Tag Archives: political poems

ICBM

is what 
we thought 
was most likely
to kill us 
when I was
a grade school kid

and why 
we believed
it was out of 
“stranger danger”
that the End and the Evil
would come

all the news
all the way
through USSR and PRC
to PLO and ISIS
initials that stood for
the Other

till one day
it became as clear to us
as blood
on a forensic slide
that MAGA could kill
without pressing a button

that without
a single ICBM launch
it had been war
against us from back
when it was called
KKK 

which I learned 
as a kid
we’d crushed or
relegated to history
with a hey nonny nonny
we shall overcome

what we learn 
out of school these days
is that nowadays and always
look next door instead of overseas 
for the End and the Evil
as your neighbor’s face

might hold
a loaded silo
a bastard flag
an LOL and a J/K
waiting to open
and let the Great Death fly


Good As It Gets

as good as it gets

you living warm
and yeasty fresh inside 
a big new loaf
of soft white bread

crust on that bread
light brown almost like
a much-laundered 
faded bloodstain
on cotton 

sitting in
your ancestral backyard
the sheets smelling sweet
heirloom sheets hung on 
old rope lines
grandad’s sheets
you grew up with

washed as clean
as they can get

you cut a slice of that 
good fresh bread
slice right through
the crust

lay
mayo
on thick

as far as you know
this is as good as it gets


At The Bar In December

One deep inhale
in the cold and I’m thinking
I need to go back inside
and punch this guy. I’ve lashed out
in rage before, but this is not that:
this is calculation, this
strategic punching I’m contemplating.
I’m following a path I endorsed
long ago and now I’m at the point
where I have to take action
if I believe I’ve done right.

One deep inhale
of the cold and I’m ready 
to stop overthinking.
I need to go back inside
and punch this guy. I’d call him out
to the sidewalk but too many would see
the next thing and the next thing
and whatever came after that
and then where would I be: giving him
a chance to prepare, a chance to get armed,
a chance to win? I need to just do
for once what the body tells me:
punch him with as much cold in my hand
as I have in my lungs (after of course

one long exhale)
and then say yes.
that was right. All fear
will fall off me
like broken scales.
Punch him, punch them.
The consequences
are so much gentler
than the consequences 
of self-betrayal.


Shooter

I turn to
the monstrous, 
fearing monsters.

I’ve become
Animal. Humans
pledge not to,

but too often fail
in their promises.
Betrayal of trust

is endemic among us.
Memory and
documentation

be damned; reaction
is truth. Fear is
health. Who are

those in the wood
or alley that are more
terrifying than I am?

Stand ready, says
the spirit
of the ravenous; Animal,

your time has come.
Take off your watch.
There’s only now. Go.


A Look To Die For

Fire in your sleeves
when you pick up the sweatshirt — 
how are you supposed to wear this?

It’s as if
this entire blazing society
has settled in your clothing.

So hot, so uncomfortable and 
dangerous to have your home and clothes 
burning from the inside at the same time. 

All day long the mass shooting
itches you. The killing is 
next to your skin and won’t stop.

When the news announces
the inevitable fatalities 
are at a Walmart, you calculate

the distance to one from your home.
Maybe there will be a clearance sale.
God knows you need a new sweatshirt

to replace the one that’s burning you.
Regardless of the source, 
you have to wear something.

It’s not your fault this is all
society offers and anyway,
disaster is all the rage these days.

Every one of us walking around
reeking of smoke and singe.
‘Tis the season. ‘Tis the way of our flesh.

 


Boilerplate

because of
the intense 
social pressure

because
of the wild
speculation 

because of
the depth
of suspicion

because of
the climate
of fear 

we are withholding
the benefit
of the doubt

are reviewing
the situation
from all angles 

will determine
if a measured 
response may be needed 

and will implement
such measures 
with all due speed


Being Neither, Being Both

from 2013, revised.

Being Indian
and White
on Thanksgiving

means being tired
of plowing the six weeks of stupid before this day.
Tired of explaining. Tired of walking on Pilgrim shells.
Tired of having to justify marking the day
as painful or joyful or neither

or both. Being Both on Thanksgiving
means I get to give myself the ulcer
I richly deserve. Means being hungry
in every sense of the word. Means
I want to give thanks for something
I stole from myself, or perhaps I did not;

being Both on Thanksgiving
means nothing is simple. I am thankful
for the tightrope, thankful for the mash-up
problems, thankful for looking like
I ought to be oblivious, thankful for
a good talking to. Being Neither, fully,

on Thanksgiving means I ought to give me
a good talking to. I am angry enough
to ignore much and fantasize more
over the boiled onions only my Dad eats
and the meat stuffing with chestnuts only my Mom eats,
angry enough to lose my appetite in public,
angry enough to be redder than the damned canned
cranberry sauce. Being Me on Thanksgiving

means I sit down to the table and eat like a fat man,
a continent’s worth of overkill, filling my dark gut
till I have to shed something to be comfortable
by the fire in the too-warm house of my parents
who are long past caring about anything but making sure
that the peace holds till night falls and we all go home

carrying the leftovers with us to feed on
for another whole year. Another harvest festival
passed, no guarantee of one next year, maybe
we’ll starve over the winter while being Indian, being White,
being Neither, being Both, being the kind
who thinks it matters when you are choking on
so many bones.


Graveside

It was sweet of you
to agree with me
when I said I mattered
 
Was sweet of you
to let me lick
your plate

Sweet as
hot candy
on a car floor
Sweet and soft
as shoveled earth

If I could I’d get up
from this shady grave
and hug you and pray
that you wait
until my back is turned
and I start to walk away
before you scrape off

the dirt that adhered to you
when we embraced

the dirt
you put me in

before you shudder


An American Poem

Revised from November 2021.

