Tag Archives: political poems

Running Is A Lifestyle

You were there, seated on the low wall,
breathing hard after running. Recovering.
I was there too, though we did not speak.
Both of us had just finished running from
what had chased us. Were we done or just
taking a moment? We never spoke. Our eyes
never met. If we had taken a moment there
we might have learned something, gained
a little time, made a plan to fight back. Might
have stopped, been able to settle, been able
to put down actual roots. Instead we were
caught up in recovery, preparing for
more running and more attempts to escape
and live. This is how it works, how it was
always designed to work. This is how we’ve come
to call this living. It never lets up and
we never learn how many of us there are
running away from the same thing.


This Concludes Our Broadcast Day

Used to be when the television got tired
it would briefly display a waving flag
while an old racist song played
(they always played an instrumental and few had heard
or even knew about the racist verse)
and then all would become a burst of static
or the soul-cry from the Emergency Broadcast System
while on screen you’d see a stereotype, what they called
an Injun
in what they called
a war bonnet
displayed in the center of a bullseye graphic.
Now they just turn their time over to sell, sell, sell.
I’ve always thought the old way was more honest
about who we are,
but was it?



Pitchforks

revised — originally posted 2/11/2018

American Gothic is a very famous painting
Experts like to argue about which America it’s about
One thing I think we can all agree on
is that the picture is centered on a pitchfork

We like to think we’re different
We like to think we’re beyond it
We like to think we’re not the ones
who are supposed to hold the pitchfork

Our biggest problem?
Out of an excess of kindness
we have let the other side pick up
all the torches and pitchforks

No one’s scared of
any of us because
we said “this can’t be happening”
instead of “where’s my pitchfork”

It’s not the exclusive tool of the devil
It’s just another tool on the rack
We can’t make hay while our sun dims
We need to learn our way around a pitchfork

Boycotts chants and votes do matter
They matter even more when
it’s clear that behind all our moves
are the tines of a forest of pitchforks

It is good to punch the obvious ones
but eventually we will have to get around
to watching a billionaire wriggle
on the end of a pitchfork

So go and look at that painting
Put yourself in it and imagine the feel of the handle
No one in there looks happy but they surely have
a hold on that blessed pitchfork


Rumplestilskinned

I’m good. I’m OK with this
walking, talking, working, being —
all the while wading through, falling in,
playing in, loving in a field of shit.
I’m OK with this. I’m good.
Live with it long enough
and you will be too. I mean
live with it, really learn
the game of shit, the process of it.
How we made this for ourselves.
How we added blood and flesh
to the mix to make shit into bricks.
How we Rumplestilskinned it into
this yellow stuff and called it gold.
You love to be revolted by it.
I’m good enough now with it to admit it
and if not to embrace it at least
to know how far away we are
from a clean-up. You are going gentle into it,
gently forward as if you ever could be clean
having been born here, raised here, made here.
You won’t even admit you can smell it
on yourselves. You say it’s the other
side. You say a lot of things, talking shit
and it smells like it. I’m OK with it
which is not about acceptance
as much as it is about seeing it and saying
it’s there. It’s everywhere. I’m soaking in it
up to my neck sometimes and sometimes
I play in it just to keep from drowning.
Sometimes I even enjoy the game. Sometimes
I even dig the music. Sometimes I have to
take a little joy from watching the horror
rather than let my self slip underneath
the crust on top, never to come up again.


The Middle Ground

The savage tiny wars
have brought you at last to this one
where you are facing your enemy
over middle ground
you both disdain.

You still need to fight it even though so many
who say they’re on your side
are trying to claim there’s nothing at stake
that a willingness to meet out there
in the line of fire couldn’t salvage.

That’s quite enough, thank you,
you tell them. You’ve seen
how soaked the middle ground is
with the blood of those who listened
to such nonsense, and you know,

as they do not, that most of the
the iron-red soil in the middle ground
is permanently muddied
with generations of good intentions
that were slain by bad ones.

Maybe some day the middle ground
will be arable, even fertile, but for now
you put aside any thought of plow
and seed. That will come later.
You raise your weapon. For now, anyway,

this is how you hope.


Stupid Man In Stupid Town

smarter people
than I are needed
to figure out
exactly which numbers we need
that will come out to
creating something like equity
among the dispossessed

but even a stupid man
from stupid town like me
can see that if you start with
seeing only three-fifths of a human
then forty percent remains missing
and if you start with two words like
merciless savages
and end up with fifty-six million acres
of US land still run by Indigenous folks
(only two point three percent
of total US territory)
even if someone’s
massaged the numbers
along the way
and said that 60% is now 100%
so everything’s hunky dory now
and anyway we dig
the music
and even if someone’s said
it’s not OK to hunt
those redskins anymore
they’re good enough to be on
jerseys and
they’ve built some great casinos
on that 2.3%

even a stupid man from stupid town like me
knows lip service when they see it

and even a stupid man from stupid town
should be able to tell you
that original sins
burn holes in a nation’s insides
and if we can’t see
or if worse we deny
that something is still owing
we are just as
hollowed out
walking around happy to be
blissfully
stupid in stupid town



Footnote

True story: we have always hated others
as if it were possible to fix fractures
by denying existence to those
on the other side, as if what is left
on our side could be whole enough
to sustain us.

Now we claim to have turned the page
and are better than that, pointing with pride
at our story of our sound and strong nation
that is in fact teetering on a scaffold
thrown together on barely knitted bones;

it is insulting that we dare to say
we are bewildered at the agony radiating
from every aging, failing seam,
as if the moment we are in is merely a footnote
in a book about our truth,
as if any of the chapters is complete
with no mention of pain.


