Tag Archives: political poems

Ism Schism Game

Originally posted 2015.
With acknowledgments and respect to Bob Marley, whose words inspired this piece.

Dictionaries
tell you with authority
how words are used

to do work
on behalf
of Authority

If they mention 
when primary meaning is 
in dispute

or when primary meaning
is a cornerstone
of a prison or when

that cornerstone
rests firmly on negated
backs and necks

If they do tell you a meaning
came from a definition 
written repeatedly in blood

with pens
made from bones
plucked from slain infants

they wink it off with
a bandage label such as
“colloquial” or “obsolete” —

trying to chase 
unquiet ghosts of struggle into 
forgotten fields of rubble

left over from 
construction of 
their order

The dictionaries
have no words
to sing of those who

having come up from under boulders
having come free of rejections and crush
having come from understanding

to see this ism schism game
for the death match it is
and then sing new words to win it

Words of how stones refused
by builders become soon enough
cornerstones and

keystones of
aqueducts to carry fresh water
to those who still thirst

and they do so
by any definition
necessary


Troll

Hoots and jeers,
big noise from a cheap seat.

His name is Ken or Chad
or something just as obvious.

He likes the old ways,
his team’s stank mascot,

his Blue Lives Matter 
refrigerator magnet,

his right to bear
grudges. There’s 

a blanket-size flag
mounted in the bed of his Dodge

for him to suck on, thumb
in his mouth any time

he isn’t yapping about
patriotism or his other

idols. Always quick
with an LOL or J/K.

Maybe he’s a rich man or maybe he’s
a poor man but either way he’s certainly

as pale as his liquor
and just as light and stingy.

Lets you know he’s been through
his own tough times and 

whining doesn’t cut it with him
though talk of bootstraps

and increasing gunfire
sound like a whine from here.

How does he miss
the glitter of rich eyes behind him

and the manipulating hand 
up his ass?

Does he even know
he’s fodder for what’s coming?

When the puppeteer
pulls away, he still won’t

understand. Will stand by,
staring at the Flood,

uncertain if it’s fake
but sure that if it isn’t

there will be a place saved for him
on the last island.


A Door That Leads To A Fight

Before us, a door
that leads to a fight.

We’ve been afraid
to open it for too long.

Hand on the knob, 
hesitating, stepping back

to wipe our hands so dry
no sweat remains, no blood,

no tears. We deny
what we’ve lost by not 

opening that door
to engage what’s there.

We can hear it. We can smell
smoke and iron flavor. 

Ghosts of past massacres
slip underneath to shake us.

Hints of firelight
and snickering flame

offer us a sense  
of the horrid delight

the enemy is feeling.
It’s a thick door but

not thick enough
to hold that all back — 

and yet, and yet there’s
our own hand on the knob

and the start of the turn
and the growing readiness

to become 
smoke eaters and 

water for the blaze
even if we fail;

though we shake and cower
and hesitate,

to fail from cowardice
means so little now

when what’s behind the door
is coming through

no matter who
opens it first.


What’s Missing

Was it in the last place you looked,
that tall shelf

of obscure mementoes
laden with dust; or was it

in a flag’s ripple, obvious
but ephemeral; 

does it live in the wind
or in the fabric? It’s not there,

though. What is it, even? It feels like
what’s missing can’t be defined.

It should be a simple act 
to first identify what is missing,

explain where to find it,
then go and get it.

But something’s missing.
The news has been emptied;

each day seems paler,
no longer suffused with it.

It’s not joy. While that’s grown scant,
it still appears from moment to moment.

It’s not contentment;
some have plenty of that. They

hide behind it, show it off,
their coat of complacent arms.

If it has a name it might be
hope, or even the promise of hope,

but to call it that and declare it absent
is so cold; seems 

counterintuitive in such heat.
To say that hope’s gone missing

seems so nearsighted; can’t see it
right in front of you and the horizon

has grown shady
with smoke from guns and pyres.

Maybe it’s buried under rubble,
in pipeline trenches or mass graves,

and that’s why it seems elusive.
Maybe planting a telescope

in a sacred place
and using it to seek hope

while trampling
the site of a desecration

keeps us more ignorant
than wise, and that’s why hope

stands apart from us, hiding its face,
shaking its head. 

