Tag Archives: political poems

Broken Arm

an inaugural poem

Healing can certainly knit
an odd bend into a bone
but even so you will have to
lay your hand on a book
and swear to go forward

although you may not be able
to reach as far as you
once did and even if you can
it will feel different
for a long time

There will be pain

That it heals stronger
might turn out to be untrue

You won’t know right away

You may think it’s fine and then
suddenly one day something
will remind you it’s not
the same

Maybe you’ll learn
to compensate

Maybe you’ll shatter again
in the same spot

The break is there
You can’t forget it
and now you will find out
what it will mean
to the rest of your life

Mud Season

It hit us all in the middle
of the second week
of an undistinguished month —
it was spring, mud season,
not yet dry enough
to make us feel comfortable
that winter was over;
everything was average,
and that was odd enough.
We had thought
it would be a mad season
and that there would be chimeras
alighting on all our roofs
after the insane weather
and raging plagues
we’d been through.
It was nearly unbelievable
that we could trust reality
to do what it always did:
keep boringly on track with
equinox and seasonality.
We kept waiting for
golems to come knocking
and when they didn’t
we started daring to hope mythology
would stay put in our memories.
Even though we saw people
still dying, even though
there were still insurgents
surging and guns were everywhere,
somehow the fact that we’d seen
mud before just like this —
thick and laced with ice,
concealing old snow under a jacket
of filth — somehow the fact
that it was mud season and it looked
the same as always made us feel
plagues and idiots were finite
and would pass as surely as
this muck would likely dry out
and go green.


An idea needs a noun and an adjective
to cling to as it grows. So we say, “red rose.”
Or, “stiff drink.” Or “fascist state.”

We push it with a verb and name an actor
to do the pushing, as in, “He plucked a red rose
and, after a stiff drink, raised his eyes and put his hope

into the fascist state.” Or, “With his placement of a red rose
on the coffin, he closed his eyes and pledged
to never give up fighting the fascist state

and swore off stiff drink until
the fight was won.” An idea longs for
its noun and adjective in order to be born.

Verbs move willy-nilly, dragging
their adverbs with them, mighty prepositions clinging
to all the words, drawing things together

in spite of their tiny stature. People think
they make words do their bidding.
Ideas? Ideas run the people. Ideas make it all happen:

red rose on a white flag;
white rose lying muddy in red street;
near-fascist state casting about for a leader;

big gun full of leaden ideas;
steel jackets on wanton mannequins;
skinjob soldiers eating honey from open corpses.

A Question Of Love

When a question of love
is spoken out loud
a country may turn on a dime
swift as tornado, sink into itself
claiming a pain in its footing
makes it weak, or raise an alarm
of daisies as fragrant with blood
as with its own home soil; see

in this moment filled with
a question of love, of what and who
and how will it manifest itself, a country
refusing its own affections, some beyond
its acknowledgement, some more than it
can bear — how far it spins itself
away from embrace as it twists back upon
its old haunts and legacies;

a country slipping as it spins
avoiding a question of love, falls
upon that sword it has held to be
its best lover, turning bloody scars
back upon itself in a storm of petals
and fiery odor, how it imagines
high winds at its back instead of
blowing out from its core.

January Song, 2021

A single quarter
falls out of my jeans
as I pull them off —
the usual Washington
on one side,
John Brown’s Harper’s Ferry fort
on the other. Once I’m settled
I put it in a safe place
as a token of
what was once possible
and now is just
small money.

Chad proudly notes
that he dates women
of other races
but secretly admits
to himself that it’s
mostly as
a forensic

Can you see how
anonymous the streets are
now that they’re covered
in tossed-aside

When the counting is done — counting
of cases, masks, and votes —
the dead shall surely come back
and shake us by the lapels saying
pay attention, pay us mind.

It didn’t feel like anything,
really, after a while, and that’s
hard to understand. Some
seem more upset than others,
certainly, but in the last analysis
all clear emotion
is the privilege
of the involved
and I somehow
am no longer that.


