Tag Archives: political poems

Translating

Morning.

I’m terrified
of myself.

Last night
I dreamed again
of lead and steel
speaking truth to power,
speaking directly to its faces
and those visions
won’t leave my head
now that I’m awake.
I thought I’d forgotten

that language. 
It’s so ancient, so 

differently civilized.
It hurts my tongue
a little (although a little
less each
subsequent time I test
it against the edge

of the moment, even when 
I can taste blood after).
I am remembering
how to use it
to call up those
ancestors long gone,
those once

so fluent in it
that while there must have been mornings
when they must have risen
to similar terror,

they still raised their voices
of lead and steel
and spoke
deadly truth to their 
enemies

because to hold it back
was to die.

Morning.
I’m awake.
Afraid but compensating,
getting used to 

forming thoughts
from dreams,

translating.


They Did It

They did it to the sky —
look up at the jail-bars
from their planes and 
factory stacks, cross bars
from bomb craters and 
piles of smoking Brown bodies.

They did it to the earth —
look out upon the jail-bars
of roads and pipelines,
cross bars of damaged towns,
ghost landfills, sick-making farms,
trails of brown Brown blood.

They did it to the sea —
look to the horizon over jail-bars
of diesel spew, acres of death and corpse-fish,
cross bar drift nets
and garbage in patches as thick
as the brown oil sucked from Brown lands.

Don’t ask me
who they are.
You know. 
You nod. You agree.
You consume
and enable. You

look 
into the sky
marveling
at the color
smoke brings out
of the sunset. You

look
across the land
and thrill to 
the ease
with which you can
cross it. You

look
at the ocean
and imagine
yourself a pirate
adrift beyond law
and rules. You

don’t understand 
how they could ruin
a world
that seems like it was made
just to be captured
on a white page.


Civil Society

In order to examine 
all sides of a foul debate
I turned myself inside out

When I was done
I reversed the reversal
but little went back into place

I look the same
except for some weariness
and caution in my eye

but my heart is banging
(perhaps against
some maladjusted rib)

It hurts like a bell
close to cracking
while my gut isn’t easy at all

keeps twisting and poking 
in anticipation of danger
that may be real

or may be a product of
all my contortions to try and be
civil and respectful of despicable men

their crusted ideals
their crooked deity 
their tumbling glory dreams

I bothered to listen
and try to talk
and now I’m withered

and all my innards
are slipping around
trying to keep me

alive long enough
to do something
to make me forget

that I once deluded myself
into thinking that inverting myself
for them

was a courtesy
when in fact it was
a slow suicide

begun in the name of
a civil society
that has never existed


Preliminaries

Shut up, shut up,
shut up, shut up.

Red talk.
Oxygen theft. 
Blood mockery.
Beerhall chants. 

Shut up, we said 
to whoever that was
yelling over there.
Shut up, shut up,
we are trying to breathe.

Shut up, they said
to whoever they thought
was yelling over here. 
Shut up, shut up,
we are trying to sleep.

Shut up, shut up,
our fingers are barking.
Shut up, shut up,
they slap at their screens.

Shut up, they said, shut up, 
shut up,
and we said it right back, 
shut up, shut up, shut up, 
shut up.

Shut up, we said
when they said shut up or
I’ll give you a war 
that you won’t soon forget.

Now it’s been said
and they won’t take it back.
Now it’s put up
or shut up, shut up
and put ’em up. 

When they said what they said
they fired the first shots
and when we said what we said
we were dodging the bullets.

When they said
what they said
it was old and terrible.
We’d seen it before

so we said what we said
because we didn’t believe
they could say it again
without being made 
to shut up, shut up;

civility be damned,

we’ve seen this before
and no one seems to think
it can happen here
but it can and it has
and it is and it will
so shut up, shut up,
shut the hell up,
shut the fuck up

and aim
for the mouth.


Sharks

Near the close-by ocean 
folks are terrified.
It’s brand new,
it’s unheard of:

sharks.

Once in a while
they break surface
in front of oily tourists
and apprehensive natives.

Blood in the water,
the warmer water,
the transformed water.

The fear
is not only about them
killing picturesque seals.
Not any more.

Look at them.
They’re here and that means
we’re all over;

soon the sharks
will learn
how to leap, then fly.

When it happens,
if you look carefully
at the shadow under
a jumping shark
you will see faces
you’ll recognize.

Even if that
particular animal

is not feeding
and has other places
to go, when it lands
upon something you love,
that will be death.

