Tag Archives: revisions

Gandhi And King, King And Gandhi

From 2017. Revised.

“Though violence is not lawful, when it is offered in self-defence or for the defence of the defenceless, it is an act of bravery far better than cowardly submission. The latter befits neither man nor woman. Under violence, there are many stages and varieties of bravery. Every man must judge this for himself. No other person can or has the right.” — Mahatma Gandhi

“The principle of self defense, even involving weapons and bloodshed, has never been condemned, even by Gandhi.” — Martin Luther King, Jr.

Gandhi and King, you say,
King and Gandhi
Though you never quote them completely
or well

Please stop selling me
hippie shit
about how love is all
I need

and trying to convince me
to unclench my fist
in favor of kissing
the face

of someone who has said
they want to kill me
for my parentage
and my wish to be

left alone to live a life
unlike the one they think I should have
under their god and their sexytime rules
and all their ancient proverbs

So miss me with your
quick spouted peace talk 
If you don’t want to swing on one of them
stay out the way

Some folks have lived generations
ducking their fists
It’s time at last
to swing back

Gandhi and King, you say,
King and Gandhi
You never quote them completely
or well


Ism Schism Game

Originally posted 2015.
With acknowledgments and respect to Bob Marley, whose words inspired this piece.

Dictionaries
tell you with authority
how words are used

to do work
on behalf
of Authority

If they mention 
when primary meaning is 
in dispute

or when primary meaning
is a cornerstone
of a prison or when

that cornerstone
rests firmly on negated
backs and necks

If they do tell you a meaning
came from a definition 
written repeatedly in blood

with pens
made from bones
plucked from slain infants

they wink it off with
a bandage label such as
“colloquial” or “obsolete” —

trying to chase 
unquiet ghosts of struggle into 
forgotten fields of rubble

left over from 
construction of 
their order

The dictionaries
have no words
to sing of those who

having come up from under boulders
having come free of rejections and crush
having come from understanding

to see this ism schism game
for the death match it is
and then sing new words to win it

Words of how stones refused
by builders become soon enough
cornerstones and

keystones of
aqueducts to carry fresh water
to those who still thirst

and they do so
by any definition
necessary


Traitors

Revised version of “My Body The Traitor”

Ahead of me I see my body,
moving faster and faster.
I’m one clumsy step behind,
maybe two or three steps;

we’re slowing as we move tandem
toward an inevitable destination.
It makes no sense
to see myself as not being 

my body, people say.
I say they don’t know.
They can’t see how far I am
from being in there, how

my whole intention is stymied
by the distance between
what the Self wants and needs to do
and what the Body will allow.

This betrayal tears at me,
rips me, pushes me sobbing
into my pillow. I don’t want to go
where the Body is going,

don’t want to put
head and heart
into that mess. Don’t want
to die on the Body’s terms.

I find myself longing to betray the Body.
Let the Self decide the route
and the speed limit.
Drag the Body kicking to the end

to fall apart when the Self is done.
Not before, not one day
or second before. Let the Self rejoin
the Body, then leave the Body behind;

betrayed, but at peace or at least
no longer in pain, no longer
in failing, no longer in free fall
to the hard face of the road.


Song For Shootings

Originally posted in 2004. Revised many times since.

Do you recall
Maggie Apple lying in the street
with her eggshell nails 
and her skinny legs with the calves that looked
as if they’d been attached to her bones
as an afterthought?

Do you recall old Ronald Wrong
whose house smelled of wine but
looked like a glove full of bees,
so when they banged down the door
and a host of trouble
flew out of its ramshackle fingers

they shot him as if he were
a queen, a danger queen?

Do you recall
any of those salty throated boys and girls
who put their breath in just the wrong place
at the wrong time so that magic stopped working,
and they died like the rest of the pack?

Tonight the same lights flashing,
the same crowd gathering: the names
must be changed to protect the names alone
because the innocent are never saved.

