Tag Archives: political poems

Everyone Is Burning

Common wisdom says
if you find yourself on fire
you must stop, drop, and roll
until there is no more fire,

but no one follows that up
with any wisdom at all about 
what to do with all these ashes
and hard charred hunks
left behind by the flames.

It would be good to know.
There’s so much of this
going around
it’s hard to distinguish
smoldering people
from the land on which
they suffer,
the land onto which
they’ve fallen

rolling in agony 
until they either 
put the fire out
or spread it to
another,
and then another.


Walk Don’t Run

Soundtrack:
“Walk Don’t Run,”

but I’m running.
I’m always running. 
Do the ironists
care? How should I decolonize
my shoes
when I can’t stop
to take them off?

There’s a fucking settler
everywhere I look. I can’t
get them off my back, or my 
mind. How does “Land Back”
work when the land
is thick with them and their
history? When half my genes
are settler genes? Maybe
the truest part of me
is settler. I feel
broken settling for that.
Maybe I should surrender to it
and just run through the colony
waving and smiling
till I drop dead and then that hole
they put me in
or  the land where they scatter my ashes
will become land I get back.

And how do I stop
being a capitalist asset
when I’m so damn hungry
and money is so short?
Do the ironists care? Are they still
laughing, calling a dead man like me
who’s running in capitalist shoes
from capitalism and colony and
the endlessly fucking settlers
a lackey?

Maybe the problem is that I’m
running down the top of a fence
barely an inch wide and I can’t decide
which side will cradle me when I fall. 
Maybe I should listen to the words
of the song. 

I don’t trust anyone 
who had a hand in building this fence,

especially me. No Marxist,
no Libertarian, no capitalist 
apologists…settlers all,

and no one able to explain
how to soften the human cost,
how to even partially break
the looming fall.

The fields on either side
are too wide to let this fence
define them, but here I am,
running like it matters 
which side I will die on.


News Feed

something’s
breaking not like glass
but like a bone

one can take this
as being something
no one can take or

one can take this
as how things
grow

one would be
wrong on both counts
something breaking

not like a ceiling or
a floor after a bomb
or meteorite

it’s more like a bone
or lots of bones
and more damage

than just bones
more shards afterward
sticking out sticking into

flesh and 
look there’s no blood
how can that be

after such a crash 
as this where something’s
broken perhaps forever

no healing from this
and still so little blood
perhaps the victim

was already close to 
drained when the break
came after falling

from such a height
will they stand up again
will they rise after this

the crutches
are sawn almost through
after all 

yet another broken aid
upon which hope for this break
must fall


Whitestench

Revised from Jan 2021.

I’m not sorry to use the word
as it’s the only way I can describe it
that also explains in fetid detail how it works:

it is an odor that strangles sometimes,
merely distracts at others, but always sets
my teeth to grinding.

Walk into a discussion where it flavors the air; 
soon enough, I’m choking so much the others
couldn’t understand me if they had been able to try.

I turn to art for solace and it rises from between
pages, stings my eyes till paintings blur;
even the music reeks. That job interview

stank with it; this online forum — how is this
even possible? I cannot see words on a screen 
through the miasma.

The halls of Congress,
the trading floor of Wall Street, every tower
where a titan of industry schemes: all

are thick with it; they might as well be tombs —
one whiff of the air in there recalls
dead generations piled upon dead generations.

Now and then I pick it up on a breeze
through a forest that must have passed
over a mass grave, a lynching tree, a pipeline.

Sometimes I can smell it on a friend’s breath 
or loved one’s skin. I step back
and never close in all the way again.

Sometimes, too often, I can tell it is coming
directly from me — mouth,
clothes, being. Half of me wants

to flee myself; the other half
holds my breath, pinches off my nose,
resists the urge to let myself drown.

When I’m at my best it makes me duck,
get close to the ground, look into myself
for better air.


The Original Goof

1.
I’m a game piece. Have been
forever, all the livelong day.
Body designed by compulsive Goof,
I move into spaces for moments
at a time, hurt or enjoy the time,
then move on.

I assume it’s not my place
to understand the Game,
for I don’t know
how to win,
how to play to a draw,
how to lose.

Someone else, 
the original Goof, gets
to know that. They will
shove me into a box and
walk away satisfied or not;
I’ll be in the dark even then.

2.
If it sounds like
I’m ceding my autonomy,
bemoaning my anatomy,

know that no part of me
indulges in hagiography
for myself or others. I did

hard damage here and own my 
long decay — but something put me
here and twisted me this way;

original Goof chasing laughs
or the joy of play, and as I said
I’m thinking I’m the game piece

who doesn’t get to know
how the Game ends,
or even how it does end.

