Tag Archives: political poems

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

 


The Troll

with all his unearned confidence
glistening through the screen
like flop sweat perfumed
with privilege —

although that seems
like such a sloganeer way to describe
a shiny little fraud with his 
dog-hungry smile and his cheap
mistake of a professional demeanor
crossed with body armor — 

best foot sticking out of his mouth
then put forward like a movie-cool
cigarette —

he drops
the ultimate weapon of his army
“LOL” at the end of the post 
and his back up “j/k” right after — 

it makes me want to eat his heart
and make it into better shit
than he thinks he slings — 

roach of a man feeding in shadows
and dragging disgust behind him
as if a trail of slime could ever
come to a point —

the danger
of a thing like this is that
it thrives on notice and those trails
shine so that at the right angle
you might think it’s pissing pure silver


Around The Mountain

— for Andrew

Looking to the mountain.
Waiting for Her to arrive.

Horses, wagon or chariot,
and Her, the unspecified Her.

She will be coming, the people say.
Feels to me like a set up — 

keeping us all
watching that mountain for

a century and more now
and we haven’t been even told Her name.

Freedom, some say. Salvation,
some say. Or something like

those, or something less cosmic.
She will have news of what’s on

the other side of the mountain,
that much seems obvious, even if

it’s not the principal reason 
for the trip. I want to know, certainly,

what’s over there. If when I ask Her
she disdains me for being prosaic, I’ll know

it’s no place I belong. If She 
shrugs me off when I ask for Her name,

I’ll walk back up the road she just traveled
and go ask Her people what it is. 

Not every mythic arrival is glorious.
Maybe She just had the good sense

to come here to get away from something.
Maybe She will be a fugitive or refugee

and after all the waiting we’ll just expel
or kill Her out of frustration for the long wait.

Or in fact perhaps no one will ever come
and the whole point of the song

is to get us to watch the mountain
while someone steals the valley

from under our feet. Maybe 
She’s already here among us, 

waiting for us
to figure it out.


The Colony As Compost (Yes)

In every delusion is sown
a bit of truth, yes,

a weed that explodes 
cell by cell into a tree
full of inedible fruit, yes,

as the days become misshapen, more dark bulge
than light stream, yes,

as we are deafened by long haunted voices
of those brought to ground by others impressed
by different delusions, yes, 

this is the nature of the new world,
the nature of bastard settler dreaming, yes,

blown out through veins of cold blood,
nuggets of truth run through a fuzz pedal,
a song drawn from disturbance operas, yes,

this is how we learn,
this is how we begin a new education, yes,

if we are to be grown whole from the land,
if we are to be open as we grow toward the sun,
new shoots shooting up and up and here we are, yes,

everything we are grown from has rotted into food
and everything we need is rising from our shame, yes.

 


You Can’t Fight City Hall

What is the problem,
what are the rules,
who gets to decide?

Open doors in civic buildings:
dark rectangles with false promises
inscribed above. No light in there.

Parchment overwritten and amended
in secret alphabets that say one thing
and demolish everything else.

What time sunrise,
what time sunset,
who names the hours in between?

Stars no sky ever held.
Stripes as stark as wounds.
Snapping in time to bone music below:

a flag well-suited to become
a tourniquet, a shroud,
a tablecloth for some elite meal

at a table where clumsy speeches
mingle with the sound of chewing, swallowing,
spitting out gristle.

Where is the barricade? 
Where are the guards?
Who is the gatekeeper? 

What tools do we need?
What will it cost us?
When do we begin?


Only A Minor Threat

Revised, from 1999.

he died silent on a Monday
looking into that last camera
without a smile

eyes rolling up
like a tail gunner
during a spiral
still doing his job

the reporters on hand 
either saw him blink
or didn’t see him blink
said he was either resigned
or defiant
confident
or arrogant

not one said remorseful
not one said scared

the Friday after he died 

a jogger in Kansas City
found a 4 year old girl 

another one found
her head a day later

when several days had passed 
and no one had reported 
a four year old girl missing

a local church group
began going door to door
to identify her

refusing to call her
by the police procedural name
of baby jane doe
they renamed her “precious”
because “someone must have known her 
someone must have thought her precious”

last night

for the first time in years
I recalled the night I sang with Minor Threat
flying on crystal
maintaining barely well enough 
to pass for straight edge 
in a crowd militant for sobriety

the night irony was invented

when MacKaye handed off the mike
to what must have looked like 
just another shaven runt in the crowd

I was so thrilled to be just straight enough 
to remember the words

and that was the first one I remember
the first of those all-American moments

when 
faced with something dangerous
and contradictory

I lunged for a safety net and tried to

simplify
to boil it all down 
to a head shake 
and a slogan

simplify

to stick a fist in the air
and shout along
with the long national hunger
for swift closure 

simplify

because

if we can find a way to call her precious and insist
that she must have been beloved

if we can forget that in spite of that
no one seems to have missed her

if we can forget that it is likely
that her killer knew (or even gave her) her real name 

if we can find a way to call the truck bomber
a madman and insist that he is an aberration

if we can forget that he cried
when he saw children burned in Waco

if we can forget that he nonetheless
meant to burn the kids he burned 

if we can forget that they are not just any monsters
but our very own

looking for their own versions
of the easy answers

if we can get by those sticking points fast enough
we can return to the luxury of certainty

simplify

safely tuck it all away

and say

only a minor threat
only a minor threat


A Tangle Of Pulse

Today I watched sparrows
in my yard leaving when I opened
the window above them.