One could say
such things
just happen; or
one could say
that the way
the boy is crumpled
leaking onto the floor of
the stairwell is irrelevant, or that
the cop’s statement
that he thought he saw
a gun was relevant.

If one could find the CD
the boy was said to be holding
when he was shot, one could see
if the subject matter of said CD
included guns or shooting
and thus was relevant.

If one could be objective about this
one could make up a simple song
to commemorate the event.
It would have a short verse and
the chorus would be over
in a heartbeat.

He was alive,
now he is gone;
smart kid who did
nothing wrong.

That’s not enough.
Fell down the stairs.
Bullet inside him.
Everyone stares.

Gun or wallet.
CD or knife.
Wrong place and time.
So much for life.

You say
if he had only known what was going to happen,
he would never have gone up to the roof at all?

You say
they post those doors for a reason, and what 
was he doing there in the first place?

When the people who live there say, 
going to the roof? Everyone does that.
It’s a quick route to the next building, 
you say,
well, that’s not supposed to happen…

Do you recall Maggie Apple, 
red sand bag
in the street?

Do you recall Ronald Wrong 
stung by bullets,
tumbling off his porch?

Did you forget all those kids?
Forget about 
phone, wallet,
skin, voice,
hat, hood,
place, time;

did you forget
how they leaked out on TV
in front of you sitting there
calmly chewing…

do you pretend
not to see that
something must depend
on this happening
or it would not happen
so often?

You wring your hands,
hum a little shame song;

then, you swallow.


Wisteria

Originally posted, 2010; revised, 2014; revised again 2019.

i called her wisteria.
wisteria,
in its short bloom.

thought of her as warm days
and cold nights 
in mud season
when grass blades 

start their rise from the soil.

she was remarkable.

she left me, i was lost,
though it was a night

and a day and a night again
before i could cry

for her, a long numb sweep
of hours in succession.

i wept in the privacy of the bedroom
that was newly empty.

i emptied myself.

i cried more as the walls inside me melted
and i sweated them out.
i was paper thin afterward.

light passed through me
and from within i was lit.

this is grief, i said, and it is a cold wind. 
this is unseasonable weather.  
the flowers on the early vines shriveling.  
this is her doing, i told myself.  

i said, i have been illuminated by her.
because of her, i shine.  

she was much more than my purpose.
so much more than i had ever thought to say of her,
sun of a distant unglimpsed sky over a world i hadn’t explored.

not only wisteria, 
but forsythia; violets;
thistles, oaks, redwoods, fig vines.

she was the very bones of spring and beyond.
cut her down with my small interpretation.

she was a sun i will not see again.

here in a twilight of weeping 
i indulge the urge
to endlessly recreate the moment 
when i lost my chance
to stop and listen to her
and let her expand within me 
as i should have. 

what a fool. 

the moment of loss is deep weather, 
a season of interruption
when the simplest answers go unnoticed.  

i should have been motionless
and perhaps
i could have held her here,

or perhaps not. perhaps

it was because i thought of her as
wisteria, delicate and frail,
that when she heard me
she was gone.

i still shine with her still within me
but try as i might
i still light nothing beyond me.


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.


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.


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.


Riddle

Originally posted 9-15-2016.

Here is a riddle

A clerk at a butcher shop
stands five feet ten inches tall
and wears size 13 sneakers

What does he weigh?