But what if what’s missing 
isn’t hope at all? Perhaps

what is disturbing the flag
is another thing

entirely. Perhaps what we can’t find
on the shelf where we keep our treasures

is integrity or righteous anger or
the will to move against

the evils of this time. We lend
no color to the world. We offer

no tangible proof of being 
a vital part to all of this.

We are in the last place
now. We are sitting on a high shelf

that’s ready to collapse
and the flag can’t save us.

We thought it could,
thought we could take it

for a blanket
and not a shroud,

though it has always 
been both.

Maybe that illusion
is what’s missing. 


Suppose

Suppose you looked hard at your life, your existence, your being, the fact of your physical presence on the planet; looked at it and saw that you, the watered-down remnant of the combination of Native and Italian ancestry, were the site and the desired product of the Genocide.

Suppose you were raised with the words “never forget you’re not White” hammered into you and yet you ended up looking in the mirror at that which was undeniably White-passing and privileged and saw, to your eyes and upbringing, the image of a great Evil.

Suppose you could never shake the constant whisper of “you shouldn’t exist” in your ear.

Suppose that as you aged and decayed and body parts began to betray you and your abilities, you found it increasingly wearying simply to get up and go, yet more and more you understood how important it was to get up and go.

Suppose you lived in the incipient days of a Fascist takeover spearheaded by a man whose hatred of people like you was becoming more and more palpable at the moment you were least equipped to confront it.

Suppose people kept assuming you were ready and able for the War you knew was coming and did not see you as anything more than their expectations of you.

Suppose this all came together for you on a hot summer morning in a pool of sweat in a soaked bed sheet on a couch in the kitchen staring out the front window at an empty bird feeder two empty feeders and birds staring back at you.

Would you go outside and water the garden?


I Burn Twice

It is lazy to call this fatigue
or exhaustion. It is evil
to call this resignation or
surrender. I don’t have the right
to surrender or resign. 
By being ill and tired
I am doing evil. Smaller evil, maybe,
than others do; nevertheless
my exquisite miniature wrongs
enable Evils larger than mine
by geometric measures of scale
and so I am part of them.
I can tell myself every lie
in the big book of denial
about this, justify
a greed for self care

until I am exhausted
from that alone; in the end
neither self-talk
nor self-coddling will matter
when everything begins to burn;
all fingers will point at me,
the lazy demon,
as I burn twice, and I will howl
not from pain alone,
but in agreement
with your disgust.


Song For Shootings

Originally posted in 2004. Revised many times since.

Do you recall
Maggie Apple lying in the street
with her eggshell nails 
and her skinny legs with the calves that looked
as if they’d been attached to her bones
as an afterthought?

Do you recall old Ronald Wrong
whose house smelled of wine but
looked like a glove full of bees,
so when they banged down the door
and a host of trouble
flew out of its ramshackle fingers

they shot him as if he were
a queen, a danger queen?

Do you recall
any of those salty throated boys and girls
who put their breath in just the wrong place
at the wrong time so that magic stopped working,
and they died like the rest of the pack?

Tonight the same lights flashing,
the same crowd gathering: the names
must be changed to protect the names alone
because the innocent are never saved.

One could say
such things
just happen; or
one could say
that the way
the boy is crumpled
leaking onto the floor of
the stairwell is irrelevant, or that
the cop’s statement
that he thought he saw
a gun was relevant.

If one could find the CD
the boy was said to be holding
when he was shot, one could see
if the subject matter of said CD
included guns or shooting
and thus was relevant.

If one could be objective about this
one could make up a simple song
to commemorate the event.
It would have a short verse and
the chorus would be over
in a heartbeat.

He was alive,
now he is gone;
smart kid who did
nothing wrong.

That’s not enough.
Fell down the stairs.
Bullet inside him.
Everyone stares.

Gun or wallet.
CD or knife.
Wrong place and time.
So much for life.

You say
if he had only known what was going to happen,
he would never have gone up to the roof at all?

You say
they post those doors for a reason, and what 
was he doing there in the first place?

When the people who live there say, 
going to the roof? Everyone does that.
It’s a quick route to the next building, 
you say,
well, that’s not supposed to happen…

Do you recall Maggie Apple, 
red sand bag
in the street?

Do you recall Ronald Wrong 
stung by bullets,
tumbling off his porch?

