Tag Archives: political poems

Rough Ride

Been a rough ride: all
these broken spokes
in my wheels.

I have blamed myself
for never stopping
to repair, blamed 
myself for letting
myself rattle into
ruin, blamed myself
for how long I denied
that there was anything
wrong —

and only now
that I’m terminally loose
with damage,
starting to fall
finally apart
to the point of 
obsolescence,
only now

do I regret 
not doing my part
to set myself aside
from my damage
and help fix the road
for the next rider,

though I knew well
what had happened,
why it had happened,
and how many of us
it would take to fill the ruts
and potholes
that were designed
specifically

to slow us down,
break us,
and eventually
kill us.


Wedge Setter, Swinger Of Weight

Dear settler, dear pioneer spirit:

once the log is freed
from the rest of the trunk,
look at the grain, look at 
the potentially stubborn 
knots.  Pick your

spots, set the first
wedge, tap it in lightly
with your sledgehammer
till it’s upright and ready.

Step back.

Raise that hammer high –
your hands sliding apart,
then together, letting the natural
gravity bring it down

onto the hard, mashed-up
flat of the wedge, driving it
into the natural faults of the grain,
tearing it open until that piece falls away.

Reset, repeat

until it’s done,
until it’s all 
stacked and waiting
for its time to burn.

Dear settler, dear
pioneer spirit. Dear 
all-American sense of destiny
made manifest in brawny moves:

this has nothing to do with the wedge
and everything to do with the fire.

 

 


The Trailer

I have fretted
over not recalling my dreams 
until tonight
when I had one in which

two magazine-handsome white boys
laughed as they told me
they were going to steal the trailer
I was dragging up from the ditch
where it had rolled after detaching from the car
when I took that too-fast turn

up the hill;

this after I’d done all the work
of searching for it in the autumn brush
of the ruined industrial park
where it had rolled long ago

into near-invisibility
among the bittersweet

and wild grape vines
whose color almost matched

its rust and dents;

I had not yet decided how to use it
or even to scrap it or sell it but
I had had a small vision of it becoming 
the basis for a small side business to help me
survive, no clear plan really, just an inkling
that something this usable and abandoned
shouldn’t be left to rot;

so when the laughing little men
in polos and good jeans from some
ungodly expensive store laughed at me
and said they were going to take it, and what
could I do about it against them, and how did I think
this was going to end, I did not bother to ask them
why they were doing it;

they were doing it because they could, because 
they had money, because they had family to back them,
because they were whitely empowered, because nothing
had prepared them to hear no, to believe in no, 
to even understand no; this was just a game to them —
to steal the most broken thing they could from someone
as broken as the thing they were going to steal
and to laugh as they were doing it;

and as American
and as low-down
and as modern

as all this was,
as much as I wanted

to walk away
from the trailer and the boys

and maybe even my car
and go drop my shame

into the nearby river
and drown with their laughter

in my dying ears,

I could not.

The knife from my pocket
was now in my strong hand.
The pepper gel from my pocket
was now in my other hand.
I had enough, enough, and I sprayed first
intending to slash right after —

and then I woke up
wringing wet, lying with the covers
kicked off as if this were still
the Fourth Of July, as if this were still
August the sixteenth

when it was still warm in the outside world,
when I wasn’t yet fighting for scraps,
when it seemed like I might yet win.


Copy And Paste

Revised.  Originally posted 11/1/2017.

Demonstrate 
your devotion to The Struggle
through copying and pasting

for I have a spreadsheet of justice 
shorter than Santa Claus’s

It has columns
and pivot tables

I keep track of shares and likes
and originators and sometimes

after seeing who liked this
and who shared it

I make a little mark about those
who never do anything

My spreadsheet of justice
tells me who I should love

Copy and paste this if you want
to end injustice 
or stop cancer

Someone is always
watching and 
listening

Perform
or be suspect


How To Be An American Artist: A Cautionary Tale

The artist wanted to paint America.

Took all the canvas in the studio out to a parking lot in a plaza in a small Massachusetts town.

