Tag Archives: political poems

Twisted

I’ve been called that by some to indicate
that in me they see a departure from the norm
as if my torsion is not natural.
They have never marveled
at the growth of a vine.

They never marvel 
at the growth of a vine, instead
falling upon their knees before
the straightest trees they could find
and bowing their heads.

They bow their heads before
the straightest trees.  They stand
in the empty space between them
and cut down anything around
that is torqued and bent.

I sit at night, torqued and bent within,
glad to turn my face from the straight
and tall. I turn that word over and under
on my curling tongue and listen
to the breaking trunks in a hard wind.

In a hard wind the straightest trees
snap and shatter and fall first. Outside
the tended grove the gnarled vines
and brush moves and shakes, but remains
strong. I whisper the name they gave me,

and I endure.

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No One’s Brother

Once upon a time
in the city of Washington
there were people in charge 
of designing me.

“Kill the Indian, save
the man.” They built a lot 
of schools to do that work.
Schools as murder weapons.
Isn’t that something?

They stole my father
and maimed the culture out of him,
diseased him from his language,
massacred his hair and then
he was useful to them, so they
sent what was left to a war.

Although I was not specifically
part of the plan
they knew something like me
would eventually happen:
spawn of the murdered, 
dead Indian inside a live man;
divided within, all of it rotten. 

It’s not enough to accept myself
when my self contains corpses
and their killers. I’ve spent my life
knowing I was the site of the genocide
and that as long as I said so
out loud, I would always be
no one’s brother, forever separated — 
but how could I lie about myself?  

My father is still alive, for now.
My mother is still alive.
I cannot say the same for 
me when I understand
what I represent
to history: a triumph for 
the people in Washington
who planned me, foresaw me —
the people who get to live,
as a result,
happily ever after
on the burial ground.


Talk Show

Coming up later on the show:
disembodied heads
and the people who love them,

but next up, a glittering prize
reveals the ugly truth of the game show
called America. 
We’ll be right back. Stay tuned!

The screen darkens.
I’m staying tuned, staring
at where the talk show just was.

Dying to know if the game show
is as rigged as it looks? I know I never win.
I didn’t know a glittering prize could talk. Can’t wait

for what it has to say. And what is it about
floating, babbling heads? No bodies,
just jabber, idiot’s wisdom that may not

be wise at all, but it sounds good coming out of
those gravity-free mouths.
I wouldn’t say I love them exactly,

but they make me feel
loved. Make me feel listened to
though they do all the talking.

Make me feel like although I never entered
and I don’t understand the rules,
I may have already won.


Kitchen Magic

Washing my car
to make it rain, or

watching that Rhianna video
where she’s begging for the music

not to stop
while I’m waiting for a war poem

to show up and stop the music —
these acts are each important 

on their own even though the aim
of doing each is to make 
something else happen.

It’s kitchen magic: doing small satisfying things
to draw forth greater satisfaction.

Chop herbs and vegetables
with a perfect knife.  Slice

meats paper thin. Bring the oil
to the right heat to bubble 

exactly as love bubbles inside me
when it begins. 

Time to work kitchen magic, then,
against the current splintering of the world.

Cook up something filling and good
to hold off the emptiness.

Breathe in rich scents from the pan
and the pot, from the grill

over the dangerous fire
that’s barely contained right now.

It’s time for kitchen magic, not for
the grand gesture. Wash the car

to make it rain, because we need the rain
and the car looks better when it’s clean.

Watch the hell out of Rhianna’s video
because there’s joy in it on its own

and because it carries you
farther toward 
a poem

that will come in due time if in fact
we are due time at all,

and if we are not, if we are instead on
Armageddon Road, we will at least be

traveling in style, soul full, 
and well fed.


Filling In Blanks

To admit that in your head you are
filling in the blanks 
in horrifying sentences 
about who needs to go
and who can stay 

is to recognize
the whole foundation
of the dialogue has shifted
and you’ve moved along with it.

Even if it’s only at night
when no one’s there to hear you whisper
about how things 
would be better
if only, if only.

Even if right after that
you bury your face
in the smothering pillow
and hold your breath to your limit.

Even if you resist the urge to whisper it
again and again,
no matter how comfortable
you’re becoming with the repetition.

It becomes rote eventually. 
All of it —
the whisper, the shame, 
the disavowal,
the whisper again.

Your fellow travelers say “resist, resist,”
and you long to become a fast tsunami instead.
Your fellow travelers say “snowflake, snowflake,”
and you long to become a flamethrower instead.

Go ahead and whisper, weep, and pretend
you still believe in loving all. You know better.
You’re picking and choosing now
and in the sick broken dark

if you strain your ears,
you can tell you’re not alone.


