Tag Archives: political poems

Scratch And Bleed

Buy the tickets,
then dig from your pocket
the lucky quarter minted
the year you were born.
Rub the gray parts, trade
any winning tickets in
for new ones, repeat 
until you win no more.
Having scratched the itch 
you wipe the blood 
from your wallet
and head for home.

On the way you feel the tug
of the bar and stop for one, then two.
This whisky tastes like your own blood
as it stops the tickle within for a moment.
The air here is full of karaoke, 
a night of allergen songs,
happy people who somehow
aren’t scratching. You hope
that joy is contagious
but as your skin is getting anxious,
home at last you go.

Which of the convenience store meals
in your fridge should you microwave?
Pull out that quarter one more time,
settle on the deadly burrito.
This is, of course, a pure contradiction
to all you know about your body.
You’re going to itch inside all night
if you eat this late, as you always do.
At least you are home,
bloody man, itchy bloody man.

You try to count what’s left in the wallet.
The denominations are so red
you’ll have to try again
when the bills are dry. It won’t matter
overnight that you don’t know;
you know that come morning,
whatever happens,
it won’t be enough. They used to call it
death by a thousand cuts. 
Now it’s just called being an American:
scratch and bleed from wallet to belly
to soul or to what replaced the soul
after you sold it while thinking the itch
would go away.

Politicians’ Hairstyles

the mad construction of 
these politicians’ hairstyles 

sculpted to hold
a hard crest like 
a cruel dragon or cold raptor

or left loosely spectacular
as wild as some 
indecent architecture 

what you see is the result of a devil
running its hand through
early on in their lives

tousling their pelts into flags
saying “don’t ever forget
you’re my special boy”

and they don’t

Do The Math, Become An American

You have been born
into a palace. 

Carved into
the walls of the palace

is an equation
that is itself a palace 

all its own, a palace
made of directions

to enter a farther palace
beyond all mathematics

where you can live forever
instead of staying 

and eventually dying
here in this first palace

where you are only
allowed to be either

spectator of, or specter for,
the immortals inside the

palace of math, the ones
who have figured it all out

or were born into it;
that’s all they will ever know

of you, your struggle 
with numbers,

your mad scratching
at the walls trying to 

figure out how to have
what they have.

You are to them
either specter of the disastrous

life outside, or spectator for 
the luxury of being inside, 

and while you do the math
to figure out how palaces

may be entered by command or
fortune or breach, they keep

watch.  There’s math
to be done on their side too:

the simple arithmetic 
of how to raise the walls,

no matter how close
you or anyone may get

to solving for
the key,  for zero;

for the red white and blue
on the other side of the x.


Hard, too hard:
the punch down
once again. 

If we mean 
to stop this,
we must punch up 

and not with words
alone, not with boycotts
or shame. 

Punching up
punching. They know

how not to hear,
how to drown our
voices. It’s the base

under their
whole monumental
world. To break free

will demand
breakage. The less
we accept that truth

in the name of 
peace, the more they will drive us
before them with their

punching, slashing war.
To punch back is
to admit that war

is upon us. To punch up
is to admit we may have no choice
but to steal back weapons

they have stolen in
punching down always, 
snatching up our strength

and calling it their own
as they have from the beginning
of what they call history,

the time we know only 
for its endless hammering 
from above. 


Consider the underbrush
around your home
The tangle that should be cut
to save the trees in case of fire
Been growing for years 
Rome wasn’t built, etc.
This took ages to grow this thick
and underneath
this dark

Consider now your town
The messy underpinnings
of its civic life and how
the citizens long
to smile through it all and
above it all saying
Rome wasn’t built, etc.
Go slow, take time
to consider, etc.

Consider the proximity of history
Consider the new bite of old smoke
Consider the fresh taste of ancient heat 
Rome wasn’t built, etc.
but it burned in a night

Consider that 
the emperor is said
to have played through that
and now consider
the underbrush again
and at last consider
a machete

The Surrender

When the surrender came
so many were surprised
that they had even
been at war

that the mandatory celebrations
sounded like thousands of shuffling feet
moving in a continent-wide circle

while bonfires burned
in our towns and cities
and people murmured
their shock at what had just happened.

Meanwhile others shrugged
and hid their well-used weapons
in places near at hand,

experience having taught them
the meaning of the red dots
visible beyond the light of those fires,
reflected also in

the glint
of white fangs
in the dark.

We Are Infinite Hope And Light

(I don’t know
that word anymore)

(or that one as all I know
of being is “were”)

(but only if
We limit others

and who is 
this “We” 
and who are these “others”)

(which seems to be
a good thing by definition)

and Light 
(if that is opposed to 
what We have right now

it cannot come
soon enough
and may be too late)

What we
we mean
these words 

to mean has
become mean

Welcome to
the limit of
light and how

“We” feels when
in the dark

after tossing
the jigsaw puzzle of 
what Hope looks like

back into its box
and shoving it
to the back of the closet

We are
not responsible
for any missing piece

and who
are you calling “We”

The Professional

That man talks
like he ate
a fake newspaper
Is shitting out
a correction but afterward
can’t get himself quite clean

As if he swallows
lawsuits for the mob
the way
other men
eat swords for fun
and money

As if he was just served
a subpoena written 
in acid on leather
Chewed it real slow
Coughed it out
soaked in bile

As if he can smell
the white stench 
upon which he hangs
his every word
but to him
it smells 

like roses
in dank soil 
piled high over
enemy graves

American Poem

Revised from November 2021.

To write the American poem,

start from a nature image. 
Pretend you are the colonizer’s god;
purple the mountains up 
then chew the scenery until
there’s nothing left to suck from it.

Set the meter
to a rigged jig stepping lively
around myth and cynicism.

