Tag Archives: political poems


My ancestors gave me
a belly stuffed with sand:

some from desert north
of the Rio Grande,
some from stony hills
in Calabria. 

All my contortions
to shift this heaviness
led to this sand
abrading me
until it wore me thin, and now
the hole has widened,

sand has leaked free;
all that is left is

the hole.

I have filled it
with all manner of things

from whiskey to 
fire, from bullets
to monstrous tears.
Nothing has worked;
all I take in leaks away.

I’m so hungry now
but all I consume
tastes like sand — 
and not like my sand;
stranger sand. Sand
full of ash and broken glass.

You stare at me and say:

why don’t you get that hole fixed
if it’s killing you?

You don’t see
how large it is.
You don’t see that it is 
all of me. I am a ghost
from my ancestors’ lands,
made entirely of
emptiness and stray grains
of forgotten soil.
You don’t see 
that death, at this point, 
will be simply a gust
blowing me away. 


your dark-blessed mouth
moving without sound

your hands involving themselves
in matters beyond their grasp


your room glowing blue by burning
all your hardened regret

your screen full of targets
your attack rationale on dagger point


owning your enemy
you’re a pain collector

owning your arguments
tangled web connector

you are top of the pops
you are king and that throne you’re on

is lit

your hair’s a rude mess
framing your face

no one thinks of you ever
till you start to bark


if you had a dollar for
every sneer you’ve delivered

you still wouldn’t be rich enough
to want to let this go

in love with your damnation
toast of the distasteful 


The Look Of An Eagle

Some people love
the look of an eagle
so much they forget

the terrible things
an eagle
could do to them

with that
noble head
and those tenacious feet. 

The eagle
will be mostly unconcerned
with those people

until they 
a threat,

and then, then
we will see
what happens:

the gripping and biting,
the tearing.
The panic. The blind support

for more of the same
as long as it’s not done
to them.

I Just Work Here

I just work here
with my feet on the ground
head on the ground
eyes just clear enough of the ground
to weep at seeing the sky
when I wake up for work
I just work here
cleaning up after the sparkle dogs
of the glitter folks
I just work here
on behalf of someone’s imagination
about the nobility of following my bliss
right into a pit brimming with broken backs
I just work here
not that far from the sky
and a sparkle dog of my own
(at least that’s what’s printed on my pay stubs)
I just work here 
work I said
but they say voting is my job too
I need to vote sometimes so I vote
(about work)
and they say I need to kill sometimes
in the work (for the work)
so I kill occasionally
I just work here
and I cheer the killers if I’m not kiling
I just work here
high on shrugs and winks and nods
I just work here
with my feet on the neck of another
and the blood of the past in my drinks
that taste like hell
(it’s work to choke it down
and I work here)
I just work here
in the forges of the gods
in the factories of the demigods
in the cube farms of the priests
in the bank vaults of the faithful
in the gardens of the dog catchers
in the still-faintly-blue seas of the mariner warriors
in the starved ranks of the indigent
in the desiccated homes of the criers and screamers
I just work here and vote here and kill here
and vote for the killers to do it in my name
and work is work and the sparkle dogs
lick my hand now and then
for love or for taste-test
I don’t know
I don’t ask
I just work here
where they barely
tell me anything
I don’t already expect to be a lie

The Ghost

If you dance with The Ghost in
a miasma of brown and red
If you stumble whirl
into their pit of mad violence
If you have no love
for those fallen underfoot
If you cannot bring yourself
to lift those broken to safety
If your fear of The Ghost
stifles your love of Living
If you cannot kiss without panic
and The Ghost insists
on tonguing your twitching mouth
If you cannot smile without screaming
and The Ghost demands
both smile and scream
If you fall writhing upon hearing all this
because you know The Ghost
knowing neither name nor face
If you are not yourself The Ghost
how can you keep dancing
knowing you are dancing in blood

merely because it is easy
merely because you know this music so well

you need not even listen

Anywhere But Here Looks Good Right Now

In this slim hole
named home

angels of discord
jostle for primacy, 
raise up fresh dreams,
conjure new hybrids, misshapen 
offspring of dreaded ancestors
and fearsome strangers
who somehow look familiar;
bring to mind names
we are afraid to utter
for fear of them turning,
smiling, nodding, 
calling us kin.

Do you find yourself
wanting to run away? Do you
long for new and open country,
unfenced, empty and clear?
Do you find yourself yearning
to move somewhere new
and become someone new?
To escape these bitter demons?

More to the point: are you certain
you aren’t one of them yourself? Are you
running from yourself? Is it possible
that you are at heart, when faced with
what you consider unspeakable,

a colonizer?

Early To Rise

I take a moment upon rising
to adjust my Whiteness
for the coming day.

Set the beard straight,
suppress irrelevant facets
of my core being, put on
the palest face I have.

