Tag Archives: political poems

Requirements

Revised.  Originally posted March, 2018.

Start picturing
a starving eagle in tears,
exhausted to the point that
it cannot feed
after all those years
of having to hang there:

wings up,
talons full.

Start wondering
what’s under 
your Uncle Sam’s 
hat and why he
looks so pissed 
as he points at you:
you thought you
were tight. After all
you’re family, or
so you were told.

Start thinking about dollar bills
in your pocket, your hand,
against your bare skin.
Imagine who paid for what
with them before they came to you.

Start seeing 
that flag
as a door
anytime you see it,

a locked door
with a code
to enter. 

Start imagining how hard 
you will have to kick to take down that door.

Think about what might be on
the other side.

Keep at it until your foot spites your fear
and twitches without you willing it.


Ruled By The Dead

Repetition of 
“not my fault”

produces no magic,
no spelled-out protection

from consequences.
A chant of “what’s past

is past” builds
no walls, forges no shields

for this past-molded
present moment.

“No one alive today…”
means nothing at all 

when all we do
depends on a country

founded by the dead
and still ruled by

what they wanted to hold
in their once-hot little hands.

They did make us what we are
but we only have to live that way

until we decide to wake up
and live as those truly living should:

in this moment,
this time, facing this day

as it is, knowing
what has passed without 

bowing and scraping 
before it as if it owned

all we are
and could ever be.


Land That I Love

Revised.  Originally posted February 2019.

Open air salt mine surrounded by trees,
broken skin broken heart redwood dog pen,
blistered, bruised vending machine jail
overrun with self-guarding inmates,
I sing you my hidden prayer:

burn clean as you burn;
flood red when you flood; 
may you thus be wiped free of old stains.

If you be hell bound, may you hellhound loud;
if you speak ironbound words,
may they scar you dark and long
and 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 this 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 gulp replacement air;

may you somehow find safety,
dive deep, stay submerged, 
and learn to thrive in the absence of light.


Dragged Along

It feels, always,
like inside me
there’s a documentary 

about vanilla
playing on repeat: sometimes
it’s at full volume;

at other times
it’s barely audible
under my head chatter;

but it’s always on. There’s
a episode where
a man in a monocle 

purchases an escalator
that no one else gets to ride.
There’s the one with

a princess who gestures
from the top for me to come to her,
but I never get there.

There is that one where
I see myself riding a unicycle
up a long hill.

I’m sure
I have never ridden one before
but somehow in this film

I’m straining and
making slow progress.
I begin to wonder 
when 

this was filmed, is it the reason
I’m such pain here and now?
A spokesman comes on,

a voice over extolling
the wonders of vanilla.
A documentary voice

that makes a compelling
case for the dry factual,
the obviously correct

flavor of vanilla. It doesn’t matter
how hard I drive the sticks
into my ears, how much I bleed,

how hard I squeeze the throat
of the man with the monocle
or cry out my rejection

of the princess; my skin
is caught in the escalator.
I am bleeding;

dragged along, the scent of
vanilla deep in my nostrils,
voiceover yelling my name.


The Summer Squash Promise

Too done yesterday with the state of things
not to put my better time into
trying to forget it all today.

I’ve got peppers to tend
and tomatoes to stake.
Might be a summer squash or two

to see, and from that look I might predict
when ripeness might take hold.
I’ll plan, or maybe daydream,

that first meal with them:
perhaps stir fried in a thick bath
of butter and garlic, tossed loose

and hot onto a plate with 
whatever’s easy
and quick that day.

The summer squash
so long anticipated will be the highlight
and whatever else the meal offers

will scarcely matter
on that night
when the news will undoubtedly be

worse or at least no better 
than today’s news. But
the summer squash will be 

better than that. Better than
the end of the world,
if it hasn’t already come and gone by then.


A Social Construct

Originally posted 6-19-2018.  Revised.

“Race doesn’t exist,
you know.
It’s just
a social construct,”

he said.

I jabbed him gently
in the face
with my real fist.

When
real men
showed up waving
real guns
and real badges, 

I indicated
that whatever
we all did next

in response
was in fact a social construct —

whether or not I went
easily, whether or not
they took me down, whether
I lived or died or they lived or died — 

none of it was real
and all of it
should be easily ignored,

but for some reason
they did not ignore a thing.