In every true American poem
one should be able to hear
exuberant ghosts dancing
to the sounds of babies crying,
screaming, cooing, gurgling,
while other ghosts plead 
not the babies, please. Leave
the babies out of it, so
precious, so innocent…

humbug. It’s the Fourth of July.
The Fourth of July
is built on dead children,
uses fireworks to justify
a war everlasting.

Every great American poem
should describe an America
over half of its readers
cannot recognize. A mirror
shows your reflection, 
a better one shows you your other side;
the best one shows you more than one.

The great American poem,
if it’s truly any good,
will burn you as if
in your overreach and hunger
you have knocked the chafing dish
on the table askew while grabbing 
at the Thanksgiving turkey
and all those wonderful sides

as the purple mountains above us all
look down wondering
where it all went wrong
as they see what it takes now

to write the great American poem.

Poem To Be Poured Into A Musket Barrel

This is a poem
made to be poured like
120 grains
of gunpowder
into your musket barrel

as the advancing lines
of the enemy king’s
soldiers come
within range of
the deadly aim
you are sure
you possess
in your fantasy
of stopping them cold
before they overrun
your position
and force you
into surrender
or death;

this is a poem
for when your weapon
misfires, a poem
to be remembered
as you prepare to fall
to your knees or
upon your sword
in desperation
because nothing
in the legends
of your people
taught you how
to lose

and now you have
no choice but to learn
how to go low
now that the high ground
is no longer safe.

Poem To Be Etched On A Knife

This is a poem
to be etched
on a knife.

It does not deal
in wide scale acts.
The Statue of Liberty

will not be made to vanish
this way — this is instead
made for close-up menace.

This poem 
on this blade:
talisman upon talon

for intimate
Can serve as well

as kitchen tool or
freeing good news

or payment due message
from its envelope 
after a wipe-down from

the work of sustenance,
the chore of making do;
still, when gripped and swung

correctly in the 
right moment,
it can do enough

well enough. Even after
you are done this poem
shall hold enough blood

in its letters that it
will never forget when you had
no choice but to cut.

This is a poem
made to carry that
for you. Go then, eat,

then rest. You’ve done enough,
and well enough. You have time. 
You remain alive. You are still you.

Poem To Be Wrapped Around A Brick

“i don’t want to see a poem unless it’s wrapped around a brick.”  Madeleine Roux, on Twitter, following the Roe v. Wade reversal. 

This is a poem
to be wrapped around
a brick

Because the sound
of breaking glass
swells a crowd 

which then surges
in the direction
of the shattering

Because a crowd 
is necessary for what comes
after the glass is broken

as reading a poem
out loud only does
so much in so much noise

Because so much
needs doing
So much glass to break

This is a poem
to be flung
through those windows

Because paper
has proved itself

Rewrite this poem in 
gasoline then stuff it
into bottles also full of fuel

Because a good match
held to the poem
before launching

will turn it 
into a fire anthem
agains the now-sunless sky

This is a poem
to be hurled at
the sources of darkness

it’s not their war
to win

Returned as projectile
As remonstrance  — as reminder
that this cannot stand

against the fire
this time
next time

This — bah!
No more poems unless
they are written in blood

General Strike

Somewhat broken.
Frayed. So-called
Dinged up and 
flagged for
made ready to go
to highest bidder.
You know us. You 
think you know us.

Been here
under your noses
long years passing. 
Folk-song old, 
obvious, not
pop-tune insinuation
incessant; more
embedded, part of
vocabulary — you 
use us unconsciously,
need us but cannot
bring yourself to see
that we as aggregate
cannot be bought,
not completely.
We rent ourselves
to you. You
owe us what we
are worth and we
are worth everything
you have.

If we 
just hold tight
to each other. If we
do not fail along
our faults. If we
sing as we are born to 
sing, stay as your
base layer, keep you
warm until we melt away
and then stand by as you
shiver. We hold 
power over
temperature. We
know how to make you 
freeze, how to
stand by singing
as you do.

Civil Unrest

They so smug
and stinky
with attitude

unearned power
inability to think beyond 
their own Stench

Worry up the people
saying there will be
civil unrest oh no

if and if and if oh no
this that
and the other oh no

oh no
oh no
oh no no no no

No to
sword and scales
doing as designed

They so smug 
and ripe with
a hey nonny nonny

hey derry down
Singing the one song they know
Always ends with don’t even go there

One hand on a big damn gun
One on some fat book
or another 

They so tremendous
Gaseous cloud making
national poison sunset

They so wring handed
They so rolling eyed
You don’t want civil unrest do you

Talking past us
born Stench sick
Talking past us 

song sourcing
land naming
world molding

choke throated
chest burned
child missing

grave stained
school tortured

compressed but
never small or beige enough
to hide or fit among them

They so right
We don’t want unrest 
to be at all civil

when — blessed paradox —
fire and smoke
can clear the air


To prevent being robbed
in a push in, secure
your AC unit with screws
and window locks 
if you are close enough to the ground 
that a would-be thief could get to you.

To prevent being hurt
in a street crime, give up
your valuables at once and
don’t try to be a hero no matter
what you carry, no matter
what movies you’ve seen. 

To prevent being victimized 
by online predators, scammers,
and trolls use firewalls 
and private networks, stop taking 
quizzes and playing games,
stop being so certain you’re doing fine. 

To prevent being wounded
by family, friend, or lover
stay sharp and ready,
set boundaries early, require
consent explicitly, expel toxicity
whenever it becomes necessary.

To prevent being torn apart 
by your country? Would-be
thief lured by your cool, 
red-white-blue sneer of a thug,
voice in your ear suggesting
blasphemous surrenders?

The advice remains the same.
Never become too surprised 
that the distance between
two criminals of any stripe
is slim, and the only thing
different is that sometimes,

heroism may be required of you.