I’d turn on 
the television
for background noise
as I fetch coffee
but I’m so damn tired
of Europe and its tropes.
Sick of Thor and Halloween, 
the fat man in the red suit
for equinox 
ritual. Sick of Jesus, 
sick of Karl Marx, sick of
donuts and latte, 
grand theft disguised
as industry, the right way
to walk, the proper way
to talk — 

I have so little of who I am
beyond that,
having been robbed
of most of my Other before birth;

after, found myself pummeled 
with family expectations
and contrary exhortations,
explanations as to why,
in spite of my White body 
and White schooling
and White Messaging,

I’m still Other and
don’t ever
forget it, son, said my dad
who tried not to forget
the little he had left of 
his Other.

Don’t ever
forget it, son, said my mom
who had set herself up
for never quite loving
her Other. 

Don’t ever
forget it, kid, said the members
of the family who couldn’t
forget it either though
they did not quite approve
of Other.

Before the year begins
I take one more moment
in the mirror
and there is all that Whiteness
spilling out of my pores and 
look at that hair and
diabetes and depression and
loveless moving through clients
and taxes and worry and
face it, I’m too near unto death 
to change; maybe it’s time
to just fall all the way into the bleach
since when I strain to hear my Other,

most days all I hear 
are gasps and screams
in a tongue I can’t understand.

They tell me
the source of my Other
met the source of my Whiteness head on
over 500 years ago
and did not win then but 
oh, it survives in me

in spite of Jesus and Thor and Marx
and John Maynard Keynes and 
white sale linens pressed hard over my face,
in spite of 
the Vikings and the chiseled superheroes;
the way they wear their hats;
the way they kill low-key.

No, I say as hard as I can, no, Europe;
no to your culture and your counterculture;
whatever it offers
I don’t want any more of that — 
I am Other. 

Except I’m Whiteness.

Except I am Other.
Except I’m not.

Like petals pulled
in that kids’ game —
love, love not,
embrace, repel;

I bet that game 
of destruction as play
from Europe too.

Don’t Break

If this feels more like
the end of all things
than the beginning of 
some new thing, consider

my cats in their respective windows
and the feeding birds a few feet away
on the other side of the glass;
how in spite of cold and sleet out there

and the impenetrable barriers in here
they all continue to feed and fly
and watch and hope from their
present circumstances. Consider

these perfect little killers
stymied every day and still waiting
for their chance; consider the sparrows
and nuthatches blithely perching

within an easy jump if only
the glass wasn’t there. Consider that —
then consider where you and I are, where
we all are in this moment — what if we are

not meant to be observers, but are instead
the glass between the killers and prey?
What if our place is between the end of everything
and the beginning of something new,

and all that is asked of us, really,
is simple: hold on, don’t break. Not yet.

How To Spell American

Originally posted 8/2016.  Revised.

Spell it with two guns,
a coat of whitewash,
three picket fences
and a wolverine trapped
under a left thumbnail.

Spell it with seven dirty words
and rigor mortis laid thick
between adobe bricks.

Spell it with fifty-seven apologies
flavored with forgetting,
sixty-three apologies blind to remorse,
one hundred and eleven apologies
offered on a dagger’s tip.  

Spell it fourteen ninety-two,
original thirteen,
broken five hundred and sixty nine. 
Spell it three-fifths, 
spell it six-nineteen.  
Spell it nine-eleven.

Spell it with a toxic cloud,
an unrestrained flag,
a lowered boom.

Spell it with twenty-one more guns
and a Nagasaki blister. 

Spell it with moon rocks,
tent cities, caged kids,
dead kids, dead eyes
dotted with good flowers. 

Spell it with a burr.
Spell it with a brogue,
a lilt, a bang-up job of trying to deliver it

Spell it with bison flanks quivering. 
Spell it with pink dawn over gray streets
and a boat swift-rocking 
down a snow fed river. 

Spell American
with a cauldron. A melting pot
if you prefer. A bullet mold,
a fireproof suffrage, a vote
for steam over simmer, 
a last summer of drowsing bees.

It’s not like anyone ever knew
a right way to pronounce it.


Somebody left a lot of words
on this table.

Someone felt their own tongue
and what they already knew was

Someone felt
that if they couldn’t
pronounce a word, it wasn’t

Someone felt
that changing the words
did the trick
so they mauled them, then stole them,
called them their own, leaving the rest 

Someone forbid
these words over here:
names for God, maybe,
or for plants no one’s seen
for a long time. Same thing,

Someone slapped stolen words
all over their map
and made up cute definitions for them
in their own

Do you know how many words
they left behind of the ones you
were destined to speak before
they came in and robbed you
of the perfect way to shape your

Someone left many of your words
on the table. Hard wind blowing now and 
they are drifting, lifting off; dissolving
into thick air — unless you want them?
Catch them, stuff them into your

to wait until the time comes
to open up and sing them

Someone is terrified of the things
you know how to say, the things
they cannot, things they’d hoped you would

Someone’s standing silent

What you could say
using those words,
they will likely not 

Go ahead,

It has been
an age since the last time you could,
and no doubt, someone is straining to 

John Kills For Joy

John Kills For Joy,
awakened by white potions,
comes out of hiding
for the first time in an age;

as calm as snow at 2 AM
that submerges all roads
and smothers the earth
too early for most to care,

John Kills For Joy steps out
into perfect weather for what he’s about.
What he has done to get here
was best done in cold silence;

he proved himself 
cold, took his falls in silence,
built and mounted his throne in ice quiet
and now can hawk-sing with impunity,

let his claw-hand fall wherever he chooses.
John, pale John, John Kills For Joy,
lord of the Talon, god of default atrocities,
John Kills For Joy is knocking for me.

