Tag Archives: political poems

Codes

Do you have

right music,
right slang,
right stuff hanging under 
correct clothes?

How do you pronounce
your family name?

How do you count 
your money: with one hand,
two hands, a boatload
of servants to help?

Do you dream
America as you’ve been told
to dream it? Do you perform

your Body
as given,
as you’ve been
trained to do?

Do you consume as required?
Are you ravenous
for pleasure,
abstemious
with self-sacrifice?
Just enough pain
to pass around?
Is the resultant gain
yours alone
to take
and hand down?

In other words:

do you know the codes,
where to punch the keys,
into whose ears you should whisper
the passwords?

If so,

won’t you share them?


The Adversary

There are those who say,
do not succumb to despair 
in these days. Do not
hold the Adversary in contempt,
offer love in your heart, try to 
listen, try to understand

how their arsenic nation
was founded, how they closed
its borders and were shocked
to find us, terrified and confused,
within the walls. Wisdom, they say,
use your wisdom 
and keep compassion

for how threatened 
the Adversary feels these days, how
the bloom is off their funereal rose,
how they see the sky as a casket lid coming down
even as we have begun to dance
under our suddenly visible moon. Love them,
say some, honor their shaky hold on things

for we should know what it must feel like
to see the walls closing in after the grand history
of their fortress Earth. And then what —
as they crush us, do we offer them a kiss?
Look into the Adversary’s teeth and say,

so fine and pointy, so ready and built to rend?
There are those who say, we need to come together
and those who say we need to find common ground
with the Adversary: when their teeth come together
should we offer ourselves to be gnawed
in the common ground of their maw?

No.  No. Am not fodder, am not
ready for this.  I will not succumb to despair
but neither will I turn and open my arms
to the Adversary as they snarl into movement,
heavy limbs crunching live ground as they march.
No.  No.  You may offer compassion
but I will keep mine for my children, my land,
my own dance below my moon. My wisdom
for defense; my hand for any necessary blow;
my arm, weak or strong, for the War.


One By One No One

One by one they fall;
one by one in response come formal inquiries.
One by one, throat clearing and disapprovals.
No one calls it a pileup or a pile on.
No one calls it a trend or epidemic.
Each instance is an isolated incident
and unique and now we move on.

One by one by one and now there are
three and then three dozen and then
three hundred or more of them. Thousands,
perhaps hundreds of thousands. 
No one calls it out the same way twice.
No one says it’s deliberate, built in, systemic.
No one knows the right thing to say
and now we move on.

One by one by one and now there’s wind
and red glare and names and mistakes 
and deliberate choices. One by one. Steady drip
of incidents. Steady drip, drip, one by one by one
of blood and tears. No one dares admit it’s a war.
No one thinks fighting back makes any sense.
No one by no one saying the right things.
Body by body, one by one, no one calling it
until no one left can say a bloody thing.


The Evidence

Something
bleaching on the lawn:

is it bone, is it 
turd, is it even worthy

of remark today
when so much else

is immediate and true and distressing?
Something white,

pale and toxic on the lawn.
Lawn that looks like

face of a forgotten grave.
The long grass of neglect,

something white there
seems out of place,

to approach it
is impossible. To get near it

engenders fear. Something made
of recent shit or aging calcium. Something 

discarded. Something
you don’t want to look at,

something no one wants
to admit is there. But there it is

right there on a family grave
in broad daylight and we might have

put it there and pretended 
to forget about it — a bone

we took from a body, a shit we took
from within ourselves, left it

visible and obvious though we know
its toxicity could be traced

directly to us, as a crime scene
it’s all pointing our way, something

bleaching white in broad sun,
never becoming clean, left unclaimed.


Land That I Love

Open air salt mine surrounded by trees,
broken skin broken heart redwood dog pen,
I tell you my secret wish:
if you burn, burn clean;
if you flood, flood red;
if you blow sun-high may you be
wiped free of old stains.

Blistered, bruised vending machine jail
overrun with self-guarding inmates,
I sing you my hidden prayer:
if you be hellbound, may you hellhound loud;
if you speak ironbound words,
may they scar you dark and long,
thread you with traces of forgotten railroads.

Oil pan, catch basin, heart butcher to the world,
split window fastback hearse, mistaken, glorious,
I offer you a finback wish:

may somehow you go leaping
through hardening seas
toward the last places left with soft water;
may you somehow turn to ice
and jungle and replacement air;
somehow, may you find safety,
dive deep, stay submerged, 
and learn to thrive in the absence of light.


Lil Greenie

There are so many bodies
between a frog
and its grandfather
they may not know each other
when they meet.

Think of a full pond
of offspring and grand-offspring,
how many eggs, how many tadpoles…
Gramps and Lil Greenie
easily may see each other,
croak back and forth
with no awareness
of genetics held in common.