Did you forget all those kids?
Forget about 
phone, wallet,
skin, voice,
hat, hood,
place, time;

did you forget
how they leaked out on TV
in front of you sitting there
calmly chewing…

do you pretend
not to see that
something must depend
on this happening
or it would not happen
so often?

You wring your hands,
hum a little shame song;

then, you swallow.


Hard Birds

Think of how hard the birds are
that survive seasons
we shudder to consider.

Every sparrow on the feeder
is a better animal than I
who cannot live long without shelter

out there whether torrent
or blizzard or a scorcher
like today. We think them gentle

and fragile, but today I saw one
peck the head of a squirrel who was
robbing him of suet until 

the gray pirate ran
and did not return. Humans,
think of how we condescend

to animals who neither live
as long nor build as high
as we do, yet there they are

and there they have been and 
when we say there will be none

if we do not change our ways,
I think we lie to ourselves
about our power to kill the earth.

If what is here now dies or drowns,
something will return from death
and retake these niches for their own.

It won’t likely be us,
and that’s why we cry:
not for the tough little birds,

but for our own looming departure
that we call “the end,”
centering mass extinction

on ourselves when after we’re gone,
whatever looks like a sparrow then
will say, in relieved bird voice: Finally.


Swelling On The Vine

Outside, heat
and humidity promise
certain rain, likely thunder.

You left the first cucumber
and the first summer squashes
on the vine for a good last soaking

before picking them 
tomorrow. Crossed fingers
that downpours leave them intact,

that they will get
one more day
swelling on the vine.

First thunder, now; rain’s
not far behind, likely within 
the next half-hour.

It’s comfortable, cool
indoors. You could go out
and pick them now,

stay dry, savor
your fruits of labor; 
then the rain starts.

It’s hope,
you tell yourself,
hope and not laziness,

hope and not some fear
or some demon 
of procrastination that keeps you

from the harvest. One more day
till perfection. It’s not quite time.
They aren’t quite ready. 

You turn on news that’s filled
with tales of a monstrous thing
on the vine, ripening; 

quickly you turn it off
and close your eyes.
You aren’t quite ready 

for that harvest, either;
you try to convince yourself
it’s not quite time.

It’s a contest, always,
between perfection and
rot. You as always bet on the hope

of perfection as lightning
and heavy, heavy rain 
mass around you, images

of bounty sure to come
crowding out the death
riding on the rising wind.


Jumble

Someone says to me
that if I don’t dig it here then
I should go back to where
I came from. 

You are asking me to choose
what stays and what goes.
Which half of myself
should I send back,
and to where?

Divest myself of legs and cock
and balls and ass
and say unto them

go, run back
to Napoli?

Keep the top half
here, call it my Indigenous 
game piece, make moves
as best I can?

Do I have it
backwards and it ought to be
feet don’t leave here now
while the chest and arms and head
are boxed up and sent to Italy? 

I should perhaps split down the middle?

Or carve myself to pieces and
distribute this to there, that 
to here? Say, this finger is
New Mexico, pass it over
Sierra Blanca before
letting it fall to rest
on the rez where I’ve never lived? 
Send this elbow overseas 
to Caserta, to Marciano Arpio
where I’ve never lived?

What cells should go where
if I am to go back to
where I came from?
None of me is directly from right here
so I already feel dislocated
on my own land, after all.
Perhaps I should consider
the land of my birth,
New Jersey? Land of my 
conception, Germany?

All you care about is that I’m gone,
you sneering so certainly
with your comfortable masses behind you.
You never trusted
a half-breed anyway, right?
According to you I’m a mistake.
According to you I’m an anomaly,
an aberration, a never shoulda been.
I’ve only lasted this long
because I look like you — 

and right now, considering 
the white stench suffocating all,
I wish I could discard 
my Whiteness
as I’m not sure, ever, 
that it’s not me
who stinks —
no matter how true, 
it frightens me to say it out loud.

Absurd.

I’m from here, though
I am a jumble.

I will pull the pieces together and say
and do and love and try for
wholeness, not half this,
not half that, try to belong
to myself and be true to myself
and everyone before me
and behind me
and far ahead.

You don’t like it?

You. Go.