Was arrested, a social construct.
Made bail, a social construct.
Went to trial, 
a social construct.
Pled out, a social construct.

Got probation, a social construct.
Came out marked
and
civically blighted,

a social construct.

Race is
a social construct

that works better for me than for many.

That’s real.

Money is
a social construct

that works better some days
than others for me,
better overall for some folks,
much worse overall
for others.

That’s real. 

What’s real
is a social construct

unless it’s
a mountain

or a desert
or a robin
or a lion

or the skin
you’re in,
the hair you

grow or do not grow,
the strength of
your pulse or
the jerk it makes
as it slows and stops
in response to a bullet
entering your body.

How quickly it stirs
at the screaming
of a child not your own, or at
the sight of
someone else’s blood
on a cracked street?

That’s a social construct.

On page or screen
I’m a social construct.

I wish sophistry
wasn’t so damn real.


Their House

After the murders and fires
had cleared the land,
I was strenuously invited
by the arsonists and killers
to enter
Their House
and stay.

I looked in through
the back door —
the only one open to me —

at stains,
smoke-sullied windows,
a clutter of weapons
and waste,

then turned back toward 
the ruins of the countryside
where green and gold
were preparing to run riot
after timid beginnings.

From inside they called after me
with hope and threats
as I walked
a good distance from 
Their House
and began to tend 
to wounded land
and water, doing

what I could do,
knowing what was to come
would likely take me
but would still be better than 
how I would die
in Their House.


That Revolutionary Style

Love those social media posts
with the guillotines and shiny blades
With the red and the brown and the clever names

You’ve got that Revolutionary Style

Never touch a gun, never touch a knife
Wave a little banner, paint a little sign
Locked to a front door while they open the back

You’ve got that Revolutionary Style

Gotta dig that T shirt, gotta like your scarf
Gotta get me a whole bunch of stuff like that
Gotta get the right look for the march or the war

Gotta get that Revolutionary Style

Call it out lock him up lock him up lock him up
lock him up lock him up LOCK HIM UP
Incarceration is a crime but there are exceptions

when you’ve got that Revolutionary Style

In the haze of a burning planet
In the haze of a burning city
In the haze of the thickened gunsmoke
over bodies not yet cold
In the cries of the people seeking relief
In the steam of the oceans filling with heat
In the fear of the white fog filling the streets
where the future is bought and sold
In the moments before it all falls down
In the hours before you can’t and won’t
It’s a mystery to me how good you look
as you swing for the whirlwind cross

You’ve got that Revolutionary Style
and there’s gotta be a meme for that


Skin Or Flag

We depend upon
a fog of hope 
to keep us from 
having to admit

that we are tied to harm
with each step we take
and our march
to a better world
will kill someone
regardless of our intent

as the nature
of our privilege
is to keep us
from understanding
what level of poison
is required to maintain
all this glory
for our benefit;

even if we 
go to the right meetings,
the right parades
and protests; even if we
talk and walk
the proper talk and walk;

even if we are 
good and pure and
say our prayers at night,

the simple facts of
skin and flag
can shift us
from caring human to
unwitting monster
whether we walk
in dark or light.


One Thousand Cuts

if we find
after the last act
that in the end
all it would have taken
was one thousand people
with tiny scalpels
crowding in and each
slightly nicking that Demon
till it finally
fell weakly down
we will die wondering
why we did not
issue a blade
to anyone who
could get close enough

if we realize too late
just before the last stroke
of the closing bell
that one full shout
from a million throats
could have blown the prison doors off
and rendered the cells
obsolete
we will wail in the afterdust
wondering why did we not
encourage folks
to gather and scream
bloody triumph
into the faces of our jailers

if as we die we recognize
that all it would have taken
to win
was to fight as dirty as they did

if we become extinct
because we were not willing
to pay it forward with small crimes
against the flesh of the big criminals

we will perish
having deserved

what we are getting
right now


How To Pronounce The Name

In the mornings, disciples argue
about the right way to pronounce the One Name.
Some stand strong upon there being no Name

for what doesn’t exist, so why discuss it 
at all? They bicker and now and then
come to blows and bitter silence.

These many descriptions of God,
even the ones that deny a God at all,
all feel like wounds left untreated.

