
like vermin in 
each of the growing cracks
in the dike of Empire

I have to think of all
the innocents and
roughly crushed folks
already barely surviving
in the flood zone below 

and remember the quote
about comedy and tragedy
in order to force myself
to pull up short
of a belly laugh

while thinking
of the rumble of stones
and rubble that will come
with the cleansing
when that wall explodes at last


Workplace Advice

When they say
“you’re overqualified,”
believe them. Thank them,
then surpass them.
Do better: 
become their bosses,
their competitors,
their rivals; better still, 
render them
irrelevant or forgotten.
Not everything 
is up to them.

When they say, “don’t
come to me with a problem
without having a solution,”
understand that in their heads
the sentence too often ends after 
“ don’t come to me”
and the rest too often translates to
“la la la la la la I can’t hear you.”
Your irritation, your pain, your
confusion or frustration
are enough reason 
to speak up. Not everything
is up to you.

When they say, “if you’re bored
then you’re boring,”
whisper or shout “bullshit”
depending on your level of safety.
Sometimes a meeting is boring.
Sometimes a person is boring.
Sometimes this grind grinds so hard
it’s easy to forget
that what’s out there
is soft and fascinating and 
endless. We wish for an end
to all their prattle
but you are here now and 

if they say to you, “Do what you love
and you’ll never work a day
in your life,” believe them
only long enough to distinguish 
between temporary consent
and permanent compulsion.
Your joy awaits,
and nothing of that
is truly in their hands.


What Did You Do In The War?

I wrote poems,
a lot of poems.
At the time

it seemed to many to be
an indulgence.
But now it seems

I wasn’t writing poems
as much as I was 
making bullets and 

planting seeds: bullets
for the moment, seeds
for the future.

Sometimes one poem would be
both — those were the times
I think I was at my best. 

I do not like war —
I am not one of those
whose blood sings with it.

But there were times,
I admit, when I’d look
at what I’d written

and say, there’s one
that will hurt, there’s one
that will sprout later,

and I would sit back 
and say, there. There
it is.  I mean,

why do you fight a war
except for the chance
to hear poems when it’s over?

(Which is why they killed
some of us,
you know.  It wasn’t

safe — not as dangerous
as some things, but still,
they killed some of us

not because our bullets hurt them
but because our seeds
terrified them.)

When you ask me
what I did in the war,
I tell you this: it wasn’t

as much as some did,
but it was everything 
I could do — an indulgence,

maybe, but I did it with
my hands and it took
all the strength I had

on some days, some nights,
when the firefights came close
and I thought I would or should die

but nonetheless I kept the lamp on
above the paper
 as I tried
to make a better world
 with my pen.


Fire In The Hole

the crater where we live shows
that an explosive heart once was set off here.

no one knows the names of all those
who were there when it blew apart.

the names of all those who became alarmed
at their disappearance are unknown.

that said, we must acknowledge 
that there are oceans of blood in the soil

where we live because
it’s all we have ever experienced.

we can’t see over the walls
to the things that may be out there.

whether it was always meant to be this way
is irrelevant to the limitations we face.

if it ought to be another way,
if another way is still possible, we can’t say.

crater walls limit what words we know.
walls keep us from even asking for more.

many of us don’t even know
the crater is a crater.

if we do we think time and erosion
have leveled it to memory alone. 

anyone who has been to the walls knows better.
they come back and point to them,

then lay hands upon the soil at our feet
to bring the blood up oozing

onto our shoes. they try to tell us
but we can’t seem to understand

that everything old is still new.
the ticking we hear is not an echo.

there is
fire in the hole.


Land Acknowledgement

When a civilization collapses,
it does not evaporate and vanish
but instead dissolves more or less slowly,

stains the earth and soil,
tints the waters for an age
or two after it appears to be gone.

What colors do you see 
under your feet? What is the tint
of what is in your glass? More to the point:

when you make a land
acknowledgment, open your mouths
to say “Today we stand on the land

of the Nipmuk, the Mskogee,
the Lakota,” do you think of this
in terms of what you can see and taste

right now, or is it more akin 
to describing long-extinct
fauna and flora? Do you even look

at where you are
before you speak?
We are dying to know. 


Career Counseling

Our work is the work
of becoming complete
regardless of disruption — 
that’s the work we should crave,
or so the career counselors
tell us. They have books upon
books of self-guided exercises
full of words like
“mission” and “vision”
and “purpose” threaded
onto their thick pages — 
needlepoint philosophies
suitable for tattoos or
framing, quaint calligraphy
for perfect, well-washed 
walls in minimalist houses. 
Meanwhile too many of us
stare down grocery and utility 
disruptions as our true work dissolves
into a series of jobs, all of which serve others.
We are battered. We are tired
of being told to just lean in
and do what we love until the money
follows. The money never follows
whether we love what we do
or not. We are tired of leaning;
time to line up, find the wall,
and push. 


Surge Capacity

There are some who claim
it’s all going to shit and others
who say everything’s
coming up little wings and 
flowers full of life and tiny song

It’s September and in these parts
we look out the window and
pretend we aren’t terrified of
how bad what’s coming is going to be
so we watch for a few white wings
and black and orange patterns and we say
maybe some good’s going to come of 
all this after all as nature
makes a comeback and we’ve all 
learned our lessons except

we forget that nature is why we’re here now
and organisms we don’t romanticize are
turning our artifice to shit but
whoo hoo for the lessons we are learning
and blessings on the butterflies who are teaching
and meanwhile something is bubbling
in the thawing tundra and that’s nature too
and something is churning astride the Gulf Stream
and that’s nature too and who are we to separate
ourselves from the butterflies and viruses
and claim some lessons we are learning are more vital
than the ones we learn from the shit we are 
leaving behind and no one asks the butterflies
or viruses what they think of us and 

while we are rapidly going to shit
devoured and digested by overclocked
surge capacity
we never think of ourselves
as anything but geniuses who
will get it all straightened out in time
instead of being like the butterflies
sucking the last sweetness out of it all
before falling unthinking down
to decay somewhere unloved and unobserved
as everything does
as everything is


Woof

Americans

love to play
with the full abandon 
of pugs let loose
in a dog park
under the watchful eyes 
of owners who amuse themselves
by watching lapdogs
pretending they are wolves
while believing they are free

Americans

love riding with our heads out the window
in a big pickup truck
big enough to kill any witch
any fresh storm might drop them on
with a high grill for clearing the streets
and fat wheels for the rough roads
that bounce us around so much
make us so vomit-torn
that we cry for the paving
of as many as we can
so we can ride through the “wilderness”
and pretend we’re the ones driving
into the “frontier”

Americans

love getting home
and trotting around gargantuan kennels
with never enough closet space
in which to keep
songs
land
slang
and all the rest of the loot
we’ve been collecting
for so many years
we can’t see any longer
how stolen it is

Americans

love digging holes
in our backyards
in which to bury bones
we’ll claim we never saw
then digging them up later
to chew on
once no one’s looking 
and the passing years
have turned them
so they taste more like
survivor guilt
than evidence of crime

Americans 

love to wag our tails
whenever we hear “good dog”
right up to the very minute
we get the needle