It would be easy to open up
and let him in, let him set his big boots
by the door, offer a smoke
and a drink, give his song an ear.

He has sung this before:
overture, prelude, variation
on a prelude; seeking choir boys
to turn allies, converts,

fodder, traitors, turncoats;
fellows Joyful and Triumphant.
John Kills For Joy carries
more than a sword, and does not travel alone.

John Kills For Joy and an army
standing in the aftermath
of his blizzard, knocking, singing for me;
calling my name; John Kills For Joy

offering weapons, fortresses,
sweetened treaties, road maps
to the next fortune, plunder,
philosophies to ease the shock

of succumbing; John Kills For Joy
making suffering a virtue, sin a ticket
home, forgiveness a ripe plum;
saying the land and sea and air

are just the threshold to Better,
to More, to Greater. John Kills For Joy
points at his battle jacket, at the crosses
and flags, says he’s got Answers for me. 

Dear John: In the past, I have sipped
white potion myself,
pictured myself now and then
in the ranks.

I cannot sing this song
as well as all of you. Was born
with a different tune ringing out
in the birthing room;

it echoes in me still, sometimes 
louder than yours does
although you are everywhere
and louder indeed than all the rest.

Tonight I hold myself silent
while everyone is singing 
in order to hear
dissonance under their unisons.

It is becoming harder and harder
to hear wrong notes (I should say instead
notes that don’t fit) but they are there
and as they are all I have, I have to hold on to them.

John Kills for Joy will not leave my door
without an answer. That’s how
he got to where he is. That’s how
the throne was built.

If he comes
howling through it
I swear
he will find me singing

no song he’s ever heard. May he be
silenced then, even
if only for the moment it takes me
to fall.

The High Road

Nicolae Ceausescu
and his wife Elena
were executed after a short trial
for crimes against 
the Romanian people;
three formed the firing squad
although there were

thousands of willing
volunteer executioners;

Benito Mussolini
and his mistress Claretta
were shot by one man 
willing to take the bully
by the horns.
any have claimed
they were the assassin;

the planet dies
at the hands of callous men
while we sit
with our heads in our hands
that cannot
grip a gun or a knife
for fear of losing our souls
somewhere on the high road
we insist we must take.

Old Tune

The slaver wrote 
“Amazing Grace”
and felt he’d gotten free.

Kept to his profession
long after writing the song
because that’s where

the money was. When he’d
gotten enough he finally said
“let those people go”

and passed away
with all the grace
a blood fortune could buy.

The billionaire said
“it’s time to give back”
and “it’s time to save

the world,” 
did just enough of each
to remain solvent

while running for 
office and caring in 
public. The world

remains unsaved
and here we are
smothered in billionaires — 

slavers too, as if
they’d never left. 
As if they’d never

been rendered obsolete
by soft new words

chained to an old tune.

South Station

He passes me in South Station — 

his duffel bag more duct tape than fabric,
his hair a stiff, frayed field, 
his sweatshirt bearing the words
showing from under his puffy coat —

and I hear him
softly but emphatically repeating


as he goes out 
unapologetically into
slushy old Boston’s
colonial headwaters,

that universal password
upon his chapped lips.

Christmas At The Feeder

Here’s to fortune and health
for all the downy woodpeckers
I’ve ever seen on my feeder

It’s almost Christmas and I feel nothing
but fear for myself as I wish good cheer
to every last feathered one of them

Before they disappear forever
into the next mass extinction
may they feast and be merry

all the way to the end (and
may the squirrels I accidentally support as well
have a twinkle in their eyes as they pass)

It doesn’t much feel like Christmas to me
but when I see the animals I’m reminded
that part of the world

thinks they’ll be talking to each other
at midnight on Christmas Day
and they’ll be saying calming things

about some baby or another born to save us
If we make it to the Second Coming
I’m sure there won’t be many animals 

left to talk about it
So for now I’ll encourage them to eat
and smile at their heads bobbing in and out

because as the song says
it don’t feel much like Christmas time
To me it’s more like Good Friday

and grief’s darkness and I’m thinking
we won’t make it to Easter 
and the stone will sit there unmoved

with a raven and a dove perched on top
for a few seconds before they topple
into the dust 

Of all the myths we’ve lived by
the one I have the least faith in
is the one that taught us to think death

while awful was impermanent
so complacency in the face of extinction
was a rational state of mind

The downy woodpeckers fly in
and eat when they can and when they go
they’re gone

and it doesn’t feel like Christmas
or hope or belief or even joy 
will stick around for long

once they’re gone for good