How To Repair The Conquest

You want too much, 
I’ve been told. Eagle
dancing in my back pocket,
turtle face peeking from within
my coat, a mist in my eyes
that insinuated itself there
from a pond in deep woods.
You accuse me, say I want a life
like that, a life made of

all that was eaten and spit out
before I was even born, before
I could even understand. You say
I could have born in a time when
it was commonly part
of all who were born here,
but I wasn’t.  You accuse me,

say I want to go back there as if all
that’s happened could be erased;
you accuse me again and again 

and I respond that of course I know 
better, that we can’t go back
and I know erasing all that would mean
erasing me, as I am some
of what’s happened 
since,

and then I stop and look
at that, and think of how
it would shift the world
if I were to be erased

and I say that I need to study
on this one a bit more
before I can fully respond, even though
I am clear about how I’m leaning
and if I disappear after speaking,

so be it.


The Wall

This wall they speak of
is not the one that counts.

The wall they count on
is the fourth wall.

The wall they count on
must be unbreakable.

The wall they count on
they must rigorously maintain.

Black lives matter
on the other side of the fourth wall

but if the wall breaks,
what then?

Water is life
behind the fourth wall,

but if the wall breaks,
what then?

A dignified memory of protest
is sweet behind the fourth wall

but if the wall breaks,
if you are slowed on the way to your job,

what then? 
The border wall is on the other side

of the fourth wall.
The South is on the other side

of the fourth wall. Methane
and drought? Behind the fourth wall.

All they dream of is you by yourself
with the fourth wall. All they dream of

is you seeing nothing on your side 
except yourself, you not seeing the fourth wall

at all. Most of all what they work for
is you keeping your eyes on 

whatever or whoever they’ve chosen
for you to watch behind the fourth wall.

Whatever monster, whatever ego,
whatever heartbreaker of a hug.

Whatever soul-crushing comb-over,
whatever lovely-boned daughter,

whatever fat little fingers spell
while traipsing through the air.

And all the while? There is no wall.
All the while you watch it

you are instead
watching a tiny mirror

that doesn’t show anything 
except your own horrified face.

Nothing of the background,
nothing of who stands behind you,

nothing of their smiles
and their own hands pulling strings.


The Official Version

I’ve often wondered why
on the night the Romans took Jesus
they didn’t round up all the disciples
and end it right there and then.

That would have been
the logical, imperial thing to do.
No reason not to.  No reason not to think
they hadn’t done it before

to other revolutionary cells they’d found —
they were at the time
a more political threat to empire
than a spiritual one.  Something 

smells off, always has.
Maybe we’ve got the story wrong
and Jesus cut a deal — leave them
alone, you can have me. Maybe

Jesus wasn’t taken, but instead walked in — 
maybe with the Magdalene by his side? Maybe
Judas hanged himself after in shame
or maybe he didn’t do himself in at all? 

It’s possible nothing is right in any of 
the stories, and it’s all a myth, an
official narrative. A blank slate
scribbled on in haste.  Whatever

the backstory, the official version
makes for good reading, good platform,
good grounding; still, I can’t help thinking
of someone, one of the original twelve,

sitting grizzled in a cave somewhere
during a later revolt, listening to myths
being made all around him and muttering,
muttering, that no one there knew the half of it,

then turning to the wall to sleep in guilt
and grief, thinking back to the early days
when they were all together and it all seemed
like a new world was only a burst of bloodshed away.


Delicacy

There is a delicacy to the question
of how we are going to move forward
from this moment — at least for those who see it
as yet another vagary of politics, a moment
up for firm but cordial discussion.  

For me the delicacy of the question
is drowned by the blood
from those being butchered
to feed both sides,
and how it pools ever deeper.

The ones who think it’s time
to find common ground and strive
for mutual goals are terrified
that someone might choose instead
to point out the red footprints 

they’re leaving behind 
on their way to the conference table;
to say that the words in their mouths
form the echoes of death sentences;
to say that agreeing to disagree

is equivalent to agreeing
to sharpen swords and load the guns
of the butchers. For me,
the moment for fear
of plain talk is long past.

Nothing in this moment
is delicate. Look at how the blood
runs. Look at how we hunker down,
hollow-faced, pretending. There is
nothing to be said. Now’s a time

for something that is not talk.
I don’t even want to give it a word
because it doesn’t demand expression.
Talking, we save for listeners. Listening
is a delicate art. This is not the time for it.


Considering The Moderate

The way he stood,
schoolteacher
with a sharp agenda
up his ass.  

The way he smiled,
broken gray spoke
in an old wagon wheel
on the roadside.

The way he spoke,
a butter-tongued dance
of slick and smooth
couching a dagger.

The words he used:
some benign on their own;
some with their own
long poisonous tails
.

The way the air smelled afterward:
gentle, fragrant, warm; ashen
from countless bonfires,
house fires, church fires, and pyres.


Facing You

You say to me,
“don’t eat those foods, 
those chemicals
are nasty and artificial, 
your body is not made
for those…” and I eat them anyway
in full knowledge of how true
all of that is, simply because
I’m going to die anyway
and I have grown to like them.