People on the beach
sit in fear of what’s out there
in water that used to be 
ice, their heads tumbling with
movie possibilities, scent
of blood, empty hips
and shoulders, chunks
of identity swallowed
and gone.

Sharks, they know
better. They prepare
to jump, to fly. 

Calling out to all:

water’s poison,
air is fine.

For now.


After The Orgy Of His Ending

he was laid out
like a meal
on a picnic table.
How swiftly he was
torn and butchered!

If you lay a feast
before some folks
they settle right in
and devour it.
I’m certain
he was spoiled,
spoiled early,
spoiled rotten;
I never could have thought
to drag a tooth over him. 
Seeing him
picked clean like this,
I worry most about those 
who consumed him, that they
are what they ate, that they
will turn rotten deep inside
if they were not already. 
It’s not their cannibalism
that shocked me as much
as, knowing how dark
his meat was, how readily
they took him in and made him
a part of their very bones.

They live
right next door
with their bloody jaws

and their endless,
deathless hunger.


Adjacent

I’ve got a friend 
who weeps when called out
for racist words and actions.

Who sobs out loud
when tapped on the shoulder
with a simple, “excuse me, but…”

Who appeals to the masses
for absolution from
wee slips of the tongue and 
itty-bitty sins of omission or,
sometimes,
commission. 

I feel so bad for them
I’ve created
an easier term to use.

I say,
“You’re not being racist…
friend…
it’s more like…
you are…

racism-adjacent.” 

As in, of course
you’re not,
but you share a fence
with it.

As in, of course
you’re not,
but your apartments 
share common spaces
where racism
plays Kid Rock so loud
you can’t hear
that nice Justin Timberlake.

As in, of course 
you’re not, 
but you work
a community garden together;
racism grows weed, you grow
cannabis.

As in, of course,
racism doesn’t know any better.

As in, of course,
you certainly know better.

You’re not racist,
just racism-adjacent.
Sit near it at work.
Talk to it at lunch.
Engage it in debate
online, listen to it
respectfully, indignantly
at PTA meetings,
tut-tut it in private,
slip into silence
when it’s next to you
in the elevator, 
the supermarket,
the voting booths.

Of course, you
are not like that.
Of course you would never

although you sympathize
with how hard
it must be sometimes to miss
falling into that
what with all the 
provocations
and you know better
but the economy pushes
people and 
you would never sacrifice
anyone’s right to speak —

Enough. Friend, listen:
I’m so sorry I called you
racist. It must have been
the lighting, the darkness,
the nearness of
the real racist
in the room — sorry, 

I meant to say
“racist-adjacent”
of course but somehow
I forgot. Sin of 
omission on my part —

I forgot the word
I’m supposed to use.


Salt And Fire

Originally posted June 2017.

There are places on Earth
so soaked in hate that
the only moral thing to do

(after finding new places 
for people to live)
is to burn every scrap of wood

from furniture
to framing, fill in every
foundation, break up

all the roads that lead 
into and out of town, then
salt the ground sterile.

Every day you hear
of places so poisoned
they should live on only

as a shocked memory
of a country of horror stories
and nightmares.

I do not say this lightly.
Every town is someone’s home and
has at least a modicum

of love clinging to it. I do not
know how to make hate disappear,
and perhaps I have become hate

when I think these things —
perhaps I should
burn myself, 

have a friend
roll my smoking corpse in salt
and bury me in barren ground.

Look around. Something 
has to be done 

and it is hard to believe 

that it will not
require fire
and salt.


Apex Predator

In spite of
His reckless
and eccentric
reputation.

In spite of all the rumors
spinning out
in a wake behind Him
as he proceeds.

With no regard for 
how He steps upon
smaller beings or 
fragile footing. 

With a wink
at His handiwork 
and a smile for 
His damages.

Whistling 
His songs,
reading His books,
watching His shows.

Everybody knows
His name. No one knows
what He does 
behind the screen it provides.

Or everyone knows.
Or enough know and
they keep it to themselves
because He is good

to them. Good for them.
Good enough
that His walk

is its own excuse.

His work
is justification
enough. After all
this is how 

all of this was built.
Built by Him.
Built for hunting.
Built to drain away any blood.


Bootstraps

Born in a tunnel
looking up. There is
so much
light above. There’s a ladder
that begins
above me, higher than I can jump,
the low rung
shining like a sword unsheathed
against me

and everyone else down here.

I don’t have
the strength to climb to it
even if there
were purchase to do so.
I’m so hungry.
We all are, having built small fires
and roasted 
our bootstraps into tough meat
long ago. 


