Tag Archives: political poems

Red Onions

The red onions are trying to kill us all
with germ tricks they learned from the lettuce
the chicken and beef
and poisonous canned shrooms
The next door neighbors are in on it too
They’re nasty people 

Everything is trying to kill us
I ate a whole pizza by myself last night
The pizza made me do it
It is trying to kill me

It’s scary out there
and in here too 
I took my blood glucose reading this AM
and it wasn’t as high as you’d expect
after a whole pizza
and a night of sloth 
It’s killing me slow
the bastard disease
of my bastard pancreas

Not like the neighbors who want me 
gone quick
those 
diseased bastards

I wear the mask of the moment
but it’s more so the killers don’t recognize me
in some unexpected moment when I am alone
than in the belief that it will save me from anything
in this place where everything is trying to kill us
even the red onions and the bad fats in the good food
and the sugar and the Nazis and my own head-sauce
full of bad things and all the flags that mean anger
is going to win today instead of any single moment of joy

I never trusted the chicken I admit
My neighbors keep chickens
so I’ve seen them in action
The eggs are suspect as well
but it is the betrayal of the red onions I feel most 
How I once loved their transparent skin
and the full bite of the first bite in my mouth
I loved that more than I have ever loved my neighbors
I expected the worst from them but not you
my produce my food my sustenance my flavor

I will hunker down with Oreos and pure white sugar
I will maintain my diligence
Keep a watch on my neighbors with new glasses

At night I will eat white onions in spite
Rip off my mask and breathe on their doorknobs
Smear red onions on their car seats when they are asleep
I will die before I let them not die as I am dying
Betrayed by the food and the air
and the eyes peering through the near-closed blinds
of all the neighbors watching to see who will fall

You can hear a recording of this piece with music here: https://soundcloud.com/radioactiveart/red-onions


By Default

I wear the name
“American”
by default only.

It’s not a name
that feels like
a good fit, but in truth

that ill-fit feeling
is as American
an experience

as feeling snug and comfy
when you put the name on.
In fact

the entirety
of American experience
is the history of 

the party of the Snug and Comfy
telling the party of
the Ill-Fitting Name

that one name
fits everyone when in truth
the party of the first part

is only snug and comfy
because the party of the second part
has been made uncomfortable,

and of the discomforted
striving to make the name
fit them as well

when in truth
it wasn’t made
to do that.

I call myself
American 
by default

but I keep trying
for a better fit and 
I see all my fellow

uncomfortable
Americans pushing 
the seams and taking in

the loose fabric
because it’s either do this,
keep living lives of noisy

desperation, or
die of exposure — but  
since that’s what 

the snug and comfy live for,
I swear by the bodies
of all who went before and

will come after, as well as
those here now,
that whatever it takes

to make it so, 
they cannot win and this suit
is going to fit.


School Days

They are praying
to the god of gambles,
offering children in tribute.

Never had any of my own,
but still not willing to risk
losing anyone else’s. Tell me:

to what stronger god
may I pray to try
and get them a better deal?

Give me their name,
the place of their shrine,
the preferred sacrifice,

and I will make a pilgrimage
and an offering of my own
on behalf of yours

and mine —
the ones
I never had,

the ones I know
I would have died for if
I had.

Maybe that is why
I am here — to strive
on behalf

of the normalized
path I was not
healthy enough

to take. To offer
a hope I never had
to others

more equipped for it.
To be at last of some use
in a nearly useless life:

to take
the divine gamble,
offer myself to the odds.


