Tag Archives: political poems

Living At The Movie

We focus too much
on opening credits.

Character development,
plotting, how the optics

are arranged and changed;
all that is set aside.

The writing of it — how
the arc is presented, where

one must suspend disbelief,
what makes no sense, what

is left unsaid and left to dangle
out there unanswered — shit,

even the who and when
of the writing are ignored — 

those who stay for the the last crawl
of all those behind the scenes

are few, those who understand
all the roles and occupations

as they are assigned on screen
are fewer still.

We’ve unapologetically loved
the movie, though:

the lights; the special effects;
the heroes and the villains —

but damn people, damn.
This is no way to run a country.


United

You could just pretend
it’s a united country.
That has worked for you for years.

You could tell yourself everything
from the ice cream truck to the singer at the ball game
was singing our song.

You could admire the colors in the flag
without ever conjuring the words
“bleeding out,” “erasure,” or “suffocation.”

You could stay home just long enough
to claim it’s a hardship not to work
at the job you whine about seven days a week

but you’ll do it for your family
and your country — and what
are your neighbors’ names, anyway?

You could watch the gunners and bombers
and sigh about how the country’s fallen so far
and never even think of bounties placed on scalps,

a Klansman serving in the Senate for decades,
murderers laughing at their trials while in the courtroom,
everyone forgetting all of that happened

because that’s what “united” means.
United in memory loss. United in the hope
that this too will pass. One nation under a fog.


Piano On Fire

Piano on fire
in the courtyard of this old mill
where the train used to roll right inside.

How the piano got here we don’t know
but now it’s on fire. Seems right.
The finish bubbling, the big strings snapping.

This calls for a chaos pianist.
The bench is over there,
not blazing;

a brave musician could do something 
with all this: play, perhaps,
a train song on fire.

Pull the bench up,
not too close, hit those
scalding keys,

the piano detuning the whole time.
Whoever knows 
how to orchestrate melody

from such destruction
is going to do fine here.
We don’t know how the piano got here

but until it’s consumed
we know exactly 
how to make it sing,

how to bring the ghost train
back to life, smoke-strung,
resurrected long enough

to fly off the rails
and tear them up as it goes;
how to call that an anthem

and build a nation around it
as we warm our hands 
on the last of the piano’s embers.


Starting To Break

Impudently reaching
for justice, the people
dared to approach those
unused to such encroachments
upon their high places;

people who spoke
imperfectly, did not spell
as prescribed, who now and then
set things on fire below the pedestals
where the powers

were beginning to tremble
as the people surged up.

Insisting upon justice,
people moved forward:

then, the sound of stone cracking. Not 
deeply, not all the way through,

but certainly
something was starting to break,
something was starting to fall.


No Fun

I don’t want fun. Fun’s 
for the done, the no more
joy in the work
so let’s cut and run bunch.

I do want joy. Joy’s different —
a place at once inside
and outside self. A light over all,
warming from within, a change

to air itself. Fun blows though
like a boat cutting calm apart.
Joy is the lake itself
before, during, and after;

even when disrupted, even
under attack, joy holds up. I could
sink into that.  I could drown 
in joy for real. Death in joy? Perfect,

normal, natural. There are those
who would disagree, would say pain
negates joy, death its ultimate enemy —
no. If I fall before the bullets

I won’t be having fun, but closing my eyes
on the site of struggle, shutting down
at the end of a battle knowing others
will fight on? What joy in that!


Four Freedoms

1.
When they got off their boats
in those first years, they had with them
worship, fear, and want. Used guns
and disease to spread what they’d brought
and cleared the land so their speech, theirs alone,
could ring out. You use what you have when you need
to run a genocide just to get by. 

2.
They endlessly retell all their lovely myths
about how plantations ran, but in truth
fear and want and worship were made anew there
and no amount of speech can bind the wounds
from whip or rape.

3.
Freedom of speech, freedom of worship,
freedom from want, freedom from fear.

They’ve declared themselves the default
so all those terms are theirs to define.

Which of their four freedoms
do you think they love the most? 

Which of their four freedoms
is most easily weaponized?

4.
It’s not like they’ve ever stopped trying.
A prison here, a reservation there;
a blood quantum chant, a hypocrite anthem;
a redline, a voting line, a pipeline, a rope;
smug worship, suffocating want, cold-back fear;
speaking up is a gas worthy, gun worthy game to them. 