You say to me,
“the bosses, the workers,
the system, the nature of
oppression, the means of 
production, how can you
participate…” and I agree, how
I agree from years of being
in that vise of steel, I can see all that
but I’ve still got to get paid
as long as I can because the rent is due
and I’m in need of a doctor,
because the vise
has crushed my willingness
to be afraid for righteous causes.

You say to me,
“the whiteness, the white talk,
the ignorance, the cluelessness,
the easy links between capital
and racism and patriarchy and
how can you still be here…” and
I agree, I agree, I have the arteries
and broken mind to prove it,
the slipped joints of incongruent action
and thought creak constantly under my skin
but I’m simply trying to get all the way
to death and oblivion
with as little pain as possible now.

You say to me, 
“how could you? how could you
do this, all of this…” and I agree.
I agree with your condemnation.
I do not avoid it. I do not 
defend myself from it, and 
part of the reason I’m bowing 
and laying my neck on the block today
is because the little I have left
in my power to do and say
is only going to be enough

to hold my own loathing of myself
at arm’s length for as long as it takes
to allow for my own death to be
clean and swift, a relief of burden on those
left behind to do the hard things
that I should have done back when I
was still deluded enough to believe
that working from within the vise
mattered in the slightest, and still able enough
to break free once I knew I was wrong.


3712

My smartwatch says I am
at 1492 steps for the day
and because I can’t stand seeing that number on my wrist

a symbolic commemoration
of the year when things went epically bad
I get up at once

and start walking around the house like mad
raising and raising that number as high as I can
past 1523, 1607, 1609, 1620, 1680, on and on to 1890 and beyond

until I slow down when I hit 2018 and drive myself past that
to 2020, 2100, 2200, 3000, all the way to 3712 
when I stop myself and ask out loud the dreaded question

will that year when it comes offer enough distance from 1492
and all the rest of bad history 
Will that be enough time to repair us back to health

or perhaps to have created
something new to shine upon Earth
in the way that we’re told  

in every myth and legend we have
that the Earth once cradled us
Or will 3712 be desolate and messy

A forgotten grave tonsured in sparse grass
like an ancient scalp shedding its last hair
as it crumbles into undifferentiated dust

At the moment all I have to go on
is the memory of how I felt staring down at 1492
while thinking of its symbolism as a placeholder for pain

and of 3712 as a different symbol indeed
of how pain can drive you into hope
and how it all will begin again tomorrow from 0

when I will certainly come upon 1492 again
In fact I’ve got many more steps I could take today
I rise again from my seat and go ahead


Moment Of Truth

It’s OK.
You don’t have to survive all of it.
You have to fight, yes,
you must resist, yes. But survival is for
those who believe in a future
with them in it. Get free of that

and let your self-importance go;
do what you can and must. 

Don’t worry
about the ultimate triumph of your own
ideology when poison needs to be
ameliorated and 
removed from the suddenly broken veins
of the dying. Don’t worry if in the effort
you suck more death than you can handle.
Spit out what you can and keep moving
as long as possible. 

You’re expendable, always were, old man.
You were part of the problem long enough
to be suspect.  If you go, you go.
After all it’s not going to be
your world afterward. Move on with a smile.

You’re ancillary at best, a well-meaning nuisance
at worst.  Get out of the way of what must follow
once you’ve done your bit. Individual

survival is unimportant. You are 
not worthy of exception.  Move on.
This is the moment of truth. Live 
in it, not in the one that follows.


The Bank

Late last night I heard someone calling out in the street. 
Heard someone come down the stairs from the second floor.
Heard the door open, someone came inside,
and more people went upstairs than had come down.
There was talking and loud stomping for an hour,
then someone left quietly and I went to sleep

imagining backstory, drifting in and out of anger,
picturing someone hungry, someone thirsty,
someone done in by cold and impending snow,
someone done in by a longing to end a longing
by buying or selling themselves or their drug.
I kept myself awake far longer than I needed to
wondering and raging and reproaching myself 
for wondering and raging. It was no business
of mine beyond the nuisance of being roused
from two AM to three AM.  All the fear
and righteous thought I soaked in
for an hour after that

was a stale old problem I borrowed
from the bank of pain I keep
and owe and curse,
where I cannot seem
to close my account.


Waiting Out The Storm

To remain asleep in this storm,
waiting it out while the snow piles up,
is a white comfort in a whitening landscape.
You can lie there and think about

what you are going to do
when what’s outside
no longer matches up
to what you think you’ve been seeing.
When you find it’s all been a cover up,
will you die or explode? Or will you
step out and see the green and gold light
on the brown earth? When spring comes
will you allow yourself to be happy?

You think about that now while you’re seeing
the whiteness covering everything.
You think about that and stop pretending
it’s never going to go away.