The odor strangles sometimes,
merely distracts at others, always sets
my teeth to grinding.

I walk into a discussion where it flavors the air,
try to join in and I’m soon choking so much
the others can’t understand me.

I turn to art for solace and it rises from between
pages, stings my eyes till paintings blur;
even music reeks. That job interview

stank with it; this online forum — how is this
even possible — I cannot see its words
through the miasma.

The halls of Congress,
the trading floor of Wall Street, every tower
where a titan of industry schemes: all

are thick with it; they might be tombs —
one whiff of the air in there recalls
dead generations piled upon dead generations.

Now and then I even pick it up on
a breeze through a forest, a breeze
that must have passed over a pipeline.

Sometimes I can tell it is coming
directly from me — mouth,
clothes, being. Half of me wants

to flee myself; the other half
holds my breath,
pinches off my nose,

makes me duck,
get close to the ground,
look into myself for better air.

The Nested Country

Behold: a country of nested

Look at it and be awed by
the Big, the Bright, the Beautiful of it.

If you manage to twist it open and enter
you’ll find another within —

less Big, less Bright. (Beauty is in
the eye of the contained.) If you

go in, you will find another,
and then another; it will be dim in there.

At the heart, a battered core with two faces:
one, Black Kettle, the other, Nat Turner;

it is nowhere as Bright and Beautiful
as the Big Doll you can barely recall

now that you’re
all the way in and can see

that even though it is full,
it is also hollow.

Attention To Detail

Attention to detail suggests that
in order to complete the full circle
someone who looms large to all
will likely have to die before anyone
will admit this is over; a person
beloved or hated by large factions
will have to die to fuel a round
of theories and essays, violent reaction,
polarized grief and mourning; a person
chained while in this sphere to opinions
they will drag with them
into the next world, deafening us
and leaving scrape-marks behind.

Attention to detail suggests that
in order to come to what some will call closure
and others will call the start of a new cycle,
someone will have to die in some extreme way
that offers a chance for mythic explorations
and rejuvenated symbolism about royalty
and a snake swallowing itself
as it disappears in fire, only to become
a legendary bird upon its rebirth. A stone-tipped arrow
shall be found on the cooling stones after
and all will begin to argue about which direction
it is pointing, what it means, who should take it up,
set it on a bow, and let it fly.

The Great Conjunction

They will look back upon us and see us for idiots
looking for stars to do work we needed to do.

They will say the great conjunction
was not Jupiter and Saturn’s illusory closeness

but our own embrace of magical thought
in the face of the growing heat and disease

that took us down. They will say this
while shaking their heads at how

we ignored the mocking laughter
of the implacable science that runs the universe

as it rolled right over us. Our hatreds
spread like a plague even as a true plague

spread just as fast, as we choked the oceans and air
until we were choking as well. The Great Conjunction,

they will say, was not the doubled up light in the sky
but people down here, a black hole,

angry, scared, crowded
into one another so tightly

nothing could penetrate.
No light, no heat, nothing in there

but faith in the efficacy of crossed fingers,
crosses, and whatever the stars might say —

although the stars said nothing except
this one, dear people, is all on you.


This society’s been
huffing gasoline for so long
it can’t sense anything else

All those cells vaporized

It has killed its way
to this point and now
it has only itself left to kill

in the hope it will feel something then

Thrived on erasure
All those bodies left behind
that it can’t even see

The dead keep screaming for it to turn back

Maybe it hopes
that those corpses will compress and fuel
a future like their past

It imagines that it lives on dinosaur leavings

Of course it is wrong about that as well
but without full brains
the people it has sheltered will never understand

how all they have left is fire


Some people say they just need
the paper. The scent of a book
in hand, the weight of it,
the slight bend of the page
just shy of creasing
between their fingers as it is turned;
to me it is as if they hold the vessel
more dear than the words within.
It is as if the vase matters more
than its flowers. As if the poems within
are less real if they can not be highlighted,
scribbled on, or torn out; as if the stories
only work if they can be burned
for warmth when society comes to
its eventual end, which will come
once its artifacts are worth more
than their contents.