It’s not like they’ve ever stopped trying.
Mask-off sneering at the safety of others;
insistent demands for managers and cops;
churches set on fire, an ape with a Bible
offering fear to the terrified and want to the starving;
a border wall stabbed through the bones of silent ancestors.

5.
Speak of new freedoms now:

freedom from their way of worship — 
how tiring it becomes to hear them speak of God
and show us nothing but the demonic;

freedom from their notion of speech
that makes heroes of their mythic killers
and tell us we never died at their hands;

freedom to want more than what they offer,
to want the return of things that they’ve stolen
and drained of meaning, turning them into mere style;

and as for freedom to fear? We see them holding that now;
gingerly, at last seeing how it feels (a little) not to be
in full hard control of their own story.

 


Shamed

I’m supposed to be
punching a Nazi right now
but I can’t open the door
to go out and find one.

I’m supposed to be tearing down
a statue right now

but I can’t keep my grip on anything —
rope, stone, life.

I’m ashamed of the illnesses
that keep me from standing

and walking and breathing
with the armies of the righteous.

I’m tired of starting every sentence
with “I.” I am trying

to decide how to matter
without myself mattering the most.

To slip into the river
of the moment and vanish
may be all I can muster.
To disappear. To not leave

a damned thing behind
except anything someone better
could use. I would like to be
of some use, even if it

requires my absence.
Let there be an axis without me
upon which new things may turn.
Let the turning

pass me, let the passage
be swift enough that
I vanish quickly from view,
slow enough

that by the time you come back
to where I was,
there’s nothing of note —
not a statue,

not a bloody eye,
not a handprint on a rope.
Take what you need from me
and let me go, let me go.


I Will Be Broken

I will be broken
by the demise of
this country, 
of course. How could
I not be — it made me.
I can only modify what I am
just so far — cannot 

transform entirely. Not now,
not this late. 

You tell me,

of course you can change.
Of course 
you can shift yourself 
aside of the tumbling 
stones and statues, the smoking
crash of the ruins — you can
survive and even thrive.
You can be something else.

No. I know better, and I know
even more than better —
I know a limited amount of best.

Best for me
is to stand open handed under
the looming wall of the thing
that was built for me and those 
like me and catch the rubble
as it begins to crumble,

try to keep it from crushing
the ones without safety
or a place to hide.

It will take me eventually
but I will be damned if 
I let it take anyone I have
the ability to save.


Losing It

Losing it —
colloquialism for 
a break in your
social equilibrium

which rarely was more
than a mask on
the face of your inner
disaster zone

What you’ve lost
is the mask and 
when you examine
the world

you might be
better off as a
screaming
representation

of what
the proper
reaction to the world
should be

More should lose it
More should scream
More of us should shed
these shells

What we’ll be left with
Soft faces
Mouths open
Howling en masse

Losing it
Losing so much
we used
as armor

Fear must precede 
the new
that must replace
what we must lose


Flowers Of An Unknown Species

First day of summer,
yard work, looking at
flowers of an unknown
species.  Yellow, dainty,
on long stems springing
from the abandoned bed
where we once grew
early salad — mustard
greens perhaps? I have
forgotten what was there
now; it was years ago
that we grew
more than weeds 
in those beds.
This may not
even be something
descended from what
we planted. I take one
into my mouth — bitter
as ironweed, astringent
bright on my tongue;
spit it out praying it’s just
distasteful and not
poisonous.

Back inside, out of the heat,
I turn on the television
and turn it back off again
at once. Astringent and 
dark, the visions there,
and surely poisonous
as that weed was not. 
This news growing from beds
we abandoned long ago —
was it something we planted
or an invasive species? 

A god’s voice says,
eat of this and know
the truth. I bend a knee
to the floor, hungry,
terrified, and not sure 
I’ve got the strength 
to rise. 


Modern Architecture

An article 
on modern architecture
laments how ugly 
it all is, compares and contrasts
Dubai and Singapore skylines
to the streets of ancient Italian
cities, mocks physics-defying towers
of steel and glass
set into city blocks worldwide
at nearly impossible angles and 
presents the street map of Paris
and a collage of pictures
of Roman aqueducts
as the perfection of human
spirit made real, weeps at how much
grace and soul we have pissed away
on such monstrosities, blames
every disease of our society
on the retreat from such classical norms —

and here I am
thinking of broken temples

in India and blown up mosques in Iraq;
of what Timbutu must have been
in its prime and how mounds 
across North America still undulate
in harmony with the landscape
wherever they have not been bulldozed;
thinking of six grandfathers dynamited 
for four presidents; 

I want to say a lot of things
about destruction and rebirth and
the relevance of the past to the present

and they all just come out at once
in words I can never fully mean
as to say them is
to condemn myself as well
but I must, I must:

fuck you, old Europe, old head,
no more than small peninsula of vast Asia,
skull cap above the head of Africa,
made rich by the long plunder of the Americas:

yield your time.