A Nation Fulfills Its Promise

it looks into
the eyes of its beloved
demigoddess 
and explains itself thus

look
my darling liberty
we have
repaired our  
repulsive pancakes 
and disturbing butter
we are busy renaming
our war gamers

isn’t that enough
at least for a good start
I mean 
we still have to preserve 
our borders 
while opening our factories
and how will we live without
circuses to go
with our sad breads
our white breads and 
flatbreads
our wheat breads and
trend-sponsored 
sourdoughs

right now we’re a little
under the weather
so we’ve told everyone
to wear a mask
to protect everyone except
those we are used
to killing and who 
cares about them so
mandatory takes on 
a new meaning
for us
as in suggested
as in contemptible
but why not try it

anything more than that
will cost us plenty and make us
different 

so
with all
deliberate speed we will
dig into our thick authentic
red label
blue jean pockets
for small change
and spend it 
on small change

liberty
you sweet old girl

take off your blindfold 
and see me
I’m making an effort
put down the scales
and hold me
I’m cold

if you read the papers
they will tell you something else
but if you know the history

you will know we’re still
your darling
your favorite 
your same old used to be


Sneer Boy

Three words —
BLACK LIVES MATTER —
printed on a banner,
painted on a street,

and you saw fit
to tear it up, light it up,
spill paint on it,
burn rubber on it.

I want to seize you, 
drag the sneer off your face,
and ask you to explain
which of those three words

hurt you the most, 
tore you up so much 
that you had to do 
what you did.

I suspect you
will be puzzled 
and unable to answer
whether it was the word

BLACK because it isn’t
about you, LIVES 
because, after all,
it’s not like your own

feels much like a life, 
or MATTER because,
of course, in your eyes
they don’t. Maybe you

can’t tell me which one word
but you can say
you are insulted or
disturbed to think of

someone daring to say
the phrase as if it was
a truth held to be self-
evident when it

isn’t and wasn’t ever
supposed to be and now
that it’s out there you might 
have to behave.  Whatever.

The point is,
they do — and now
that I have you here,
sneer boy, cocky lump

of plain dumb, 
big old red hatted 
cracked rung on the
evolutionary ladder —

now that I have you,
I’m going to turn you out
onto the places where you thought
you were safe from having

to consider your actions
and see how you fare
walking down the street,
wondering who hates you,

who might want more of you
than I took from you, who might turn
the other cheek if you act up
again, and who might not.

Welcome to a cracked door, 
buddy. Welcome to a door
slowly opening, welcome to learning
about all that’s been locked away

so that you could
sneer in comfort.
Welcome to the place
of your definitions,

where all the words
you can’t stand to hear
will either change you
or drown you out.


Stilled Life With Fig Newtons

Today I speak neither
of my parent’s
first languages.

I did speak
Italian, my mother’s
tongue, until I was five

and sent to school.
Lost the ability 
to speak it, although

I still understand
a bit, as long as my mother
is speaking. 

As for my father’s language?
Gone; tossed upon
a boarding school’s trash heap;

can’t even pronounce it
when I see it written
as I’ve never heard it but once

in a reservation store
on a visit there; someone
was looking for Fig Newtons,

the only words I understood;
I assume he found them. 
I didn’t stick around to find out.

My only authentic voice
speaks nothing but English:
all my truths must be drawn

in an occupier’s medium,
a colonist’s artifact. How I work this
when I feel so robbed by history:

strive to turn the tool
toward mastery of the house
where I live. There must be words

I did not learn
or have forgotten
that I can reincarnate if I try,

and I must try. 
Tired unto death
assuming that there must be

enough words already 
for all I know
when I can’t even

speak the full truth
to myself which is all
I’ve ever tried to do,

the only reason
I write, the only reason
I’m still here.


Them And You

He lives four doors down
from you.

She rides the elevator daily
with you.

They went to high school
with you.

On her wall in the FaceTime background,
a suspect flag designed to scare you. 

On his truck, a bumper sticker
for someone who hates you.

In the conversation you left, stifled laughter
about some joke aimed at those like you.

But they’re so damned nice
to you.

She now and then has lunch
with you.

He had pizza one day and held a slice out
to you.

You know why they role play cordiality
to you.

You don’t like to think about how it plays
you.

You try not to think about how they’re shrinking
you.

They prefer that smaller, quieter, less present
you.

It makes it easier to demand more and expect less
of you.

One day they’re going to look at 
you 

and see 
you

and scratch their heads and reimagine
you.