3.
Rotten old songs stuck
in my head, all the livelong day.

Their baggage’s loaded in 
and I’m embarrassed that it won’t go away.

Lyrics in the background,
the Game and the moves right up front. 

I still see the Board as a playroom
where I’m too clumsy to use the toys

as intended. It hurts now more than it
pleases, but as I was never meant 

to be either Winner or Loser,
it does not matter.

Original Goof or whoever’s holding it,
won’t you blow

your horn? Fee fi fiddly,
pay me what I’m owed.  I’ve been

your gandy dancer long enough. 
I’m ready to take that bow.


Steel

Before I walk out the door
I steel up, remembering
that there are people out there
who would prefer I was less inconvenient
and who might even think
I should not have been born
and therefore to see me die
would be either terrific
or at least a relief in terms of 
how much real estate their fear
takes up within them — one less
hell to answer, amirite, one less
mongrel to flay?

Some of those same people
who would disavow this if you asked
say nice things to my face,
might even categorize me
as one of the good ones to my face,
at least until I pop off 
over something they say or believe
and they get me better than they did

and then comes my time to shine
to their faces and I admit
all their wanting me to die 
or never to have existed is not 
just reflected in how I’ve steeled up;

some of that shines forth
from within me.


Freedom

The bodies in front of their former homes. The homes themselves burnt to hell. The bodies face down, some with their hands tied. The homes no longer tied together by mortar and nails. 

You could say this has been an action devoted to freeing the bricks from the tyranny of structure. When you look at it from the point for view of the property, the land the structures sat on, this is an exciting new opportunity. Anything may happen now.

As for the bodies? Find a little property for them. Dig a pit and lime it, put the bodies in, cover them up, tramp the dirt down. It’s a simple process. It will be repeated, from bullet to bulldozer, as long as there’s property to be set free. 

I don’t know how to say it but to say it plain: freedom largely is defined in a point plotted between the axes of property and bodies. I don’t know how to say it but to say it with a dirty voice of truth: your freedom is largely defined by your comfort with that math.

I don’t know a place on earth where there have never been bodies lying dead in front of their former homes, where the property mattered less than the bodies, at least for a time, sometimes forever. 

You may or may not have put the bodies there. Whether or not you did, your freedom actualizes upon finding your comfort level with the faces on those bodies — the color, the shape, the time between their deaths and your realization. 

Did they die because they insulted the rights of the property around them? Did they die because their property wasn’t handled right? Did they die in order to keep you safe, protect your freedom? 

Ah, but your home is lovely, filled with artifacts from your travels and your long and happy family life.  You occupy such lovely property, my friends, my darlings. Freedom has been good to you. 


Tales Of Lost Treasure

Spending the scant treasure we have left
on the mundane. Breathing’s now as expensive
as sleeping. How we’ll balance the books
is unclear. Feels like we will owe forever.

They gave us a cursory accounting, 
said there would be no full reckoning 
until after we were done with being;
we accepted these lies. Accepted this decline.

Silver and gold, folding bills, 
electronic ghost money; even our best lives offered up
on collection platters to the liars we have always 
honored who claim destitution is freedom.

So: they call this broke. They call this
poverty, poor, bereft and adrift. We call this
now.  We call this eye of the needle;
exit of the labyrinth; birth canal.


Regarding The Recent Unpleasantries

among us:  there is no time 
to fully explain
how things have come to this pass
but whether because of

a fear of differences,
an unresolved history of slights,
a record of injuries sustained by parties
brightly recalled or dimly suggested;

a daily microcosm replicating
galactic collisions of culture
alloyed with equal parts suffering
and misunderstanding of the Other;

small unending matters of rape upon rape,
murder for entertainment, mayhem
as amusement, enslavement and subjugation,
genocide on behalf of profit motive,

and the reimagination of Creator
as Personal Injury Attorney seeking to pull
whatever it can from Creation itself
until it implodes, or all of the above, here we are.

Regarding the recent unpleasantness:
we endure and shake our heads as if
this can go on forever because of how long
this has gone on, because of how

we have built our home upon this 
as if it were a foundation and not
a pile of sharp rocks soaked in old blood
and new flesh — but oh, the stench of it.

How it burns the head from inside out.
How it chokes our children.
How this decay has become
our banner. How we have died away

from each other. How leaves shrivel
as roots loosen. The sun and moon
turning from us. The earth and ocean
say: Together now, or pass from us.


Precipice

Midday gusts
push my car
from side to side
while driving on an 
expired license,
just above speed
limits; stalling at
lights — fuel filter,
I hope that’s all 
it is. Hope gets me
home to collapse
where I start to think about 
how expensive gas
has become and
how long till my money
comes again;
and yeah, there’s 
nuclear war and 
my long ago relegated
to a far closet
childhood fears
knocking to come
out. Around here,
we call this Monday
or Tuesday or 
any old day of 
nothing definite
but precipice.