The House Falling

This is a house
falling and 
so many under the roof
will be compressed
into somebody’s unfortunate
consequence

and now
and then an escapee will 
be asked, “wasn’t it worth it
to be out from under”

and they
won’t know what to say
with their flattened faces
grown long and broken from
the trauma of having been 
inside the rotten house
as it fell.

This is a house
falling and
all over the neighborhood
bricks are being thrown into
the yards and through
the windows and

look at all the people
bleeding and calling out
for shelter and protection and
they are asked

“isn’t it nice
to have light from where 
that nasty building used to be”

and they won’t understand 
after being blinded by 
flying glass.

This is a house
falling and 
noise and brown dust
are choking and strangling
people who were hoping
to be heard in the 
stillness after its collapse

and they are asked “are you
better off now that it’s not
holding you back” and

they try to answer in the 
affirmative for those
who were outside already
and missed all the damage
from the moment the damned
house fell, the kids and others
who will benefit in the absence
of the fallen house

while the ones who were inside
and knew it was going to fall
accept death and the weight of debris as
the price of someone else’s hope.


Prediction

What’s become clear is that
your enemies have the easy stuff
figured out and countered and

that’s at least in part because
you yawp like a puppy instead of
growling or better still coming at them

in silence with cunning 
and the strongest weapons you have
loose and swinging in your hands.

Your best bet
is to keep your mouth shut,
mostly. Don’t expose
the back of your throat

where your best weapons 
hang — not the throwaways
you store on the tip of the tongue
but the sharpest edges,
the thickest batons,
the rifles with the laser sights.

You won’t listen.

You will die pretending
we are not at war.

We are not there yet,
you will say, even as you fall
bleeding into the sand.

We are not there yet,
you will say, as you die.


Edging Your Lawn

You edge your lawn
by trimming off
the parts of it
that intrude upon
the borders of
cement walks,
well mulched
beds of flowers, and
clusters of
hedges and shrubs.

You edge your lawn 
although you know
how unnecessary
your lawn is.

You know, you should turn it over
and make it into a garden.
Do it to feed yourself,
your family,
your people.

You know
what you should do
but instead, 
you edge your lawn.

You edge your lawn
with small swords. 

You edge your lawn 
to hold back a riot,
to stem chaos.

Clean lines,
segregated spaces,
perfect delineations,
evenly spaced boxes
for life.

Your lawn
pushes you
to keep it pretty,
serving that
which is useless.

You edge your lawn
in spite of 
how hungry you are.


True Crime Stories

True crime stories
half the day
on half the media

unless you include
celebrity news

and then it’s all media,
all the time.

I wish instead of this 
I could go outside and 
talk to a tree but I think
it would insist on speaking
of climate change and air quality
so there’d be no relief there,

that’s a crime as well
and as true as the rest
and we know who the culprits are
and we have the evidence
of our bitter sweat
and hampered breath

to turn over to the authorities
if only we knew who they were.

So I stay inside and use
the flipping of channels as
palliative care, changing 
when the dread becomes
overwhelming.

The only comfort left to me
is the hope of updates on ancient episodes
of Cold Case Files and Unsolved Mysteries;

anything to suggest that though justice
grinds slow, it does grind fine
and finally.


Barbarians

I’m not worried about
the long run with these
barbarians. They give off
the whiff, the white heat
of desperate knowledge.
They know they’re done.

It may take twenty
or thirty years, hundreds or
thousands of dead for that
to come to completion.
It won’t be pretty,
but it is inevitable.

We know it too.
We understand their 
fear.  Which is not to say
we feel compassion for it 

or that we should; there’s been
too much of that already,
too much care for their feelings,
too much accommodation 
to their ideas as we twist ourselves
into painful shapes to prove we
are not the same as them, when truth is

we are not.  Never have been.
Any assumed parallels 
come to a vanishing point
in every single instance.

Plenty of immediate killing things
to worry about
in the air, the water, the heat
and the cold and the growing wilder winds
roaring over us all. They had their hands
in that as well, of course, and soon enough
those things will do their worst.
Who knows yet how we will survive those?

But the barbarians, the torch boys,
the crooked crossing guards, the pale
first responders to dog whistles, the wealthy
in their slit-windowed financial houses, 
the small monsters in the pointy hoods?

They will do their worst, knowing
how little time is left to do it.
Maybe decades,
maybe a century; maybe.

No thousand-year
self-satisfied reign.
No. It’s time.
They know. 

This war
is how they mourn.