Daily Archives: December 7, 2015

Playground Revisited

When there’s a will, there’s a way;
when there are two wills
there’s a weigh-in,
a preparation for contest.

I looked the other guy
in the chest and said
this wasn’t going to be
good.  But enough in me

claimed the side of right 
to feel that a fast first strike
would be enough, and so
I struck first, dirty-style,

the kick to the balls, 
the worst thing defined
under the playground code.
Down he went, but I’d missed

how many of his friends were there, 
had forgotten I was old now
and hadn’t been on a playground
in years; fortunately they took

more pity upon me than the code 
would have suggested I deserved,
and I came away more or less 
intact, at least for the long term,

but I learned something that day 
about what boys some men remain
long after they graduate
from elementary school; learned

how many years a sense of panic
gained at eight can last, learned
how badly I wanted to be eight again,
and how easily that could happen.

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Documentary

A mother gray whale
watches orcas savage
and slay her calf;

she lingers in the red sea
for a moment, then
continues on alone.

The calf’s carcass drifts toward
the bottom of the shallows
where it will serve its killers

as a meal to be consumed
at their leisure. I don’t cry —
not for that calf

who after all was simply in
the wrong place at the wrong time
or the right place if you believe

all things happen for a reason,
nor for that mother who lingers briefly
then moves on, nor for the orcas 

who need to feed and are only doing
what they are designed to do. I think
I’m going to cry for the documentarian

who watched these things happen
without being able to affect an outcome,
without wanting perhaps even to try —

I don’t know if that’s fair, or true; maybe
they began this work seeking that
and slipped away from it the way a corpse

dissolves to gray when it is finished
with living. In moments of such drift
perhaps they turn back towards themselves

and say there’s still hope it will change
something, awaken a viewer into action 
on behalf of those things which can be changed.

I say this on a night when video
of Laquan McDonald’s murder by cop
on a Chicago street pushes throngs

into action. No one stood
behind that camera. No one watching can see
anything there that had to happen.

No one could say that the cops were doing
what they had to, although it may be
what they were designed to do. 

No camera shows
a mother lingering
over his body. 

Nothing in any film yet made
suggests anyone is moving on;
no natural order

here, no sweet music
of the circle of life.
It’s not that kind of killing. It’s our kind —

unnecessary blood
on the street, on our hands,
on all the surfaces of earth and sea.

Wherever the next camera will be,
wherever
the next killing will be —

right place,
wrong place, right time,
wrong time —

are you going to want to see
the documentary
someone’s going to make

about what you do
when a murder happens
right in front of you? If I say

a murder is happening 
in front of you now — in fact,
several murders, many murders,

hundreds and thousands of murders,
collateral deaths and even more casual
snuffings of spirit that sometimes leave bodies intact

long after they should have drifted off
to the darkness — what will you do then?
Will you chalk it up to orcas being orcas

or will you try to speak, intervene, at least
be witness to it all? Maybe turn away, step out of view,
and say shamefaced there is nothing you can do,

say there’s nothing to be done? I wish I knew
what to say to that.  All I feel right now is the sting
of spray from the cold face of the sea.


Sociology

Originally posted 9/4/2008.  Originally appeared in “Flood,” a chapbook from Pudding House Publications, now out of print.

All people can be divided into two groups:
those who divide people into two groups,
and those who do not.

We call the people who divide people into two groups
“them,” and we call those who do not
“us.”  Sometimes, we call “them” “the Others.”

Let us say everything we know about the Others:
they are grown fat with their unjust ways.  They
hate us.  They are the source of the Smell — ha,

they are overripe with it.  If you were to crack open
the “O” at the beginning of the word “Others,” it would be
as though a durian had been split in a closet and left to rot. 

In fact, the Others
are the splitters of all fruit,
the drainers of all carcasses.

We, of course, are the stitchers of that which is split. 
All people, then, may be split 
into two groups: the splitters of things, and those
who guard that which can be split. We are the Guardians, 

and we call the Splitters “the Others,” “Them,” “Those People.”
They are known for cunning, conspiracies, their inability to follow
laws.  If you straighten out the “S” at the beginning

of the word “Splitters,” you see that it is a snake’s spine;
they have been holding the serpent close to their breasts
since the beginning. Venom is their milk; we

are their silent milkmaids, the ones who carry
the venom to their tables.   It sloshes onto us and we are burned
daily.  All people, in fact, may be divided into two groups:

those who are burned, and those who do the burning;
or perhaps it is those who are poisoned and those who live on poison,
or those who 
worship division and those who pray for shielding and healing;

it’s as lamentable as it is observable
that this is how it is: lines drawn between us and them,
them and us, the People and the Others.

In the end, of course, we know that all people
can indeed ultimately be divided into two groups.

and the division falls as follows:

all people can be divided into two groups —
those who divide people into two groups,
and the dead.