Laid out paints and pigments, pots of blood drawn from a cut on the wrist, blood mixed with ashes of old sheet music and legal forms, dirt in rain water, boiled down hides and hair.

Set the canvases up on easels and car hoods. Laid them flat on sidewalk and asphalt.

Screamed to the curious folks gathering to see, 

I cannot do it alone.
I fail at doing it alone.
I am crushed here doing it alone. 

Started tossing brushes at the crowd.

Seized some by the shirt and tried to pull them to the canvases. 

There was whining and the artist was rudely shoved.

The crowd whimpered at the artist,

This is your job.
Your one job.
If it crushes you that is how we are best satisfied.
We don’t know what to paint. 

Accountants of the captains of industry showed up with sharp pencils and started precision drawings on the canvases.

Penciled in numbers, made up numbers:

here is what this should look like here,
here is the right shade for this face, this hand, this heart,
this hole in the skin, this slit in the eye,
this bit of necessary damage,
this hot mistake,
this brand,
this logo, this loop,
this flag.

This is how you paint America, they told the crowd.

The crowd stepped to it glad to know the rules and filled in the colors right and tight between the perfect lines.

When they ran out of blood, they made do with the artist.

What a genius,
they said,

once the artist was dead.


Harvard Square

1.
A Tarot reader
off Harvard Square
 
startled me
when she said she saw
Native spirits behind me
 
and then asked if
I had any Native blood
 
I did not speak but nodded that
indeed I did
and she nodded back
 
and said,
“Wolf Clan?”
I nodded inside
 
but not to that
 
2.
Leaving the parlor
I stopped at a 7-11
 
to buy cigarettes
a yellow pack
 
of American Spirits
which burn slower and longer
I liked the taste
 
not the package
 
3.
I smoked my way over
to Au Bon Pain and sat outside
with a coffee black
 
staring at a street performer
a living statue
a Bride
 
who’d be famous one day
 
but was not just yet
 
4.
Class was starting soon
so I got up
and crossed Mass Ave
walked to the gates
went in and learned
something
I’ve since forgotten
 
but I think the class
was on either
the psychology of religion
or the madness of crowds
 
but I could be wrong
 
5.
I quit smoking years ago
Got tired of looking at the packages
and sucking that death
 
I quit going to Harvard Square
after seeing the Tarot reader
had been promoted from
occult appropriator
to manager
of Urban Outfitters
 
Au Bon Pain
closed sometime after
The Bride
quit all that standing around
got moving and
got a little famous
 
6.
There are still crowds rushing
all around the Square
 
The gates are still there
along with keepers
who don’t bother with masks
any longer
 
7.
A different card reader
told me the other day
she couldn’t read a thing
in me
 
and I nodded inside
but not at that
 
If I learned anything at Harvard
it was how to hold myself tight
against the madness of
the marketplace
no matter how cleverly
it disguises itself
 
as wisdom

Hypnic Jerks

I have often had the dream
of falling and the startling snap
of finding myself awake, 
panting, just before
hitting the ground.

There are those who say
falling in a dream
is only fatal if you 
hit the ground in the dream,

which must mean you’ll be dead
when you wake up after impact
and not before,

which only makes sense
if you don’t think about
how anyone knows all this

if those who struck bottom
died and did not come back to tell
the rest of us.

Sleep disorder researchers
claim that instead
of it being a just-missed death
that jerks you awake 

it is instead
a sudden oxygen deprivation 
in random muscles
causing a sleep twitch
called a hypnic jerk

and that is how the startled waking
at the bottom of the fall
is created.

Hypnic jerk or narrow escape:
either way, in the aftermath
of the dream I find myself 
awake with fading memory:
rushing air around my ears.
Face up, falling from a great height.
Anticipation dashed. A longing
to slip back into sleep, just to see
where I might have landed,
what that country 
would have been like.

Perhaps the myth of it being fatal 
not to wake up from the falling dream
was created and spread by those
who feared the masses’ discovery

of solid ground waiting
to catch and cradle and exalt 
those who fly in dreams
in spite of the fear of falling;
after all, who could say 
what might come from people
with no fear of their own dreams.