The Political Is Only Personal On Our Off Nights

revised from 2013

About things
that are not obvious
we have
almost nothing to say

They may be full of earwigs 
ready to chew us up
Ravening rapidly but obliquely situated
to the top news story
May swing old lions by the tail
and stomp the young into the earth
then fill up on poison champagne
If it’s not easy to see two sides 
we set it all aside

Though it’s work worth doing
and there are
possible cathedrals and temples there
Though people die
in between positions
as if those were jaws
snapping without thought
Though it is work
that has never been attempted
Full of grave dirt and torn shrouds
if it is not work someone else
will do for us
we act like
it’s not to be done

though this is our watch
and our work
and we are the problem

though this is the most crucial thing
and we are the problem
though we stink of it remaining undone
and we are the problem

we do not do what needs doing

unless we can hang the blame
on a banner and slogan
made by someone else 
bearing a finger
pointing off stage


Whistles

The news is showing a rally for Ukraine
and I bite my lip till it bleeds
as I think about all-American flag waving
and wonder how many of those people
out there tonight waving the Ukrainian flag

will go home afterward 
whistling past the fact
that their own flag stands above 
a killing field, waves daily
above a graveyard
right outside their front doors
as they go off to a job
built on another graveyard
and pass ever-growing graveyards
of even more on the way, 
every day?

They whistle past
their own fascists, grave diggers all,
palefaced dogs in tactical gear.
Someone’s calling those dogs to war
right here, right now, and they ain’t just whistling
that dirty old song, ain’t just blowing 
old dog whistles; they are running up
all their dog-dirty old flags
to see who’ll offer the flat-hand salute

as the masses look away, look away, 
whistling past this graveyard
called a neighborhood,
this nation that increasingly
heaves and floods
in new heat and new cold.
Some are falling to their knees now, it’s true.
Some others are still falling into holes
in good old American ground.

The bombs are falling on Kyiv
and we cry
as we should
for what happens there
as it happens everywhere, 
as it is happening here
and has always happened here.
Cry now for Kyiv
as you should cry for Yemen;
cry now as you once did
for Hanoi, for Da Nang;

as you should have cried
for Sand Creek,
for Wounded Knee,
for Tulsa,
for Philadelphia. 

From not far above comes
a movie-tuned whistle
we all understand:
the keening of a bomb falling,
a song of all the world.

Whose flag is on the nose of the bomb?
Under what flag do the people stand
who shall soon be killed?

I bite my lip
imagining the colors
of a yet-unstitched flag
that shall proclaim: 

We see you, bombers;
we see all of you.
No more. No more
of this, of you. 

That one.  
That’s the one to wave.


Speaking Of Collapse

My home continues
to fall into itself.
At least once a week
I see a paint flake
in the bathroom sink
and look up, can’t tell
where it came from, ceiling
looks the same or does it?
The sound of water rushing
through the walls and where
will the leak appear this time?
The wind shaking
the plastic sheeted windows,
moving the indoor plants.
The television talking nonsense
loud enough to drown out
the creaking and the screaming
of the neighbors as they in turn
collapse. A needle on the
front walk. Chore Boy
package in my trash bin. 
Watching how it goes down
beyond the desperation 
bird feeders, where all the sparrows
hang, happy and heedless of how close
the food is to running out for good.
I check the storage under the sink
and calculate how long
I can maintain their illusion
which is my own illusion
that if we make it to spring
it’s all going to work out. 


New Village

I’m telling myself
I’m not here
but I am
here in front of
a duplex bearing
on one side
a rainbow flag bearing
a peace sign and
the redundant word
PEACE and
on the other side
that Nazi-sanctioned
thin blue line version
of the American flag
and in this town I’m certain
someone thinks 
it’s a beautiful thing
that they can coexist
but all I can think of
is crematoria and 
my god this is 
the town where
I grew up and
how the hell
did it happen and
how the hell
did I not end up 
here and 
how the hell 
is hell not here


The Snail

Snail on
the porch rail.
A friend says,
look, a snail.

I say, no,
that’s just 
a snail’s house.
The snail’s inside.

They say, but
it’s an extension 
of the snail, grown
from its body. That’s
how this works. You
can’t separate the snail
from its house. The snail
without its shell
isn’t a slug, it’s 
a dead snail. 

Down the street,
a snake flag on
a house. DON’T
TREAD ON ME,
undulating like
the swirl of a shell.

I stare at it often,
but after this I’ll be
imagining the house
is not a house at all

but is indeed the
odd woman 
who lives in there,
who will not wave
when I drive by,
who is her flag and
is waiting
to strike.