Beware that day when they finally see 
you

because on that day — yes — what could happen to
you:

you being you at full height and strength; could be curtains
for you

or them, or they’ll change and see you
for you;

not an excuse not
to be you —

if anything, it’s a bell ringing
for you,

an alarm 
for you:

they are who they are no matter how nice and you
are you.

Learn them for who they are
and then do you,

do you, do
you.


Barbaric Yawp

(with a nod to Billy Tuggle)

America’s too in love
with Whitman’s barbaric yawp
ever to offer honor soft words
spoken kindly.

This is why I’ve almost
stopped offering the latter to anyone:
it left me feeling almost
un-American to do that

and what I’ve been called 
for daring to care about 
others, there is no need to repeat;
I’m sure you know the words.

The single cry over
the collective voice.
Barbaric insistent
bastardization of language

toward selfish ends.
Not communication
but announcement, 
claim-staking; 

America, barbarian
nation, founded on
conquest, enslavement,
and plunder. And yet

somewhere here
are communities where people
speak quietly 
under the Shadow,
in spite of it,

and only raise their voices
in amplification of what was said
while the nation wasn’t listening,
or in song. That’s part of 

America too, although I think
it needs a different word than American
to describe where it comes from:
human, perhaps.  Civilized, maybe.


My Presentation

All I did
was touch
the reddening tomato on the vine
and it fell
into my hand

I took it inside and washed it off
Sliced it thin
and ate it like that
just this side of ripe but still
first fruit of the summer good
I thanked the garden for providing
it to me

and then stopped

It still had a day or two to go
I robbed the plant
of its fullness

What if another had come by
one with more need
than I

What if its destiny
was to fall and re-seed
for another season

I assume so much
of the world
for I am American

from the land of no obligations
beyond the ones
we have for ourselves

We ride rough here
and alone
Take what we want 
Slogan our way forward

It’s my right
and no one can take it from me
I am owed this
and no one can take it from me
Kind words
are for others to speak
and no one
can force them from me
The world owes me its fruits

All I did was touch
the tomato on the vine
and it fell into my hand

Any pressure I put upon it
was unconscious and innate

Something in my presentation
keeps me dangerous
to everything that grows

Something I’ve learned
to use without thought

Something I trust 
I can unlearn

in spite of the fact

that the tomato was delicious


Behemoth Wants To Die

Behemoth 
wants to die

It flings the curtain
from its face
so we can see it
snickering as it tries
to choke itself 
It scolds us for saying
it could live if it changes
It sneers at changes
It loves its burglary records
It loves its murder tributes
It loves its most vile deeds
even as it sobs that it’s changed
and why are we
so mean

Behemoth
wants to die

It sucks poison air
drifting through
its shops and taverns
and calls it good
It spits raw bile
while laughing at the discomfort
of those upon whom it lands
It insists it is God-chosen 
and Heaven made 
even as it longs to die
even if it is removed upon death
from here to Hell

Behemoth 
wants to die

Wrapped in a blood flag
over a camouflage suit
A pair of sunglasses 
and a salesman’s smile
A fat wallet in its hand
blocking the sun
Singing its anthem
and rolling like an infant
on the floor
in the muck of its stall
while claiming
it never knew
and so what
and so what now
and so this is how
and won’t we be sorry
when it at last is gone

We look down
at Behemoth
in shit on the floor
while holding
mops and shovels

We’ve bided our time
for a long span
We can bide our time
a bit more


A Declaration

When there is a beginning
worth mentioning, I will
mention it. I will tell you
that I have returned to the source
and after a proper interval has passed
I will tell you that I’ve moved
onto a fresh path. That I’ve dressed myself
in clean clothes and washed myself
deeply for a change. That I’ve cut my hair
to the scalp, that I’ve trimmed my beard
to the chin, that I’ve razed my shanty
and set up a small tent where it stood,
that I’ve cleaned the ancient campfire pit,
relined it with new flat stones and 
rebuilt the tumbled walls. That at night
I tend the fire with great care,
my new face warm before it,
my backside cool behind me
as I turn it toward darkness unafraid
for the first time in six decades,
the first to do so in many generations.