I Voted

America
wakes me up
in the middle of the night
and wants a drink of water
in its favorite sippy cup
with the “I Voted” logo
on the side.
America
throws a tantrum
when I say it’s really dirty
and there’s fresher water
in this glass, and don’t you
want to be a big kid,
all grown up, and then
you can sleep better?
America
keeps screaming,
“I Voted! I Voted!”
so I wash the grime off the cup
and hand over the cup
and America drinks from the cup
and then I take back the cup
and sneak a sip myself from the cup
while America tucks itself back in
and falls asleep.
I stay up
a long time after
with such odd taste in my mouth,
my eyes soaked
with shame at my lack of faith
and my honest terror
of what I’ve consumed.
I go look at America sleeping,
realize again
that we can’t possibly
be family.


A Bitter History

A bitter history
floats stinging in my mouth,
the back of my throat tightening.

When I can finally choke down the truth
of how long and hard I have worked
to get nowhere

it sits in my core burning 
and freezing: heavy 
mistakes of ice and molten lead.

You would think I’d be used to
starting again, just cycle back to my first
bite of the apple and do the next round

differently, but I end up
here, full up with pain,
swollen in regret every time.

In my ears a different pain
demands repair
in an old song:

grow up, move on,
old man, 
old mess. Nothing 
about you is more than

temporary. A generation
of broken boys just like you
mourns itself 

while the rest of us
stand waiting for you 
to be lifted
from the earth, lifted 
off of us.


Those Names

Hearing names,

every one of them
formerly worn by someone 
dead, someone
killed by another, or someone
who perished from
indirect action or inaction.

Hearing names

that don’t sound like yours
until one day they do and you spiral
into the center of a heap
of blood scraps. 

Forgetting you’ve heard those names

until later; sitting in front of the news
feeling nothing because
those names don’t sound like yours
until they do again

and then you turn
it off, because you don’t
want to know, because 

if you don’t know it didn’t happen.

In your sleep you are not hearing
names. In your sexing, feeding, walking,
working, voting, dancing,
you are not hearing those names.

Your life
is built on not hearing those names
even if they rhyme with yours.


Overthinking It Or Not

I read a comment 
from someone on 
an Internet post:

all you mixed-breeds are 
crazy. You shouldn’t
exist. You are mistakes.

Truth be told?
I’m crazy, and I
qualify,

yet I look so much like them
I’m sick each time
I pass the mirror.

If I’m
that much of
a genetic mess

why do I appear
so average
in the mirror? 

All the parts 
in the right place.
All the expressions

nameable. All the air
coming from my mouth
translatable. 

Those who want
me undone, who feel 
heritage should be

death sentence,
who chew trophy bones
all night and day,

see my face
in the street 
and somehow

pass me by.
I should be grateful
but then I think of those

who by accident of 
birth don’t 
pass killers’ muster

and I want to 
scream my self
into becoming 

a target. I want them
rocked back on their
heels. I want them 

to kill me and then
go home and stare
into mirrors, wondering

at the stories
they were told about
who they really are.


Anti-matter

They will blow me up
because to them, I don’t matter.

They will cut me up and down,
and to them it won’t matter.

They — who are they?
If I name them, will it matter?

Abbreviations, nicknames, designations —
none of that will matter.

This is old, bedrock-old, and so cold;
glacial ice at the heart of this matter.

They showed up here as ground-down losers.
Where they’re from, they didn’t matter.

One by one, those lost boys and girls
grew up to think they are all of matter.

The rest of us — the rest of me — insubstantial
to them; that’s the core of this matter.

To them I am a crude ghost from past conquest.
To them, I am anti-matter.

To me, I am solid and they are smoke.
To me, to us? None of them matter.

Their world will burn as ours once did.
Nothing left but the hardest matter.

I have proved, we have proved how hard we are.
In the end, what will last is all that will matter.