Meat
He weighs meat  

Ha ha
good one
we’re supposed to say and
it’s true as far as it goes but

it doesn’t take into account 
the possibility 
that the butcher might also sell
various deli items

and the clerk
might weigh out piles of slices 
of provolone into 
white waxed paper 
sealed with brown tape labels 
with name and price handwritten 
in black grease pencil
or that said clerk might also weigh
heaps of potato salad
into plastic tubs
from a white enamel case 
with huge sliding doors

the way Michael Morelli did
when I was a kid
on my family’s Saturday morning trips
to his dad’s market in Milford
I remember his old man 
would hand slices of cheese
over the counter to me with a wink
when my mom wasn’t looking

The riddle also
doesn’t take into account
that the same clerk might also 
at some point 
have to weigh
a decision set before him

whether to maintain 
this family business
or sell the building to a barber
upon his father’s death
so he might go on 
and do other things

It skips entirely
the possibility
that the clerk might also 
continue to weigh
the consequences of that decision
every time he passes
the now empty and decrepit
storefront that long ago
went from being
a butcher shop
to a barber shop
to an antique shop
to a computer repair shop
to an empty shop
to a broken hole 
on a broken block 
in a broken downtown

The clerk goes home
Weighs himself
Sighs
Stares into his bathroom mirror
Ssits in the dark
in his clean modern kitchen
at the butcher block island

Ha ha
Good one
he says

This riddle is endlessly retold
for new audiences

more and more of whom
have never seen
a butcher shop
white paper
brown tape
grease pencil

have never smelled
mingled sawdust and blood

never felt the cold blast of air
from the walk-in
where full quarters of beef
hang behind glass
behind the counter

So now
here’s a new riddle

A writer on a couch with a laptop
five foot eight when standing
wears a size ten shoe
at 59 is shocked to realize
he can still remember
the name of a butcher
and his son
who once owned a shop
that’s been gone
for most of his lifetime
and at how much 
this memory weighs

When does this all get funny

 


Unboxing

Revised.  Originally posted 11/22/2017.

I made a box
in which I keep the work
of my whole life:

how to be this divided
self, how to speak of it,
how to stay alive.

In the box I keep my races,
my bad brain, the sticky moods
that won’t wash off;

stars and scars,
every ink-bitten mistake, 
each triumph over a mistake.

Sometimes I have to
crush what I put in 
to make it fit,

but it’s all in there, 
I promise. All of that;
all of me, except that now

someone has kicked it
and a side has split.
Someone has kicked it

and it’s not holding.
It’s all out there now.
I’m in danger of spilling out.

That which has been
crushed down and down and
compacted for long years is 

now visible. In this light
some of those triumphs
look now like mistakes,

have been so pressed into
one another for so long that 
they might ignite when exposed.

I can’t tell you what
is about to happen, 
other than that 

what’s spilling out
is possibly ugly and 
if it burns it may burn

toxic and if the box
goes too we’ll all
see me for real at last.

I stare onto the world
through the now-fractured corner.
It looks like a slot canyon, a space

between walls or bars.
It looks straight
and narrow. Surely

it’s better in here
than it is
out there

but I’m about to see
if that holds true
and for how long.


The End Of Dominion

First posted in May of 2018. Revised.

Ten thousand years from today
there will still be equinoxes and
ocean currents. Most mountains
will look identical from a distance —

less snow on the peaks, perhaps;
certainly the glaciers will be gone,

but the jagged horizon will be the same
and that which is highest will still be highest.

There will still be beaches. They will still look 
like beaches, although they’ll be in different places
and it may not be pleasant 
to stare too deeply
into what makes up the sand.

Trees, yes; flowers, yes.  Creeper bushes
and stinging nettles, yes; creeping insects
and stinging beetles, yes.  From the dunes
beings will be seen leaping 
in the ocean

near shore. They may no longer bear any name
we would know. Language itself 
may or may not last,
even if people do. 
If people have survived,
they will have to have changed.

Instead of naming what they see, they will instead
have listened 
and learned what other beings
call themselves. To survive,
they will have had to learn that — 

and as for the God they imagined
gave them the power, the glory,
the dominion: who knows where He
will be, if anywhere at all. Instead

of Him there may be Her. Instead
of Her there may be Them. Instead
of Them there may be None, or
if Something Of All Of That is left

it may be shrunken, cowering
among the rotted rocks of obsolete
foundations, pleading for someone
to empower it again 
in a voice none will hear.


