Tag Archives: political poems

How To Speak Of Death To Your Fellow Americans

To begin with, take off your funeral suit
but do not put it completely away
in the back of the spare room closet.
Do not forget how it looks on you
and how often you’ve had to wear it.

When you begin to speak, remember
that some folks have never been to
the number of funerals you’ve attended.
Some have never been to any
and will not understand a word you say
but talk anyway. Some don’t believe
people die as often or as unfairly
as you know they do

and you will not make them feel grief
easily or quickly. Talk anyway; you might need
visual aids. Some only see death
when it’s as close as the next room
so when you speak of death to them,
you will have to simulate the sound
of death knocking on the adjoining wall
to make them understand.

Some of them will smirk and speak
of Darwin and some will speak of Jesus.
All of these people will speak of what is right
and what is deserved; most will stare you down
and shout the word “justice.” Talk anyway, seeking
those among them who, even as they sneer,
will avert their eyes. Talk to them; ignore the rest.

Many of them will be the kind of people who say,
“If I die…” Show them your funeral suit; tell them
how often you’ve worn it; show them the shiny cuffs,
the worn tie tucked in the pocket after the church hall
reception; say the names of the dead and how often
they died saying, “if I die…tell them how
I was killed. If I die, make it mean something. If I die,
remember my name.”

Maybe you will say something to someone that will work
but don’t put away your funeral suit after that.
Don’t bury it deep. Don’t assume you’ll get to wear it again
only when they put you at last into the ground.






Live Here

Last night you were kept awake by the sound
of whatever you thought this country was
fleeing like geese from winter.

All that harsh honking: the sound of illusions
soaring, diminishing, flying away.
It kept you up fretting and polishing your weapons.

When you raised the living room blinds,
on the ground below the window one cardinal,
one squirrel, three chickadees,

two mourning doves. Less sound than before
but this is your country in daylight. This is where
you are. Feed the birds that have stayed.


Eight

We are better than this.

We are better than this.
Observation or imagination?

We are better than this.
Twenty-four carat certified
path just barely tightrope wide
between those two. Show me
anything solid for either
and I will kiss your feet,
make you my idol.

We are better than this.
Aspirational, delusional?

We are better than this.
Are you? Am I? I can’t tell.
There’s such a difference
between the ways we are
that better means nothing
or less — what were we,
what have we been?

We are better than this,
in spite of every last nail
in every bed we’ve been asked to lie on.
In spite of all the people around us
soothed by the hammering.
In spite of hammers, and nails,
and the majority
who can’t even admit they’re bleeding
from the pressure and the points
and the constantly broken skin
of their backs.

We are better than this.
Say it until
you choke on it,
and then
what?


How To Defeat A Fascist

Cut a head of cabbage in half
with a large, sharp knife. Reserve half
for soup.

Take the other half
and chop it roughly
into shreds. Set aside —

in a large skillet heat olive oil,
saute garlic. Add the shredded cabbage
to it. Stir violently, over and over,

till coated and as it starts to wilt
in the hot pan progress to adding
generous salt and coarse black pepper.

When wilted down to a limp mass
eat at once, with other meats or
on its own; simple food, a little hot,

a little sweet as well. You will be
fortified for the next war —
and of course, you will have learned something

about the heft of a large, sharp knife.


I Had To Leave The Room

I had to leave the room
what with all
that yipping and yapping
How does one decide

how to sort through it all
How does one choose
what and who to save
and who and what to toss

After a long season of noise
that seemed to miss
such obvious points
about the terms of the argument

and since all in there are still committed to
a belief in the creaking house
they’re standing in
that seen from out here is clearly

about to crack and fall
I had to leave the room
and kneel on the earth itself
that is patiently waiting

for the walls to crack and fall
thus returning to the depleted soil
the gypsum in the drywall
the limestone in the cement

all the wood that frames the walls
and all the bickering flesh they hold
I had to leave the room and come outside
Listening to the screaming inside

while kneeling out here on the ground
I began to gain patience from seeing how
the earth has suffered so long
from screeching humans and yet

survived more or less so well that
even with all the depredation
it will take only the Collapse and
a subsequent century or so

before it heals itself well enough
that all this yipping and yapping
will be forgotten
It will not be the same but

the world will be quieter and that
will be a huge step forward
I had to leave the room
for a minute to see it is too late

to save the room and to resign myself
to how much pain there will be when it implodes at last
I kneel on the earth bent with fear and joy
knowing the weight of what is to come






Shedding Grace

The driver of the white Sentra in front of me 
at this legendary most dangerous intersection in the city

has tossed a handful of crumpled bills into the face
of a panhandler on the curb. 