In America

Originally written late 1996, early 1997.

In America there are drive through liquor stores
and cream corn wrestling pit strip joints
I am a child of the modern vacuum
and I am eager to be American
so I listen to television news
describing huge American pistol
throwing lead into a 14 year old

his ten year old companion screaming –

we didn’t know anyone lived here
we were getting wood for a fort

his ten year old companion screaming –

I don’t want to die

into 911

The dispatcher telling him –

Sweetie, you won’t

and him replying –

I might

and the whole time
the 76 year old killer saying

I gotta right they were stealing
they were on my property

In America there are Elvis churches
and spy shops full of surreptitious cigarettes
I am hearing our property come to life
I am hearing the country die

They say

that the Electric chair in America doesn’t work too well
They say the mask blew up into flame and
solid citizens got to see the head of Pedro Medina burn
I bet someone somewhere said it served him right
and someone else started a drive to switch from Old Sparky to
more humane and less confrontational lethal injection
so much easier on the witnesses
in America

In America there are head shops
peddling pseudo-Rastafarian hokum
and flea markets of Congressional loyalty
and it’s better to have the innocent die
or better that we become beasts to the beastly
than to let ourselves be fooled
by the modern ghosts of evil

(you can see evil in their eyes
but I’m confused: is it supposed to be all grey in there?
or should it look like Miami Beach
full of fun and pastel?
or does it look like the Everglades
full of gators and rare birds?
or does it look like me looking out?)

In America there are bridges
that flake until they fall
and rhyming monsters beneath them
waiting to invade the nurseries

I am a child of the modern vacuum
eager to become American

Ponce de Leon came ashore in Florida
hundreds of years ago
looking for
a Fountain of Youth
but what he really wanted was

Hooters
manatee blood
bison hide
passenger pigeon extinction
bales of weed wasted on the shore
drunken gropings resolving into violence
rootless numbers adrift on crazed ozone wind
immigrant massacres in the dark

flames leaping from the head of Pedro Medina
old man gunfiring into childhood forts
cream corn wrestling pit strip joints
drive through liquor stores
and a horizon as flat as a mouth

The center was empty
when Ponce got there

the Fountain of Youth was a booby prize

and today the center is still empty
but the vacuum is filling rapidly
with mystery boxes
full of cheap ripoffs of

Voudoun
Santeria
Wicca
Krishna Consciousness
Holy Rolling
Lutheran
Catholic
Buddhism

all swarming in ecumenical floods
around our true faith

Evangelical Consumerism

all molded by Television
into a spectacle of death
through satiation

I am a child of the vacuum
I am an eager American
In the absence of anything solid
I will believe whatever you tell me


Dagger Of Light

I did not ask for this fight.
I did not ask to be born to this war.

Would rather have been born 
on a far mountain, living life

with my loved ones in quiet
and peace from my start to my finish.

But it seems that I am a dagger of light.
It seems that I am a dagger of light.

The night we saw the darkness start
was the night I felt my edge.

Saw that thin line of glow and knew
it was more than fire and steel.

The night the darkness closed upon us
was the night I first raised my self and said:

it seems I am a dagger of light,
I have become a dagger of light.

I did not ask for the war, the fight, the fear.
I did not ask to be born now, born here.

You find yourself
in the places you did not ask to be

and here I am shining, scarlet ivory,
one small blinding blade among many

who may live or may die, who are terrified
but cannot turn away — 

we burning, we trembling, we daggers of light;
we doomed but splendid, we daggers of light.


Phone Bank

Random atoms
brought me here this morning
last night tumbled me into a phone call
with someone I never met
who was sobbing on the other end
and thanking me for making a phone call
about something that made them think 
and feel their way past where they were at
into a space for holding others up
and there I was with random atoms
on my cheeks 
humbled for I felt I’d done so little
yet somehow it was a huge thing
and I hung up and took a breath
then made another phone call
random atoms aligning 
pulsing out
a maybe
a yes
a no
a no one’s home
I keep at it
thinking maybe 
we’re going to be OK