The flies buzz around the possible names.
Sometimes they sound like threats.
Sometimes they sound like laughter

and the scent floating in the air above them
is like flowers stacked on a grave
not entirely filled with earth.

A strong breeze brings healing
blowing in from all directions at once.
When the air clears behind it

there’s nothing to hear, nothing
to sense at all. The disciples begin to dance
to what they think is the drumbeat

of the True Name being spoken at last
but it’s only the wind stretching the grass,
bending the trees, shifting the ocean onto shore.


Making Fists

If you do not see
why some of us
are making fists,

consider that 
our open hands
have been slapped away,

handcuffed,
bound to stakes for burning,
even cut off so often

that balling them
into stones that cannot be
so easily moved

seems to be
the last choice left
to us.

We reserve the right
to open them again,
buds becoming blooms,

once we can trust
that true spring
has come.


An American Prayer 2019

1.
cursed be the past in repose upon its legacy whether true or false.
cursed be the imagined landscape of plenty and peace.

cursed be the flag of mistake and protection of the one at the expense of the Other.
cursed be the song performed upon occasions of contest and symbolic war.

cursed be the paint by number picture of normal and right and ordinary.
cursed be the faces made up to seem divine and honorable.

cursed be the banners of cowardice and treason made to seem virile.
cursed be the weapons borne openly into street and school and synagogue.

2.
holy the color of truth seen in spite of prism and lens and curtain.
holy the strength restrained by robbed wallets and pockets sewn shut.

holy the fullness of the body in defiance of the shame of expectation.
holy the strength of the body when taxed with reluctance and sorrow.

holy the ground full of origin bones waiting to be dug up and displayed.
holy the diggers of bones as they lie awake in the storm of disturbed ghosts.

holy the mascots and caricatures donning their own skin again at last.
holy the snake in the deep crust writhing and preparing to break through.

3.
we lay the prayer upon the day whenever and wherever we wake.
we lay the prayer down on the table before the selective feast.

we lay the curse before the blessing as it shall be swept before it.
we lay the curse out with eyes open and skin ablaze from centuries of flame.

we can only be quenched when the fullness of the fire is revealed.
we can only be healed when the darkness in the center of the wound is illuminated.

we claim the curse as our own to bind it to our work.
we claim the blessing as our own and free it to go where it must.


Pyres

They tied people
I might have loved 
to stakes placed high

on piles of gasolined wood,
bound them with ropes
they bought on my credit.

They set those pyres alight
with bills I handed them 
from my wallet

and when the condemned
screamed, they turned
my music 
up loud enough

to make it seem 
that the cries of the immolated
were distant,

discordant coincidences
not in the soundtrack
from the start.

I bowed my head 
and looked at my hands;
empty, supplicant,

stinking of
accelerant, blistered

and scarred from heat.

They also held my tears
and though I wept for it all,
though my weeping

should have added
salt to my wounds,
they barely stung;

when I looked up
at the ones tending the pyres,
I saw my hands there.


Gardner Street

On Gardner Street the cobblestones
no longer hide under asphalt.  It’s an
axle-breaker 
road, used by some

to cut from Main South
to a faster route to downtown, 
one not as direct but with 

fewer obstacles once you get past
the hard historic rumble
of Gardner Street.

Even though driving down Main Street 
offers a straight shot it’s never been easy
to get to 
our shiny downtown from Main South,

even before the rebuild,
the driving out 
of the old tenants,
the tear down 
of the old church,

the ripping of old fabric in favor of something
artisanal and pure and much more 
wholesomely rough;

if they haven’t
paved a condo courtyard down there 
with vintage cobblestones yet,

they will. 

Back on Gardner Street,
right near

the new Boys and Girls Club

(located off of what they used to call
Kilby Street
until someone decided

that name
reminded too many

of who ran the corners there;

GPS still calls it Kilby Street
though all the signs
are down and trashed)

drivers not already
in the know
keep slamming into

that open pit of exposed cobblestones
and either brake hard
or break down hard.

Townies know better. They know
what’s under
every shiny new surface. They

know what will render
your shiny ride useless.
Know what it means

to be shined on. Know
what their streets 
used to hold. Know

real people live on Gardner Street
and they don’t always 
just pass through.