He’s turned left onto the highway ramp,
accelerated, is gone.
I could see him laughing
through his open window
before he got away.

I turn wide around the old man
as he steps off the curb into traffic, 
bending to try and collect the money
before the wind takes it.

If this were not
the most dangerous intersection
in the city, I would stop to help,
or at least to block the cars
behind me. As it is

I’m hydroplaning
as I turn onto
that same ramp —

slipping toward ruin
on a puddle of shed grace.


American Fugue

Welcome. Everybody is welcome.
Tired masses, welcome.
Those who were brought here, welcome.
Those who were here, welcome.
Old and new family, welcome all around
to everybody in line right now.
You are all the tired masses right now
and right now everybody
has to get in line. Get in line, everybody.
Lines being drawn, drawn around the tired masses.
The tired masses. We are everybody,
we who are tired. Masses of us
in lines, welcome. Welcome to the lines.
Welcome to the masses.
Open up your windows and your hearts
to the people in line. Break a window if you must,
if it’s holding you back. The cops will be by
shortly to handle the broken windows
between you and the tired masses.
The cops are so tired of the masses.
The line forms before the masses.
Get behind this line, masses.
Get behind this good blue line.
Everybody is welcome to stand
in line behind the line.
Welcome to standing in line
behind or in front of that blue line.
You will be asked to speak. Know your lines.
Know where you stand. Speak. Stand.
String yourself out along your line.
Lines tugged back and forth.
Every line, also a string.
Your strings are being pulled.
Strings are being pulled everywhere.
The cops are not pulling the strings.
The cops are just pushing the line.
Did you forget who pulls the strings?
Welcome, everybody, to the line.
Choose a line to stand behind.
See where you stand
and see who’s behind you.
Everybody
is watching everybody
to see where everybody else
chooses to stand.
Everybody is so tired.
Welcome to the fatigue state.
Welcome everybody.
The minute you think, you fall.
The second you fall,
in that second you are more than welcome.


Appropriation 2

A friend, a chef,
uses the same secret ingredient
in anything they make, and all they make
are acclaimed masterpieces.

Naturally, they have told no one what they use
and just as naturally we try to guess,
as much for the game of it
as for the gossip or theft

since no one believes that using any one substance
is all it would take to replicate any of their dishes.
We suspect they are in fact
using some magic for their results

as opposed to a tangible spice for what else could explain
the signature spell of their food
from first course to last bite of dessert?
I will not say we are transformed by it,

instead will say we are transported.
So we needle and wheedle and bug them: tell us,
we say. Don’t try to laugh it off and say
it’s all about the love, either; we can tell it’s more.

We know esoteric when we taste it. This is
esoterica. You got your hands on something
and we will leave you to your own use of it
once we too have it on our hands,

even if it’s blood. So tell us. All we want
is the flavor. If it demands a sacrifice or a torture
we already know you took that pain, and thank you
for that — but it’s over. Why should anyone else suffer?



Morning Rites

Newly added to the ritual:
hanging freshly washed
air-dried masks on
the back of the front door

so it’s easy to grab one on the way out.
You stack them in a certain order: on top
the favorite, then back up to the favorite,
back up to the back up, fancy dress, then last resort.

There they hang, playing their role,
reminding you of a danger
out there that you can’t see coming;
here is armor,

a hook full of cotton prayer. You’ll see them
the second you lift your favorite hat
from the neighboring hook and say to yourself,
“can’t forget this,” and then go on your way.

It’s now as much a part of your ritual
as clipping your knife to a pocket, tucking
pepper gel into a hoodie. Those
also sit close to the door when not in use,

reminding you of where you live
before you get out into it.
The phone, with its camera
and list of emergency contacts.

The car keys with the panic button
and the handy bottle of sanitizer.
The wallet that these days
offers no help at all.


Colorway

Police have just announced
their symbolism will change
from blue to purple
in an effort to connect more deeply
with the bruised people
they’ve created.

Elsewhere, bankers dress down
to tout the green hue of money.
Get you some, it’s good for the planet,
they say, as they bury heaps of their own
in the holes left from others
working the black seams of the earth.

Don’t have a color of your own?
Someone’s out there with a straitjacket
that’s perfect for you. If you don’t see it on the rack,
ask. It’s likely in the back, the mythic back
where all the good stuff is held in secret,
the back you never see.

They keep changing their colors, you keep yearning
for your own. “Kaleidoscope” doesn’t really cut it
as a description of their colorway world. “Rainbow”
holds it all but they bought that too.