An unfamiliar dog on a leash
on the sidewalk stopped short and stared at me
without moving his tail.

A new-to-the-neighborhood cat
crouched in my yard well away from me
and then fled when I tried to get near.

All this happened
because I am human;
the creatures saw me and knew

what I was capable of; although 
I was personally no threat to them,
they took no chances. 

Tonight I shall tie myself into a knot in a vein
in my forever aching dreamtime head
and become a tangle of pulse

thinking of how we all 
have become monsters in other beings’
sight, how we’ve come to that place 

by the efforts of an entire history
of sometimes casual
and sometimes times earnest cruelty and 

indifference, and how tantalizing
it is to consider moving to the next world,
where we might reconcile with these others;

where if we do not, at least we may receive there
some grace for trying to ease the terror
we create by being in this world.


Conflagration

In my daily news, in my inbox,
a headline: “Smoky Haze? Blame 
the West Coast Wildfires,” so I do.
I stop coughing at once and can see
so much better than before I read it.

The small screen in my pocket
is a blame machine. It points at things
and shakes its finger and I go where it points;
down South where I can sneer at the rubes,
or to the Capitol to wave a treason flag.

The darkness out there is real.
Who am I to dispute darkness?
I’m an average bewildered American,
picking and choosing targets
in the land where blame is the lubricant 

that keeps things moving. In the darkness
it’s easy to slip. We need light to see a path;
whether it’s right or wrong hardly matters
as long as we know where to go and who to blame
for a rough road. Any light will do:

screen light; flashlight; torch light; conflagration.


The Pattern Song/America’s Shoes

Everything has a political component 
If you learn to see 
you’ll surely agree

Everything has a political component
If you think it though
You’ll see it’s true

Walking in America
wearing its mandatory shoes
hurts.

They don’t fit
but because they are superficially pretty
and match the rest of your outfit

people try to tell you
your feet are the problem. Don’t worry.
It’s fixable, they say. 

Having tried on and taken home 
dozens of the annual versions
of America’s shoes, you disagree

but go on walking
in shoes full of blood,
shoes lined with gun metal.

Everything has a political component
It’s a fact of life
we tuck out of sight

Everything has a political component
We don’t like to say
how it got this way

Trying to find others
whose walk hurts
in the same way yours does

is always hard
and even tragic
on some days.

Finding a place
where others have stopped
to kick them off,

to stand together,
stand barefoot and bruised
but more at ease,

even briefly
for a quick respite, 
is its own kind of ache.

Everything has a political component
The slant hits you 
as you think it through

Everything has a political component
Every gear that turns
Every tree that burns

The problem, you say,
is the shoes, not the feet,
but even some

of your fellow striders
who’ve stopped beside you
on the street

to pull the cursed shoes off and rest
insist the next version will fit at last.
They’re finally getting it right. Look at

how much progress we’ve made, how
far we’ve come. The walk ahead may be
daunting, but we’ve certainly left

all the bloody footprints
we need
to show the way.

Everything has a political component
Don’t say that too loud
You’ll attract a crowd

Everything has a political component
It’s not always clear
But it’s always there

If you refuse to tie the shoes back on,
they’ll be the first 
to stomp your bare feet

until you are dead or
so crushed you might
as well be.

Stop trying, drag yourself
to the nearest funeral home
(because you can’t even limp there)

where they’ll box you up, hide your feet,
burn or bury you and call you a martyr
long before you are in fact dead,

when all you ever wanted was to get home
without screaming inside
at every step.

Everything has a political component 
If you learn to see 
you’ll surely agree

Everything has a political component
If you think it through
You’ll see it’s true


Burndowns

In July the ocean 
burned down. The Gulf of Mexico
on fire. The oil running up to the surface
and igniting. Fireboats flooding flames
fed by hellmouth far below. Water kills fire
on water that should not burn
and we breathe a sigh of relief.
That’s who we are now.

In June churches began
to burn down. Think of all
who might have taken 
torches to the churches.
Think of terrified officials
setting matches to their guilt,
or think of the children
who did not live to see this.
Imagine it in your own way
as clean revenge, filthy cover up,
or tragedy with no concern for context:
no matter. Churches burn
and some sleep better in the firelight.
That’s who we are now.