When there is a beginning
worth mentioning, I will tell you
I’ve forgotten
where my family graves are,
what events sparked
my long suffering, where 
desecrations took place.
I will tell you I’ve forgotten
boarding schools,
that smallpox blankets
must have indeed been a myth, that
all those heroic statues
just look like stones with clean hands
and faces, that I can see
how to you any mountain
with such monumental outcroppings
certainly begged for its own carving.

When there is a beginning
worth mentioning, I will tell you
that I’m ready, that I’m
healed at last. I will tell you
that the slurs I’ve heard, the ones
I’ve carried with me everywhere,
are all packed away and dropped,
that the half-measure 
I’ve always taken
of my half-breed self
is brimful now, wholesome
and complete, that I’m together
and at peace;
no longer merciless,
no longer savage.

When there is
a beginning worth mentioning
I’ll let you know. Until then 
I will sit by my fire alone
in these new clothes,
body clean, half warm 
and half cold,
waiting to see
what you do next.


The High Road

You sit up all night
watching the trenches from
the high road,

pretending that directing 
love at the enemy 
is helping.

Save your love
for the lovable. 
The blood 

you’re collecting
on your other cheek
is crusting over

and your gentle smile
is becoming ghastly
and stuck in place.

If you want this
to end, get down
from your lofty perches

and fight where and how
they fight. Fight them
on their ground —

it used
to be yours,
after all.


Immolation

I cannot trust anything,
so I set myself on fire.

I’m burning now
and a crowd gathers.

Someone calls out,
“Is there nothing we can do?”

I can’t talk with lips this crisp
so someone else says,

“he must prefer it, let us
leave him to the flames.”

Of course, I prefer this
to help from anyone saying 

such a thing. I did it because
of my lack of trust. I’m 

a whole nation of distrust
in a single body

and this fire is how I tell you
you weren’t worthy of me —

how I show you my arrogance,
my horrid willingness

to start bigger flames. 
“Is there nothing we can do?”

Maybe water, maybe
smothering, maybe just

bury me in sand or under
a dome of concrete.

You could paint a flag
over it later — it’s what

I would expect of you:
glorifying me and my 

narrowed, stunted life.
You’ll pick the flag

that works best for you,
I trust. I know you that well.

Hence the flames,
hence the greasy bitter ash

I am now. Hence the memory
of what I once thought I was,

curling away
in smoke.


What I Will Miss Most

after the fall

chrome face 
of a restored GTO
rumbling by
a flash of sun points
in my eye

silver pink street lights
their glow
their dulled hum

the doppler effect
of a truck approaching
then passing on the street
below my open window

a car apparently doing the same
but instead slowing
and turning in to our driveway

bass the only thing to be heard
from that new club
until the doors open
to push everyone home
at closing time
and then the laughter
and then the shouting
and then no more

until the stores begin to open
and commutes begin
and voices and 
scraps of car stereo music

bass the only thing to be heard

turning from the streets
I will surely miss

the tap working
the power on
the words on a screen
the diseases staying far away
from me and mine

I do not know
all that exists right now
that will not exist
after the fall
there will be something 
I will not miss but 
I cannot know

I watch the streets
for comings and goings

because there is so much
inside and within
I desperately want
to remain unknown


Living At The Movie

We focus too much
on opening credits.

Character development,
plotting, how the optics

are arranged and changed;
all that is set aside.

The writing of it — how
the arc is presented, where

one must suspend disbelief,
what makes no sense, what

is left unsaid and left to dangle
out there unanswered — shit,

even the who and when
of the writing are ignored — 

those who stay for the the last crawl
of all those behind the scenes

are few, those who understand
all the roles and occupations

as they are assigned on screen
are fewer still.

We’ve unapologetically loved
the movie, though:

the lights; the special effects;
the heroes and the villains —

but damn people, damn.
This is no way to run a country.