Out in the hot light of broad daylight
they try to leash you to their vision.

Makes you long for something
easier on the eyes.
Makes you long for the simplicity
of black and white.

They have something for that, too.


Chordophones

The guitars my country of old men loves to hear
support the binary my country of old men adores.
They must have either six or twelve strings,
must be either acoustic or electric.

My country of old men mostly loves only songs
that are played on guitars. If there are
mandolins or banjos in the song they must be
there only as adjunct to guitars. Ukuleles

have their place among the acceptable
for their chiming and their cute faces; they look like
infant guitars to the old men and who would take
such candy from babies? They’ll surely outgrow them.

A bass guitar is acceptable; this is why it is called
a guitar. Any other instrument with strings
is inferior to guitar and should be at best
relegated to guitar support, say the old men

of my country. This is why no one around here
recognizes any kind of cuatro or knows what a saz is,
why no one has ever heard a vihuela, a charango,
a guitarra de Lisboa.

Those who play such dangerous instruments
keep to themselves around here for fear of
my country of old men. You have to spin the dials
a long time on secret radios to hear any of them played.

It’s as if the old men
know this would be
a different country if everyone
heard those sounds.


The Stench

Revised from 8/28/2020.

In first light I see
the black cat waiting for her food
below her perch in the kitchen window.

“Jump up, beautiful girl — you
can do it!”

She leaps up light,
lands heavy, settles in
to treats and wet food. The calico
does the same for her bowl across the room;
they are, for the moment, content.

I allow myself a weak smile
before I start the coffee,
before the scent fills the kitchen,
before I look out the front windows,
before I take a breath
of the Stench out there
and ask the daily questions:

dare I turn on the television,
open my mail, think of how things
might be getting better or worse?
Dare I count the dead? Dare I count
sneers and curses? Dare I measure or note
the indifference of the alleged good majority
and call them out as the source of this smell?

It’s taken me far too long to call this as I sense this:
that it is not behavior seen or anger heard
nearly as much as it is an odor that chokes me,
makes everything taste less healthy;
odor so thick it coats my skin,
distorts my touch; a pale Stench
from a host of dark graves;
blood so soaked into our soil
that it stains every foundation
and leaks into the roots
of every tree and blade of grass.

In spite of how I choke upon the Stench
the cats seem to ignore it, are purring and happy,
falling back to sleep in their favorite spots
before I pour my first cup of coffee. I suck it down
and here I am again, wondering if today is the day
that I will suffocate at last.

One cat sneezes. I look up to see
the calico stretching. She wheezes a bit.
Might be the Stench,
might be simpler than that.

I’m sure it’s simpler than that.

My love is still asleep still in the next room.
All I want is for her to live through this
and thrive again, breathe clean again.
For myself? All I ask
is that I live long enough
to help clear the air.




Tradition

The lights going out,
the body count,
the murderous twitching
of hollering masses.

Fire, flood,
etc.; a terrifying
traditional list of plagues
and calamities; nothing
undocumented
or unprophesied.

You stare
at pictures of small, cute, furry.
All you want
is to put your arms around
a baby alpaca.

That’s also a tradition:
putting your trust in the belief
that the New World
will save you from the Old.


Columbus Again

waking again surprised to be
still alive this far out to sea
so far from the shore
and grounded living

awake same time daily
then fall right back to sleep
upon seeing and feeling
the same old drift

you have to wonder
if this started with Columbus
thirty five days into his voyage
not knowing the next day

would change all forever
you have to wonder how
he expressed his hope
to his men and to himself

that they would land somewhere full of plunder
and how many today
are rolling their hands
over and over against each other

with the same hope
that the new world on
the other side of this long drift
will offer them good luck and fortune

(no matter who else dies for it)
once this rotten ship
scrapes bottom upon
a yet unknown shore



Excruciating Detail

Into excruciating detail we go.
We approach any fire focused on the embers at the edge.
We can describe the craquelure of each coal.
We can say whatever we want of shades and gradations
as long as we don’t speak of how close we are to being consumed.

Into excruciating detail we go.
We see haze and make up numbers to explain its depth.
We see smoke and metaphor it as dragon, as mushroom, as column.
We can say whatever we want of thickness and color and height
as long as we don’t choke on the constant approach of disaster.

Into excruciating detail we go.
We smell every singe on each hair currently on fire.
We speak of sweet and sour and acrid and my God, no words.
We can say whatever we want about the length of any given flame
as long as we ignore how bright and how hot we have become.