Tag Archives: political poems

Not With Gold

Originally posted 4/10/2013. Revised.

Some have, some have not.
Those who have, keep;

those who do not have
do not see that they likely never will.

Occasionally someone who doesn’t have
will be allowed a taste

on behalf of a lottery number, great throwing arm,
or stupendous singing voice.

They let you think
you can get some too — 

hard work, they say, hard work
will do it and anyone can rise.

Those allowed to rise do,
and those allowed to rise

learn that to keep 
the little they’re allowed

to keep, they must keep
their mouths shut.

Your job leaves you
jealous and striving;

your leisure’s a stunted ration
of your small time here;

when you come home
to cradle that son or daughter,

you whisper to them
that it will be 
better for them —

but it likely will not be.
All that gold

will blind them as swiftly
as it blinded you.

Everyone thinks they’ll be rich someday.
Everyone thinks it’ll be better someday.

Meanwhile the oil runs out,
the seas lift from their beds,

the bridges fall sooner rather than later.
A whirlwind spins a noose over our necks.

Some of you still think love
will make it better.

You will be fooled again and again
into believing that love will win,

but love cannot win
in the long sunset of this age.

We have exhausted ourselves.
Love is nothing more than a gesture now.

You’ll still sit back and say it was better once.
You’ll imagine a time when love was enough.

But love has never been enough
to conquer this.

What’s always been needed
is a terrifying justice

and Gaia is preparing
a terrifying justice:

one swipe of her hand,
and we are gnats full of blood

who cannot rouse themselves
to fly.

You want a golden age?
Get rid of the gold

ahead of that sweeping hand.
Learn to fly for your life.

Land in something new.
It will not be called America.

If when you land you want to try love,
then by all means try it,

but do not expect it
to grow in this soil

so full of gold,
blood, and lies — 

not without
a cleansing fire.


A Pair Of Boots

misplaced
confidence
in the process
will lead you
to camps

undue
trust in your
leaders
will bring you
to blindness

minimized
disruptions
of the underlings
will obscure for you
how your comfort is warfare

trivialized
aggression
toward those oppressed
will lead you to
a pair of boots

buttery boots
broken in
as if they were
made for you

you will put them on
you will step out in them
you may draw some stares but 
you will explain them away 

as all you have to wear
just a pair of boots
like many others
like all the others


Last Apology

So much to apologize for
and soon enough,
no one left to accept the apology. 

No one to care
about good intentions
or consciousness of impact. 

A shrinking crowd
in the graveyard waiting
for this funeral to end

so they can go home
and wait for the next one,
whispering “sorry” the whole time

until they are silenced
and buried. When the last one
is ready, they’ll say it a final time;

after, the word will no longer exist
and the long stubborn dialogue
between us and our damage

will be over at last. It will be
a relief; it may serve 
as acceptable penance.


Buzzcut

“I got debts no honest man could pay”   — Johnny 99, Bruce Springsteen

Months since my
last haircut

Money’s so short 
that a few dollars means so much
I stay shaggy to save what I can

but how I long for a buzzcut again

so I won’t have to fret
over care and time
when I’m on the hunt
for scraps

Also if I could have no hair at 60
at last I wouldn’t have to listen
to my mother at 92
praising my curls as she
has never praised
anything else about me
not a word I’ve written
not a thing I’ve done
or my father at 87 
asking me
back when I wore it long
why I did not braid it
as he used to do his own

How I looked
occupied so much of their time
for so much of their time
a competition to see how close I could get
to who they wanted me
to seem
to be

A friend of mine once shaved
twenty years’ growth of locks
I asked him why and he said
all that time and weight 
locked up energy
he needed for other things 

Man I wish a buzzcut
could lift my load
from the top of my head

Put a dollar in my wallet
against these debts
no honest man could pay

If I’m to be an honest man
I think I was born
to pay my parents’ debts

I know I could lie a bit
and get free of all this

Let the wind flow
over my scalp
on my way out of this town
to anywhere else

But where would I go
where their debts wouldn’t follow
Not Italy
Not New Mexico
Neither Rome nor Mescalero
Not Providence