Lil Greenie grows up
swiftly, turns out pretty 
ordinary.  One day someone
sketches him badly and 
eventually the drawing makes him
famous under a new name — they
call him “Pepe.”

He gets taken
all the wrong ways to all
the best places by some very 
fine bastards indeed. Frogs being
what they are he doesn’t care
as long as he gets fed. They put
bloody words in his mouth and slivers
of ice under his skin and he
burps out this is fine thank you
whenever he gets a chance to speak.

If you ask him what his grandfather
or great-grandfather, what
his Original Mother would think of this,
Pepe will look at you with a half turned, 
crude smile that says he knows just enough
of his ancestry to be dangerous,
which is almost nothing. 


Ain’t That America

1.
You arrive, there’s
a church ready made
for you.  A grand car lot.
Sign spinners
and blinking neon.
Plastic pennants point shaking, 
acolytes rump shaking.
Come on down, step right up,
huckster gospel hour of power,
walk on in and be approved,
drive away in your holy wreck,
come back soon for more new shiny.
Like that song says,
ain’t that America. 

2.
Stick here long enough
and someone
may slip you a whisper
or maybe you find out
for yourself 
not to trust deities
who keep eight decks of cards
up each sleeve. Who invert
at dusk to hang inert 
in their Paradise, ignoring
desperate prayers
so they can wake up 
refreshed for their new day
at the expense 
of refreshing yours.
Who play you when they play.
Who made this house that always wins.
Ain’t that America?

3.
You leave feet first,
they always say,
unless of course you don’t
and you depart while still
upright, walking around in debt
to those gods of the house
with the church and the holy tables
where you laid your life out
and kept betting chunks of it
in pursuit of happiness.  Midnight
prayers unanswered except
through the last radio left on
all night in a tired coffee shop 
full of other mesmerized folks 
singing along. Ain’t that America?


Shrug It Off

Amid the shock and awe at the final arrival of the long-inevitable,
at burn patterns already veining surfaces, at cities that smell like mistakes,
at villages cowering, at collapsing sea walls in hot rising surf, at isolated farms
where life’s winking out as flames consume…you’re here

where deep down you believe all that mess can’t bother you. You’re here
where you can feel the heat and think it’s…nice. You’re here
where you can watch and shake your head in time to the crackling
and you’re here where you can tell yourself that at least the art

may soon be as good as it always is under such stress.
It can’t be helped, you say.  It’s the way of things, you say.
Forget the bucket brigade, forget the hoses, forget
pulling livestock and children from the flames.  Their owners

and parents should have known better — but they aren’t yours.
You now may wring your brutal, soft hands. You need do nothing more.


Practicality

In this
fascist daylight
a sensible man 

holds back

Keeps his edge
hidden in the presence
of killers
Waits till dark
to slit them
and carve them down

before slipping back
to his mild life
and family

Movies
and the sheep
who love them

call him a coward
to wait for nightfall

and not confront the killers
right out where they
can see him

He will end
more of them his way

and stay alive
longer than he would

if he fought the way the movies
insist he should 

If the fight comes to him
in daylight
that’s one thing but

his way seems more
sensible and the results
speak for themselves

The toxin of dumb bravery
is a long memory
Casts a longer shadow

He who moves past those
while disregarding the jeers
of those enamored
of its cinematic allure

ends up
anonymous
blood soaked
successful 

thinking of it
as a matter of 
simple
practicality
in real life and
not fantasy


Marketing

Anything you buy
has a name given to it
by people who’ve been paid to name 
cough drops and cosmetics
using words they think
you will remember;
making up words they think
will soothe you;
creating words to shift
your confidence or fear.

If you buy that Bible tale
this started long ago.
Back then it was done for free
by divine decree.
Even if you don’t buy that

it’s clear from all the books
holy or unholy, secular or sacred,
that naming has always been
at least a little about
marketing 

and marketing rarely asks 
that which is being named
for permission to name it
or even for input
as that might not fit
the needs of those 
doing the selling

which is how we got names
like
redskin.


The National Mood, January 2019

Standing over
a roadkill dog
Poking it
with a stick
Saying

it is fine
it is just resting

Clearly still alive
Look at the movement
under the skin
Look at the eyes
still wide open

All it needs is
a little tender loving care

All we need
is to turn it over
and it will
get right back up

run in joy
over the plains
to the sea and back
to us

its tail wagging
no teeth showing


Travel Brochure

Come to our stunning land
of shuttered offices
and shattered myths

of historic capital founded upon
no memory. You will
travel in its ruts

from one coast to another
and learn to pronounce
place names in the tongues

of the forgotten. Dine 
upon its bounty, pick your teeth
with its sharp old bones,

see its cloudy mountain tops
and thrill to its endless,
burial ground plains. Its cities

will snare you, its villages
will hang you up, its forests
and lakes will burn before you

as you marvel at the light
and the way it moves
the shadows away

from your scrutiny.
You’ll go mad with tourist joy
at the mystery. All expenses

paid by others, 
meals included but often
rushed and spotty.