Friday Night Guitar Poem

On a Friday night
I have a date with 
my guitar
a bundle of weed
and all my insecurity

because in the afternoon
I was bound by frail family
to their service
and in the morning I felt
every twinge of my chronic diseases

I need to get back to the doctor
but I can’t make myself go
because of what they might tell me
and I can’t let my family go
because of what they might call me

while we’re at it
I am only surreptitiously fighting the beasts
who are owning the world right now

I ought to buy a gun
to kill a fascist 

but I know
my hands make me a terrible shot
unless the gun is pressed 
against my head

I do the research 
compile names
addresses and hatreds
but who is going to care
among my gentle friends 
who are sure that love will conquer all
once they are bulldozed 
into the poisoned earth
I need to seize the guitar
the way I used to hold my pen
before I stopped writing poems
in favor of playing guitars
with these broken hands
full of dead nerves that hate me
as I have grown to hate so much

all I want is one good touch
all I want to love is one good person

but instead I fear the voice inside saying
fuck black brown white
center left and right
America
and the rest of the world
(the dolphins too)
and all the love the great unknown holds tight
instead of letting it flow

I want to hold my guitar
and play it loud
drown out the butchers
claiming my dying ears
for their own

singing me hemorrhage songs
drawing me into their arms

I’m tired of you if you think this is
remotely a good poem
remotely a prayer
can’t see this is a wound opening with a hiss
once cherished blood
(yours and mine) flowing out
on a Friday night

you ought to
thank God for this guitar
in my hands
which is not at all a gun


That Scent

Scent: 
grand trigger,
concealed weapon, 
unexpected clue.

Standing on
a corner, watching
pale people 
walk by:
some solo and
others in pairs
crushing tight
under umbrellas
in light rain.

I smell them
going by. I
smell their fear,

can almost understand
if not sympathize — 

yet thereafter
step out

unprotected:
less than concerned
with my own imminent
drenching

as I’m too familiar
with that
to fear it;
no concern for 
whatever future bullet
that smell might foretell;

those pale folks
don’t have a clue
what a deluge
feels like, 

while I’ve lived under one
my whole life.


Those Proud Boys

As terrified of glitter
as if it were poison,
those boys dance around
with sticks in their fists,

claiming they are impervious
to fear. Claiming birthrights
and heritages they’ve made up,
devoid of sweetness and flash,

these boys prepare a sham parade
for their false history of a future country
whose only social rituals
will be shouting matches and funerals.

Terrified of glitter and resentful
of rainbows, this clump of boys — 
this clot of twisted ball sweat, this lump
of damage and lost anger — 

steps up smartly to their idiot march.
If there’s a God, God will surely toss
a handful of shine behind them to clean up
the stink they leave behind.


Tiny Spiders Of Cultural Appropriation

You know the old saying
about never being more
than a few feet away

from a spider,
no matter where 
you are — 

sources say
it’s not true, bit
of an urban legend,

but people love it
and repeat it
to illustrate some deep fear

of how close danger
or simple unpleasantness always may be,
of how close nature is,

how we’re not-as-dominant 
as we’d like to presume we are
even in the splendor

of our well-built homes
and the perfect turf
of their invasive lawns

and planned non-native gardens,
our imported birds,
our disruptive states of easy being;

strange how no one speaks this way
of the demonstrable swarm
of tiny spiders known as cultural appropriation,

the savage venom brewed
of captured spirit
and web-caught dreams;

how we are never more
than three feet away
from something stolen

that is often underfoot, that other times
is floating by in music and air;
we don’t shudder thinking about what’s inside us,

what has made a home within;
most only dimly aware
of how the tiny spiders hold sway,

crawling upon us daily, 
minutely, second to second;
why we don’t run screaming into deep water

to cleanse ourselves
of all this is a mystery;
it is as if a screen has fallen

before our eyes, websilk
woven thick and strong 
that shields us

from seeing the tiny spiders
of cultural theft we are never more 
than skin-thick away from,

tiny spiders like ghosts
of a past we took, visions
of futures that never will be.


They Think Themselves Divine

applauding themselves,
pretending that sound 
is the call of the hands of God,

pretending so hard and so well
they begin to think
themselves divine,

forgetting they are as human
as the executed and imprisoned
whose pain they claim to sanctify,

turning down the sound
of their own frightened breathing
and covering their eyes as Death begins

taking all those they’ve demonized, as Fear
begins dragging all those they’ve targeted
and stigmatized into the Dark,

not recognizing that Darkness 
is their own long shadow,
not seeing how it hangs behind them,

following them with every step,
swallowing all their perceived divinity whole
before choking on it and spitting it out.