You Live Here

revised. originally posted 11/19/2020.

Last night you lay awake terrified
by the sound of this country honking
its changes, ripping the night.

So harsh, that sound of your illusions
soaring, diminishing, flying away.
You stayed up polishing weapons. At dawn

when you raised the living room blinds, what was
on the ground below the window? One cardinal,
three chickadees, two mourning doves;

all pecking, scratching, cooing. Far less noise
than the night before. This is your country
in daylight. You live here;

you are expected
to put up your sword
and feed those birds.


Unforgettable

I didn’t forget enough
of your words or blows
to be healed — how
could I? My arms
and chest have thick, inflexible
scars. My ears are bent
to take in some but not all
of what there is to hear. If
you can see that this body
has been changed
by past abuse
so much that certain
functions are inalterably
compromised, why did you expect
you could waltz in, hat in hand,
and ask me to your dance
without my turning
my wounded back
upon you? It’s not like
I can dance to what is being
played in the room — I recognize
that it used to be mine, I see
it now and then can make
my clubbed toes hop,
but you’ve done something
to it. You’ve made it as forgettable
as you and what you’ve done
are not.


Broken Arm

an inaugural poem

Healing can certainly knit
an odd bend into a bone
but even so you will have to
lay your hand on a book
and swear to go forward

although you may not be able
to reach as far as you
once did and even if you can
it will feel different
for a long time

There will be pain

That it heals stronger
might turn out to be untrue

You won’t know right away

You may think it’s fine and then
suddenly one day something
will remind you it’s not
the same

Maybe you’ll learn
to compensate

Maybe you’ll shatter again
in the same spot

The break is there
You can’t forget it
and now you will find out
what it will mean
to the rest of your life


Mud Season

It hit us all in the middle
of the second week
of an undistinguished month —
it was spring, mud season,
not yet dry enough
to make us feel comfortable
that winter was over;
everything was average,
and that was odd enough.
We had thought
it would be a mad season
and that there would be chimeras
alighting on all our roofs
after the insane weather
and raging plagues
we’d been through.
It was nearly unbelievable
that we could trust reality
to do what it always did:
keep boringly on track with
equinox and seasonality.
We kept waiting for
golems to come knocking
and when they didn’t
we started daring to hope mythology
would stay put in our memories.
Even though we saw people
still dying, even though
there were still insurgents
surging and guns were everywhere,
somehow the fact that we’d seen
mud before just like this —
thick and laced with ice,
concealing old snow under a jacket
of filth — somehow the fact
that it was mud season and it looked
the same as always made us feel
plagues and idiots were finite
and would pass as surely as
this muck would likely dry out
and go green.


Syntax

An idea needs a noun and an adjective
to cling to as it grows. So we say, “red rose.”
Or, “stiff drink.” Or “fascist state.”

We push it with a verb and name an actor
to do the pushing, as in, “He plucked a red rose
and, after a stiff drink, raised his eyes and put his hope

into the fascist state.” Or, “With his placement of a red rose
on the coffin, he closed his eyes and pledged
to never give up fighting the fascist state

and swore off stiff drink until
the fight was won.” An idea longs for
its noun and adjective in order to be born.

Verbs move willy-nilly, dragging
their adverbs with them, mighty prepositions clinging
to all the words, drawing things together

in spite of their tiny stature. People think
they make words do their bidding.
Ideas? Ideas run the people. Ideas make it all happen:

red rose on a white flag;
white rose lying muddy in red street;
near-fascist state casting about for a leader;

big gun full of leaden ideas;
steel jackets on wanton mannequins;
skinjob soldiers eating honey from open corpses.


A Question Of Love

When a question of love
is spoken out loud
a country may turn on a dime
swift as tornado, sink into itself
claiming a pain in its footing
makes it weak, or raise an alarm
of daisies as fragrant with blood
as with its own home soil; see

in this moment filled with
a question of love, of what and who
and how will it manifest itself, a country
refusing its own affections, some beyond
its acknowledgement, some more than it
can bear — how far it spins itself
away from embrace as it twists back upon
its old haunts and legacies;

a country slipping as it spins
avoiding a question of love, falls
upon that sword it has held to be
its best lover, turning bloody scars
back upon itself in a storm of petals
and fiery odor, how it imagines
high winds at its back instead of
blowing out from its core.


January Song, 2021

1.
A single quarter
falls out of my jeans
as I pull them off —
the usual Washington
on one side,
John Brown’s Harper’s Ferry fort
on the other. Once I’m settled
I put it in a safe place
as a token of
what was once possible
and now is just
small money.

2.
Chad proudly notes
that he dates women
of other races
but secretly admits
to himself that it’s
mostly as
a forensic
countermeasure.

3.
Can you see how
anonymous the streets are
now that they’re covered
in tossed-aside
masks?

4.
When the counting is done — counting
of cases, masks, and votes —
the dead shall surely come back
and shake us by the lapels saying
pay attention, pay us mind.

5.
It didn’t feel like anything,
really, after a while, and that’s
hard to understand. Some
seem more upset than others,
certainly, but in the last analysis
all clear emotion
is the privilege
of the involved
and I somehow
am no longer that.


Whitestench

The odor strangles sometimes,
merely distracts at others, always sets
my teeth to grinding.

I walk into a discussion where it flavors the air,
try to join in and I’m soon choking so much
the others can’t understand me.

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

stank with it; this online forum — how is this
even possible — I cannot see its words
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 be tombs —
one whiff of the air in there recalls
dead generations piled upon dead generations.

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

Sometimes 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,

makes me duck,
get close to the ground,
look into myself for better air.