Oh, No, Meatloaf Again?

We are the movie
(you know the movie)

which just doesn’t look the same now
(does it)

If we had seen it from the beginning
without the mystique

or the audience theatrics to guide us
to an opinion on it

the cringe coming up in the mouth now
at the offenses

might have surfaced earlier
and while some of us had fun for a long time

there were others who said
it wasn’t working for them

and we looked at them funny
at the very least

At least the music was good
and some of those on screen were hot

and we now know how
when certain people show up or speak

we are supposed to yell

but overall it’s mostly horror
at what we’ve been fed

I Cannot Write Those Poems

I cannot write those beloved poems,
poems of nature and love, poems on how light
takes its time on surfaces

like a beloved’s hand in leisure
stroking with pleasure over a perfect
arm or shoulder,

although I have nothing
against such poems and read them
like food, nourishment for

long days and nights without that beauty,
without what some consider
the enduring truth of the world

that exists beyond us, beyond the works
of humans, as if we are not a part of that world
when we war and kill and mourn,

as if to visit beauty is to release oneself
from seeing oneself in the pain of human life,
to absolve oneself from facing it all —

I cannot write those poems as my hand
is tethered to something else — not better
but not that, a coin-side away from that,

poems people would rather set aside
than read, poems some consider too immediate
or too enraging or worst of all too ugly

to be thought of as poems — and yet
for someone they are as good as hard bread
that can be broken open to reveal

delight within and then after being consumed
will offer strength to get to the next sunset,
the next perfect sunset, the cocked angle

of song bird on branch preparing to sing
as if the world could be created just by that although
someone had to dig the dirt to plant that tree.

“To Speak” In French

Isn’t it nice to end up in a place
where the scent of your own disaster
is hidden by the local atmosphere?
Isn’t it justified and good to be breathing in
the same staleness for which you’ve always lived?
All you past loves hate you, all your past wars
were lost causes, all your big mistakes were
ongoing, and yet here you can be free to call them
romances, victories, and corrected. Perpetually now
you can be a boy with a gun and clear enemies;
perpetually you can now be wronged and small;
you are perpetually heroic now, in that dinged up
tinfoil armor. Breathe it in, suck it up.
If you start to choke it’s got to be the fault
of the world outside where shifting and changing
are sins of the weak.
Isn’t it nice to be able to call that out then breathe deep
and call this stench perfume?

How To Speak Of Death To Your Fellow Americans

To begin with, take off your funeral suit
but do not put it completely away
in the back of the spare room closet.
Do not forget how it looks on you
and how often you’ve had to wear it.

When you begin to speak, remember
that some folks have never been to
the number of funerals you’ve attended.
Some have never been to any
and will not understand a word you say
but talk anyway. Some don’t believe
people die as often or as unfairly
as you know they do

and you will not make them feel grief
easily or quickly. Talk anyway; you might need
visual aids. Some only see death
when it’s as close as the next room
so when you speak of death to them,
you will have to simulate the sound
of death knocking on the adjoining wall
to make them understand.

Some of them will smirk and speak
of Darwin and some will speak of Jesus.
All of these people will speak of what is right
and what is deserved; most will stare you down
and shout the word “justice.” Talk anyway, seeking
those among them who, even as they sneer,
will avert their eyes. Talk to them; ignore the rest.

Many of them will be the kind of people who say,
“If I die…” Show them your funeral suit; tell them
how often you’ve worn it; show them the shiny cuffs,
the worn tie tucked in the pocket after the church hall
reception; say the names of the dead and how often
they died saying, “if I die…tell them how
I was killed. If I die, make it mean something. If I die,
remember my name.”

Maybe you will say something to someone that will work
but don’t put away your funeral suit after that.
Don’t bury it deep. Don’t assume you’ll get to wear it again
only when they put you at last into the ground.