Not NYC

Run your fingers through my hair
All you’ll feel
is what’s underneath

A memory
of the rare times
I gave loss
nothing to work with


Bread And Circuses

my bread
and my circus
are better than
your bread
and your circus
are better than
foreign loaves and
alien balancing acts

better than 
beignets and 
jugglers
better than
croissants and
tiger tamers

I’m mesmerized
by my nacho chips
and quarterbacks
while you stare
at clearly inferior
donuts and
metal bands

to hell with all the bread
and all the circuses
in the world that aren’t 
mine —

despite how similar
the bakers
and the ringmasters
appear


Good Morning America

Here’s a lifestyle report
about grocery stores
that serve liquor to shoppers.

It’s so civilized, smiles the reporter.

Here’s a spokesperson 
for one of the stores in question
who recounts the story of a customer
who bought a crown roast of lamb
and then had to find room in her freezer
because she bought it
with no idea of what to do with it
and didn’t want to throw it out.

Here is everyone
smiling and nodding.

Somewhere
in a very stuffed freezer
sits everything
you need to understand
where we are now. 


Scanning

Endlessly scanning
the car radio
seeking music
I don’t recognize.
 
Roll the window down
near every food cart
trying to guess what
they’re serving.
 
People ask why
I would ever want to do these things.
Why listen to music
you don’t know and like already?
 
Why allow the smell
of something foreign in?
Such an all-American
trait to assume
 
that the air around you
should only hold
your favorite scents
and sounds —
 
and while we’re at it,
to hell with your earbuds:
let the world in,
you cowards.

Grain Of Sand

I have so little 
to give

except my life

which I do not
routinely consider

large or of value

although in its current size
and worth it may serve

as grain of sand in a precision machine

as killing germ or worm 
as parasite in an evil host

You grab me by the arms
and shake me
and your own head
saying no no no
you have so much to live for
and so much more about you 
is golden than you know

Hush
Be still 

As sand or virus
I take part
in cosmic order
in a time when stopping
the Machine or slaying
a Host bent on death
is truly all
we all have left to do

and you say
no no no
to my being
even a nameless piece
of how that happens

Try to be serious

It would be an honor
to be forgotten
to be anonymous
in the future

for that would mean
that I and the rest of 
the nameless who say

let them take me
if it stops them

made the future real


Stripes And Spots

Zebras on your mind this morning
Zebras in the driveway, trying to get in

Leopards in your dreams last night
Leopards hidden in the backyard junk

Is that a giraffe looming behind the neighbors’ garage roof
or a jaguar on a crane conducting surveillance

You are wondering if you should call a cop
but they’re more like the suspects than they aren’t

Not what they appear to be either
Everything in the jungle wears camo

Zebras now on the back porch knocking
Leopards scratching the front door bell

You put down your phone and start painting your face
But it’s like doing nothing at all in the scheme of things

So you sit and draw the shades and cower like a rabbit
though zebras and giraffes aren’t threats it’s not certain

that the cops will bother to tell the difference
if they come when called at all 

You’re just another critter and your hole isn’t safe
Lions and tigers and bears and jaguars and leopards

and cops and there you are and who is who
It’s not like you can tell who might have changed

their stripes
for spots


Why We Got Here

A faith like
Al Capone’s:
a gun and a smile
will get you farther 
than just a smile.

A vision like
Charlie Manson’s:
love is all you need,
“love” spelled
“K-N-I-F-E.”

A discipline like 
John Gotti’s:
well-dressed, cracking
jokes and heads, bragging
and daring you to try it.

A truth like
George Armstrong Custer’s:
if you charge long enough
and often enough, you’ll become
a famous loser. 

A holy fire like
Cotton Mather’s:
find a scapegoat,
hang it high, pretend
the rope wasn’t braided out of fear.

A repentance like
Jimmy Swaggart’s:
public and eyes up 
to a heaven somewhere above
a cheap suspended ceiling.