Instructions For Viewing The Sunrise

How to be a white American
this year: shift your stance

and consider the view of the drain
from inside the drain.

Think of a sunrise viewed from here
where sunset’s in progress. Bend down

and smell the thrown rocks, the landed bricks,
tear gas floating across the soil.

Get out of the hold
your skin has on you: armor

you may have counted on,
tattooed spells of protection

you say you never knew existed — 
and if you admitted that you knew,

you denied
that you could read them.

It’s not fun here right now.
It’s not going to be fun,

not supposed to be fun.
Never fear: you will someday

dine and screw
and find joy in small things

as always. Just don’t 
try to shift back

to where you were standing
before all this:

the ground there won’t be as solid
as it used to appear.


Charts

Over here we have a chart
explaining how the System
self-regulates and does its work.

Over there we have a chart
explaining how the people
who run the System are in fact
part of another, Deeper System
underneath and behind the System.

Over there — a different there —
there’s a chart explaining
how the Systems one can see
are not the True Systems. How 
another Ultimate System entirely is running
and no other System exists at all
and we cannot know the Ultimate System
because, because…

And there we are, pointing
at our preferred charts, screaming
at the adherents of systems 
other than our own:

Jeffrey Epstein killed himself.
Jeffrey Epstein didn’t
kill himself. Jeffrey Epstein isn’t dead.
Jeffrey Epstein’s moldy body was used
to breed the coronavirus. 
It’s China. It’s Russia.
It must be reptilians. No,
that’s silly. it’s gotta be the Grays.
Follow the golden
showers, the money,
the long game.

Follow it all
at the same time, spinning
and pointing at charts
until you’re dizzy — 

all the while
someone’s picking your pockets
and chuckles while putting up
chart upon chart upon chart
for you to argue over.
Charts,
they tell themselves,
are our business, and business 
is good,
while all we ever say in return is,

which chart do we put them on?


Incident On R Street

Third floor neighbors
call the cops
because one floor down from them
a crowd of people
we don’t recognize
are smoking crack,
and one floor down from that
all I can hear is the noise
of heavy stumbling on
the kitchen floor, bedroom floors,
bathroom floor, living room floor
above me…

Third floor has a newborn
and they’re a little bit upset
at second floor’s disarray and clamor,
how we all had roaches for a few months
because no one there took out the trash
and now we’ve cleared that up —
but who are all these people
anyway?

Third floor wonders
why the cops don’t come
to see to the second floor.

I know they won’t.

They didn’t come for my break in,
and when they came later on
for the one next door
they told me it was my fault
for living in 
this neighborhood.

The only time they’ve ever come
to rattle our doors
was in the deep of the night
when a roommate died
from a fentanyl kiss
on the second floor 
years ago.

So I sit and wonder
about the limited potential
for there ever to be
a big blue knock
on the building door,

badges and flashlights
and guns asking me
to let them in
to the hallway to
the floors above me,

fat chance of anything at all
unless someone dies

or is about to die…

What answer should I make
to a knock in the night
from someone who thinks
any pain on this street
is well-deserved?

No idea, but

we need something 
that doesn’t look like this,
like any of this. 


Will Never Be

Am not and will never be
a pleased citizen of a displeasing culture

where life has been tuned to enforced dissatisfaction
and to wanting so much more than is good for you

Where all cues are taken from the long-ago dead
and to freestyle beyond them is anathema-death

Am not and will never be traditional
in the sense of the word that means toe-the-line

where there are different lines for different people
and we are backed up snarling across them at others

Where we drown in the smarmy the snark and the witless
and stare at the sun till we burn out our TV-dulled eyes

Am not and will never be pure at my center
in this place where percentage and quota are God

If you are more of this more of that
Or less than required in all of your portions

they set you aside and remand you to hell
Where the fire’s burned out and you shiver to pieces

Am not and will never accept this as normal
Am not and will never lie down and sleep well

in this place that might have been something at one time
Maybe for ten minutes or maybe fifteen

a long time ago in the head of a child
who lay down and drifted through patriot dreams

then awoke in this place and once they could see it
have never had rest for a whole night since then