To write an American poem
insert
nature image here;

purple up those mountains,
you god.
Then chew

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

American poem,
a rigged dance
of myth and cynicism.

Right outside the poem
is where we step on
toes

until the pain becomes so strong
they cannot help but kick at us. Inside
the poem is where we apologize.

An American poem
should be brimful
of exuberantly shaded ghosts

and their decorative babies,
crying, screaming — playing dead. 
If you write it someone will say

no no, not the babies, please.
Leave the babies out of it.
So precious, so beautiful. 

Bah, humbug, you say, 
though it’s not Christmas, it’s
the Fourth of July and the Fourth

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

What’s that about the ghosts? You
don’t recognize yourself in there?
Still cheering, still writing,

strangely inverted? A good mirror
shows you your other side.
A better one shows you more than one.

An American poem
usually holds an America over half
of its readers cannot recognize.

See the babies
before their mirrors,
either clapping and laughing

or screaming, wondering
where we went wrong
that this is how we look now

from wherever
you find yourself
when you come near

an American poem.
The fireworks are done.
Sulfur and sizzle hang in the air.


Rude Awakening

Soon enough
I hope
we will retch

when on some lucky morning
we finally taste workers’ blood 
in our orange juice

and after that move on
to sweeping the television
into a trash can

and after that recognize
that some so-called
“opposing political viewpoint”

is in fact
the smirk of a well-fed predator
seeking its next meal

and while it won’t be soon enough for all
I hope we will find the key
to the dusty old gun safe 

and after only the briefest of stops
for unlocking and retrieving
step out into the day

with a hot spring
in our step
rude awakening behind us

and something resembling
a red but needed future
before us

and some
will moan about violence
but how you can think

they’ll stop smirking
without us being willing
to wipe that away

as a consequence
for them
feeding us blood with a smile

is beyond me


Living Inside The Boundaries

The boundaries implore us
to keep our heads in the game
and do our jobs.

Keep the homefires burning
but stop short of lighting new ones
if they go out.

We’ll be safe inside
but we should leave a door slightly ajar
for worthy guests. 

Others are going
to try to get in. Remember
that there’s a lot of love here

for when the right ones knock
and want to shelter by the fire. 
As for the rest, that’s what a gun is for.

If you need a penny at the store, take one
from the tray at the counter — but
only one per visit, you common thief. 

Do not mistake 
convenience for generosity.
Pay up or get out or just get out. 

The boundaries come dressed
in dirty white robes that stink.
Could use a thorough airing out.

If you want to live here you have to
respect the boundaries even if they disrobe
and fully show themselves.

We wouldn’t like to see our boundaries 
naked, though. You know they
wouldn’t ease up if they were stripped.

The boundaries thus exposed
would of course look less benign: all crotch,
no knee to bend in supplication. 

Locked in, upright, decrepit, and cold.
Vision out of science fiction or perhaps
a frieze of history fully ossified. 

It’s all you need. You don’t need a future.
The boundaries tell you how it will be
from now on: keep the home fires burning,

keep firing out the windows at the shadows,
keep your resources tight, expect nothing more
than a penny for your thoughts and all the ammo

you could ever need for when the fires go out
and you have to rob your neighbor
to survive.


Living In Halloween

We sit at home
with treats in baskets.
Lights on 

because we fear
tricks committed
by men costumed

in camo, in blue,
worst of all
in pinstriped suits.

We give all we have and
turn the lights out for the night
then sit there waiting

for the late, ominous knock.
For our doors to be kicked in.
For them to tell us they want more.

Every day is Halloween 
now. We know too well
what the ghouls look like.

Why do we even bother 
with masks these days
when mirrors hold terror enough?


Icons And Demons

Icons, in the natural order of things,
almost always become demons.

They spend their loosened time
in sulfurous celebrity bars.

They put on horned shoes,
run through hell collecting fire.

They come back burnt,
drunk on notoriety.

They buy houses next door
and keep you up as they party all night.

In daylight they take up all your time
making you worry.

What happened, you say.
They used to be so bright and such.

What happened, you say.
It becomes all your breakfast chatter.

Maybe there will be
a redemption arc. 

Maybe a demon or two
will be proven to have issues.

Maybe they drank and were abused
and were bipolar and addicted to fame.

Maybe they’ll make a come back
and claim an expanded niche among icons.

Your breakfast chatter slows down.
You wait for the next icon turned demon. 

There will always be a next one.
Without redemption arcs we are nothing.

We barely remain citizens if there is no icon
to revile or demon to embrace. 

As we are not icons
we cannot do it for ourselves.

 


The Scales

All you need to do
is listen to understand
that the scales are buckling
and near collapse.
When they fail at last
and nothing 
can be weighed and
the numbers trusted,
will we disagree
on what heavy
and light mean?
Maybe we’re already there.
A stone is thrown
and a child falls to the ground
to lie there unmoving.
The body fell with
a dense thud. The body fell with
no sound, as does a feather.
The stone was huge,
hurled with intention
by someone with great power.
The stone was light, simply tossed,
a great accident deeply regretted. 
Now we’ve got to move the body
and figure out what to do next.
Whoever picks it up
needs to be prepared for how hard
that will be and how far
it will have to be carried
to wherever it will rest
and that lady we used to depend on
to keep the now-useless scales 
can’t help with any of that. 


Balloons

In a park, I recognize
a family in tears 
as they release balloons

for a son killed a few days ago
in a confrontation with
police.

I hear someone near me grouching
about the environmental impact
of a balloon release

and no one talking about
the environmental impact
of a boy being dead

as the balloons rise away.