Paid In Full

We lay our hope
these days

upon imminent endings:
the last mortgage check

slid into an envelope
and dropped into the mail;

the last “click”
on the “Pay Now” button

on the car payment
Website; the meteor

from on high
rendering the need for action

on everything at once
obsolete. 

O beautiful,
for fiery sky,

for closure 
on our pain.

Sing it, 
my countryfolk,

my weary troupe
of roleplaying warriors.

Curtain call,
final bows,

leaving the dark theater;
then, off we go to 

our debauched
after party.

Partings
are all we have to 

anticipate now;
do them drunk and

lawless. Do them weepy
and raw. Sit up

alone till dawn to wave at all this
one last time;

wait for the sound
of  “Paid In Full” 

being stamped on our notes;
lie down to rest.


You Liar

When you knew it was over 
you did nothing drastic,
did not weep or moan. 

You tucked
all your loves
into their beds,

went outside
into winter rain,
sat on the step

at the end of the walk
and got soaked through
listening to the highway below.

Late night traffic, still busy,
people heading home,
you tell yourself,

though in fact
you don’t know that.
They could be fleeing,

could be joyful or manic and
destination-free, urged along
by a wild compass within.

You had to make it up
as they went along, because
you weren’t going anywhere.

You had to believe
they must all be going home.
Home felt safe and solid

and someone had to be
as safe and solid, as
clear in their intent

and execution
as you were not.
The cars rolled on

and you sat still
in the rain, soaking 
through, still trying

to pretend all of us 
would be fine,
you liar.


On A Tuesday

There are three basic themes to manifest destiny:

The special virtues of the American people and their institutions
The mission of the United States to redeem and remake the west in the image of agrarian America
An irresistible destiny to accomplish this essential duty

Historian Frederick Merk says this concept was born out of “a sense of mission to redeem the Old World by high example … generated by the potentialities of a new earth for building a new heaven.” –

– from a Wikipedia article on Manifest Destiny

On a Tuesday.

A Tuesday.

A day so normal it couldn’t bother
to be symbolic. So not 
a weekend, so not a week’s 
beginning. A Tuesday. 

That is when it happened.
That is when we began to fall
for the last time. 

It was in every way inevitable
that we would at some point
stagger into history
feeble and angry, our shaking hands 
holding our most ancient swords 
to each other’s throats, but
because we did not call ourselves 
an empire,
we forgot how they have all ended
and so we missed it when that ending
started on a Tuesday. 

Which Tuesday? Which date?
No telling. Truly,
no one is certain and no one
is talking. The date doesn’t matter, 
the weather that day doesn’t matter,
the stars lie about everything
so why the date should matter
is unclear:

just say 
it must have happened
on a Tuesday,
the day built for 
anticlimax.


Centrism

Those cats are so full of kindness and love
that they sit at the window and watch over the birds
that come to the feeders to eat unafraid
beyond the glass in the holes in the wall.

They purr and they sleep and they watch the outdoors
for the beauty of nature and the love of all life
that they obviously have when I see how they watch
and watch all the comings and goings not ten feet away.

If the glass were to fall and those cats went outside,
I’m certain all would be well in the yard
as cats and birds would rush together as friends
as I’m sure they have longed to do for years upon years.


Sand

My ancestors gave me
a belly stuffed with sand:

some from desert north
of the Rio Grande,
some from stony hills
in Calabria. 

All my contortions
to shift this heaviness
led to this sand
abrading me
until it wore me thin, and now
the hole has widened,

sand has leaked free;
all that is left is

the hole.

I have filled it
with all manner of things

from whiskey to 
fire, from bullets
to monstrous tears.
Nothing has worked;
all I take in leaks away.

I’m so hungry now
but all I consume
tastes like sand — 
and not like my sand;
stranger sand. Sand
full of ash and broken glass.

You stare at me and say:

why don’t you get that hole fixed
if it’s killing you?

You don’t see
how large it is.
You don’t see that it is 
all of me. I am a ghost
from my ancestors’ lands,
made entirely of
emptiness and stray grains
of forgotten soil.
You don’t see 
that death, at this point, 
will be simply a gust
blowing me away.