Peace In The Shrug

Revision.  From 2016.

Peace in the shrug
as you pull the first two red tomatoes
from your garden only to notice

they’ve been consumed
by bottom rot, at the chagrin
you feel at not catching that

earlier, the casual toss into
the base of the fence, 
the sudden awareness

of the nearly ripe 
cucumber 
hanging 
on that fence.

Peace in the shrug
at choices made, choices
that failed to pan out, choices

that went south or north or
every direction not on the compass
without an ounce of malice from anyone

involved, at people living lives
that did or did not intersect with 
your own, at the failure 

of will, the utter failure of
all your will — at the memory
of 
the twenty dollar bill on the ground

at the foot of the pay phone where
you’d just spent your last dime, and that
was thirty years ago; 

you remember it, 
it still pays you 
today.

Peace in the shrug
at the end of this world, end
of order and justice, at the plodding

of the long-awaited Beast,
the pseudo-shambolic walk of the
Giant No, the edible flesh of 

Harmony, the smacking of 
thin jaws around the bones of
All You’ve Held Dear, and now

at the very close of the last snap
of those jaws the silence
of the sunset, and the dawn

beyond your own experience
that will come, that will surely
come even without you.

Peace in the shrug
as you pass, at your last thought
forming around how the seeds 

from the tomatoes you tossed
will grow there in the dirt along the fence 
as long as rain falls and sun shines

next season, with or without you
there to moan, or wail,
or shrug such miracles off

as too little, too late 
when they were never meant 
to feed you.


Case Studies In Management

From 1989…?

1.

At the pre-shift meeting,
our ops manager
talks down
to the crew boss.

He repeats himself often,

speaks loudly,
pronounces Namthavone’s name wrong twice
and in two different ways.

He explains to me later
that he understands these people,
thanks to two tours he did in country.

“I had a lot of fun there,” he tells me.
I say nothing to this.

I am remembering
that Namthavone
once told a story in ESOL class
about his tattoos –

the script that runs
around his body,
up and down the arms,
up through his hairline at the back of his neck.

He said they date back to
when he fought in the Highlands
for the CIA against the Communists.

He said they were charms against bullets, knives;
incantations
to avoid being seen
by those who would do him
harm.

2.

At dinner,
Larry explains
how Spanish women
are passive by nature.

Again I say nothing,
recalling Lourdes and Santa
after second shift last Thursday,
standing toe to toe with boxcutters
on the median strip just off the factory property,
mad eyes hidden
in third-shift darkness.

Lourdes had just told Santa
that she was sleeping
with her man Ruben.

Santa replied
that must be where
he’d caught the drip.

I see them raise their arms
as the first cruisers arrive
and scatter the watchers.

It took three cops to tear
Santa from Lourdes,

four to hold Lourdes back
once that was done.

From where I sit tonight,
I can see the women seated
on either side of Ruben,

still bandaged, not speaking,

forcing alternate bites
of their cooking on him,

re-drawing the rules of engagement.

3.

Daniel Opong walks into work
and announces that he entered this country
under a false name
but now has established legal residency

and after ten years working here as
Daniel Opong,
wishes to be called
by his real name, Anthony Otoo.

“Who do they think they are?”
says Pauline, our personnel manager.
“That’s the third one this month. How dare they?”

I am told to fire him for falsifying his application.
I refuse. I suggest that she would do the same thing
if she were facing whatever
Daniel faced back home.

I lose. I am reprimanded.
He is fired anyway, nods when I tell him
about the personnel office’s decision,
then shakes my hand.

I apologize.

“You do not have to be sorry,
because I’m not sorry”,
he tells me
as he leaves.
“I would do it again.”

I am hoping I would.

4.

Araminta tells me
that she used to hate
having me for a boss,
but now she thinks I’m ok.