Restrictions apply.
Some assembly required;
bring tools, glue,

your own plans,
lowered eyes and 
brows. Patience. Armor.


Jerry Or Tom

I call him
Jerry or Tom,
that White Man In Me.

Jerry or Tom,
who I prefer to
forget about

but who refuses
to stop being
me in public.

And I call 
that Mescalero In Me
Tom, or Jerry;

whatever 
Jerry or Tom
isn’t using today,

he gets. I wish
I knew more about him
than I do, except

I make up 
too much already
and the older I get

the less inclined I am
to indulge in
dreams

about Tom
or Jerry, whichever
he is. Who knows

whichever one
is the Truth?
Can both be, or is Truth

truly a casualty
of war and as I am
war embodied, 

am I pure lie? I have
friends (I think) who say
I make too much 

of all this: be yourself,
they say, little of
that matters, really.

I’ve got some who sneer and say
I’m pure Tom, others
who scrape and say

pure Jerry,
others who praise me
for being entirely

open to such torture.
On the rez
they’ve called me

other. In the office
they’ve called me 
other. Once at home

the White Man In Me
sits up and barks
at every little sound

whenever the Mescalero In Me
isn’t doing it and it’s striking
how they less and less often

agree. Tom tells Jerry
to die. Jerry tells Tom
the same thing. Maybe

that’s something
we can all agree on —
after all I get to 

ride behind them 
and watch them
punch it out and

such fatigue as that
you might imagine only
if you know them

intimately or have
your own war-pair
to wrestle with. 

What keeps me going
is knowing that I am what
the people who made this happen

wanted to happen: one of
a host, one of a generation of 
denatured progeny

drifting between names
and selves, guilty and raging
and disintegrated; knowing that

and hating that
and refusing to die
until I figure out a real name,

one they would hate, 
one I can finally live with, 
is all I’ve got now.

Tom or Jerry, Jerry
or Tom; at the end
the cartoon will circle in

upon them, upon me.
I will have no certain name
then, other than Dead Man

and then Tom or Jerry,
Jerry or Tom, Mescalero Or
White Man In Me Or Not,

shall become as academic
as anything else ever carved in stone
over a set of sodden bones

or left on the wind
in high desert, never
to be spoken again.


The Long And The Short

the length of time
it takes for me
to explain again
to yet another person
the pain of all the generations
(indigenous and not)
that have preceded me and 
settled in me

shortens my life
by decades

thinking of all
the decades I’ve lost
in which
I could have done
so many trivial things
that would have made me
unremarkable

in truth all I wanted
was an armchair
solid food
a beverage and
a little love
from loved ones

along with a little respect from
those I meet

but here I am
and the long
and the short of it  
is that I’m either
ten feet tall and looming
as a learning experience
for some or
microscopic
beyond the vision
of others

I’d just like to be
five foot eight
thick and graying
and left alone


In Despair

Revision.  Posted originally in April, 2016. Original title, “I Wake Up In Despair.”

I wake up in despair most mornings
that the day will again slant uphill
and it will take everything I have to climb it.

I wake up in despair most mornings
but find comfort in doing things
no Pharaoh could ever do:

for instance, picking myself up
without an entourage to help me;
getting by with no entourage in celebration

or sorrow; falling down back-broken
and getting back up again next day for another round
with nothing but what’s in me to pull me up.

I wake in despair most mornings.
Each day bores me: sometimes a dull drill,
sometimes a chisel striking same and same and same again.

I wake in despair most mornings 
but find comfort in knowing
things a boss can’t know or has forgotten:

how to do the dirtiest bits of a dozen jobs;
how to take the next step when it’s time, how to 
fix the broken piece, how not to fail

from seven AM to lunch, how to stay awake
from lunch to three PM and longer
if three PM becomes 5 PM or later.

I wake in despair most mornings knowing 
how little of my life is good for me, based on 
the time I have to spend recovering from the rest of it.

I wake in despair most mornings
but almost get to glee knowing
what a king does not, what they may never know:

how to run riot in the streets to spite my aches and pains;
how to run riot in the streets with all the others aching and pained;
how to run riot in the streets knowing how little time I likely have.

I run riot knowing that ahead of me, somewhere
cowering, somewhere hiding behind their walls, 
a king, a boss, and a Pharaoh are themselves in despair,

filled with the knowledge
of their lack of knowledge
about anything that needs to be done.

In spite of the odds and the guns
and the war any of them could muster,
I no longer share their despair.