Elsewhere precincts
and drugstores and 
people burndown as if
the air itself were on fire;
in fact, the atmosphere
is burning down. Woods and homes
flash up and vanish. Lakes and rivers
drying into sinks and gullies.
Air thick with humidity and hubris
and get along to go along, fingers
plunged into ears against the screaming
of the losing earth. Burndown generations,
learning to live and die in the light of fireworks 
blowing up for the last time.
That’s who we are now.


Done With

the broken arm of lady justice
the evened-out rage of alleged allies

my own agreement with those
who urge agreeability over gunfire

Done with

the stink of my confusion over who I truly am
the longing to reconcile all my parts

the ornery spirit that then seizes my hands
and pushes them into this sodden mess of art

the damnation that adheres to them
when I pull them out again and try to simply live

Done with

the notion that living could yet be simple
the sunsets and sunrises that try to say there is hope

the hope that will not touch me as I wish to be touched
the touch that hope offers that will not do to calm me

this whole curse of a hopeless body
that stumbles over everything

the time I’ve lost recovering from stumbles
trying to right myself on the grand wrong path

the mistaken faith of others that
such an implacable path leads anywhere worthy

Done with

the days of staring at my inadequate garage
the garage itself as public tell of where I fell from grace

shame and anger and guilt and insomniac self judgement
over my blind acceptance of lady justice’s sullied grip upon me

the days behind the days ahead and the days between the cracks
in the mirror I have in front of me at all times

the legacies of all who put me here
my own ease in how I have let them matter

Done with

the compulsion to say all this and still claim citizenship
in a place where I was never meant to be

Done with

opening days always with a sneer
closing days always with a sob


America’s Shoes

Walking in America
wearing its mandatory shoes
hurts. They don’t fit but because
they are superficially pretty
and match the rest of the outfit
people try to tell you your feet
are the problem. It’s fixable, they say.
Having tried on and even worn
dozens of the annual versions
of America’s shoes, you disagree.

You keep walking
in pain. Shoes
full of blood, shoes
lined with gun metal.

Finding others like you whose walk hurts
in the same way yours does
is nearly tragic most days.
Finding a place where others
have stopped to kick them off,
even briefly for quick respite,
is its own kind of ache.

The problem, you say, is the shoes, not the feet,
but even some of your fellow striders
who’ve stopped beside you on the street
to pull the cursed shoes off and rest
say the next version will fit at last.
They’re finally getting it right. Look at
how much progress we’ve made, how
far we’ve come. The walk ahead may be
daunting, but we’ve certainly left
all the bloody footprints we need
to show the way.

When you refuse to
tie the shoes back on, they’ll be the first
to stomp your bare feet until you are dead or
so crushed you might as well be, so you
stop trying, drag yourself to the nearest funeral home
(because you can’t even limp there)
where they’ll box you up, hide your feet,
burn or bury you and call you a martyr
long before you are in fact dead,
when all you ever wanted
was to get home
without screaming inside
at every step.




then again, look at where I am

My eyes already hurt
and all I’ve done so far today
is read a story of two children
killing a friend over some toy

and another one about
not teaching kids full history in schools
which if they did might explain a lot of things
about killing and why they do it

and it made me think about the possibility that
all of history’s dead people are sitting beside me
on the bus on my way to work
I’m always so cold by the time I get there

the last thing I want to do for a job
is take orders and abuse
from people not yet dead
who just keep repeating the same mistakes

because they don’t know history
and I want to tear out my hurting eyes
and push on the columns of the temple
that look so strong and solid

all it would take
is a few of us
to take them down
and though I’d be first blind and then dead

I am willing to try but then again
when I look at where I am
my eyes hurt like the hell I see
and all I can do is close them




Means of Production

We are really becoming productive again
and it shows in every shiny pore of our tender skin
that’s been locked away from sunlight and community

The possibility of changing everything is still ripe they say
but instead we’re going into the office and oooh
it feels so good to do those same things again

the way we used to in the same spot that somehow
feels a little different and it’s not like we haven’t been
locked down to doing them from home except for the ones

that had to be done in the war zone itself along with
the blood jobs and the food jobs and the shit jobs and the death jobs
and even at home we worried about death a little more

and the kids thronged the house behind the makeshift workspace
and the kids needed teaching which was a second job
and the second job was a first job and the first job became a dull ache

and the third job was a dread and how do we comfort each other
when we can’t touch each other and tell each other it will be alright
when we don’t know how to be alright anymore

Except we’re really becoming productive again and that’s alright
What counts is what we are becoming
We have the opportunity to change everything

We have the opportunity to say we’re changing everything
including who gets to define what we’re becoming
We don’t have to leave that in those same old hands

The virus was as mindless and hungry and implacable as they are
No wonder they loved it so much though they would never admit it
but it also put a spotlight on us as the means of production

and in that spotlight is where we find ourselves now
This is how we could seize not just the moment
but our own definitions instead of slipping back into theirs

and becoming really productive again
with our kids thronging behind us
to sweat and die from the same old plague