I don’t know what I’m doing differently these days,
and I tell her that.
She doesn’t know either,
but she’s sure she’s right.

I tell her
I’m not sure I agree with her,
I think I keep quiet a lot more often
than I should.

She looks at me
for a long minute,
saying nothing.

5.

The management team always leaves after everyone else is gone.
On a Friday night, we usually head to McGuire’s for a beer,
McGuire’s because we’re sure not to see
any of our employees there.

When I drive home from the bar later that night,
the apartments that line the road to the factory
are still lit and raucous.
There’s a party going on somewhere.

I recognize a few of the cars outside from the factory lot.

I don’t know who lives here.

Sometimes I think
none of us knows
anyone who lives here.


Man Without Qualities

Originally posted 2013.  Revised.

There is a man
who has 1500 friends
on Facebook.

When he counts his friends
he has to use

everyone’s hands to do it.

Of the 1500 people
this man calls friends

he has met approximately 800 in person.

Of those 800, he’s had
more than passing conversations

with maybe 200.

Of those 200, he’s had longer
and more intimate conversations
with perhaps 40.

Of those 40, there are perhaps 15
who are “friends” in the sense of the word
that existed prior to the year 2006.

1500 friends — 800 he’s seen,
400 he’s spoken with in meatspace,
200 he’s connected with,

40 he would tell this story to,
15 who would agree that they are friends
if they were not vanishing into a cloud.

He no longer sees friendship
as a solid object. No rock upon which
to build. No seawall against which

the ocean can pound. He stares
at screens where all he can see
is a storm on the way.

One day he decides to read
a three volume unfinished novel
titled “A Man Without Qualities.”

He opens the first volume, closes it,
opens it again. He struggles to understand
how there could be

a story three volumes long
of a man who is nothing
beyond what 
he is asked to be by others.

The book sits on his bedside table
unopened for long spells
as he talks to 1500 friends online

where, if there is a Quality to “friendship,”
it has been absorbed into a cloud.

It is being absorbed. It shall be absorbed.

1500 friends — 800 he’s seen,
400 he’s spoken with in meatspace,
200 he’s connected with,

40 he would tell this story to,
15 who would agree that they are friends
if they were not vanishing into a cloud.

If he desires to hold on to those 15 friends
he will have to learn a new word with which
to draw them forth from the hurricane.

 

In Despair

Revision.  Posted originally in April, 2016. Original title, “I Wake Up In Despair.”

I wake up in despair most mornings
that the day will again slant uphill
and it will take everything I have to climb it.

I wake up in despair most mornings
but find comfort in doing things
no Pharaoh could ever do:

for instance, picking myself up
without an entourage to help me;
getting by with no entourage in celebration

or sorrow; falling down back-broken
and getting back up again next day for another round
with nothing but what’s in me to pull me up.

I wake in despair most mornings.
Each day bores me: sometimes a dull drill,
sometimes a chisel striking same and same and same again.

I wake in despair most mornings 
but find comfort in knowing
things a boss can’t know or has forgotten:

how to do the dirtiest bits of a dozen jobs;
how to take the next step when it’s time, how to 
fix the broken piece, how not to fail

from seven AM to lunch, how to stay awake
from lunch to three PM and longer
if three PM becomes 5 PM or later.

I wake in despair most mornings knowing 
how little of my life is good for me, based on 
the time I have to spend recovering from the rest of it.

I wake in despair most mornings
but almost get to glee knowing
what a king does not, what they may never know:

how to run riot in the streets to spite my aches and pains;
how to run riot in the streets with all the others aching and pained;
how to run riot in the streets knowing how little time I likely have.

I run riot knowing that ahead of me, somewhere
cowering, somewhere hiding behind their walls, 
a king, a boss, and a Pharaoh are themselves in despair,

filled with the knowledge
of their lack of knowledge
about anything that needs to be done.

In spite of the odds and the guns
and the war any of them could muster,
I no longer share their despair.