Tag Archives: political poems

Sleep Deprivation

Four hours of sleep,
five days in a row.

Five minutes to think
between fatigued stupidities,
and still they spill 
out of my mouth
as if carried on 
a swift stream that cuts
through without stopping;

such a splash each one makes.

Three hours of sleep,
ten days in a row, and

I don’t even know 
the current name of the country
I live in.  Trying
to put my finger on how else
it has changed, I drop
another clumsy chunk
off my lips into water
everyone has to drink. 

I’m trying to figure it out
even as I make it worse.

Apologize and then say no,
it’s not that, no,
it’s not that, no,
it’s not that.  

I am not afraid of
offending, only of offending 
by not being clear.  

Two hours of sleep,
ten weeks in a row;
two hours of sleep
ten months, ten years,
for a few decades now;

this place I’ve always called
America, to be honest,
is only comfortable now

for those who get 
all the sleep they are allowed

with no alarms to wake them
and no lumps in the bed 
and no noises to rouse them
into night terrors.

As for me?
One rotten hour a night
hundreds and hundreds
of years in a row;

I can’t tell you 
who I am.

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The First Strike

Noticing
the twin flags 
on your car — 
flag of Confederacy,
flag of Union; seeing that

you’re heading into
the same bar
I’m going to; letting

my hands brush
my pockets —
clipped-on knife,
cell phone; checking for
pepper gel snapped to
belt loop;

calculating 
whether — and when —
first strike will make
more sense;

choosing to recall
that there’s no accounting 
for The Dumb who fly
the flags of 
betrayer and betrayed
with equal pride;

choosing to recall 
that both flags
are red, white, and blue;

returning to calculating
when the first strike
will be required of me —
perhaps not today

but soon.


Self-Care, Self Care

People keep saying
self-care, self-care,

then back to the front,
back to the struggle.

What do you do if
self-care is the site

of the struggle? When
the struggle is about

the medications being
too dear, the therapy being

uncovered. When the struggle 
is about the job being

too scant, the money
no longer elastic enough.

When the struggle is
about your face betraying 

the nations within you.
When you ache hard

to get back to the war
you’ve always known

was yours to fight, but 
other aches pin you

to the couch. When you long
to rise on fire for those you love

but they instead stroke your hair
and pity you with their honest eyes

as fear wells up in your own,
bubbling up from former depths

that silted up long ago, 
that have never been dredged. Self-care,

self-care, then back to the front,
back to the struggle. That’s what

is said.  But self-care, self-care,
your eyes always on you,

is how you got here,
and now

you look up into the honest eyes
of those who pity you and say:

how is the battle that I am
worth fighting? And back to the front

you go, struggling
to answer that question.


We Were Told There Would Be No Math

Something has occurred to me.
I don’t like that. I thought I was done
with that. I’m 73% of the way
to average life expectancy and it’s
an imposition to be pushed too hard

to revive critical thought and 
discernment. Really want mostly
to slip through the remaining 27%
I’ve likely got left and settle into bed
one last time — oh, a hug would be

good too, and less pain, and less
concern about the hardness of living —
but here I am and here’s this new thought
about what I’m supposed to be doing,
and I don’t like it. In fact I’m terrified

of it. I feel like it’s going to rob me
of at least 75% of the 27% of time
I had left and take up 93% of my energy
and that will leave me less than I need
for hugs and slipping into bed and 

ending up comfortable when I’m done
breathing. Ideas and passions notwithstanding
I thought I was done and now the times
put ideas into my heads that someone 
ought to be making real, but why 

it has to be me I don’t know. I don’t
think it’s a God thing — I gave that up.
And I don’t think it’s a sense of obligation
to people in general — have you met them
in all their wasted splendor and sick clinging

to maintaining life as they know it? Somehow
it seems to have fallen to me and maybe
ten or fifteen million others to act upon
this thought that’s occurred to us, and 95%
of us are likely sitting in bed or at a bar

or at a kitchen table tonight while the family sleeps
and asking themselves why they’re 99% certain
that this new idea about what’s to be done,
this song of mayhem and disruption, needs us
to sing it, and how do we start, and isn’t there someone

or some cohort of someones
who know better than us how to do it
with 86% more efficiency and less injury
to themselves than we would incur, and 
why is it that these ideas always occur

to people like us who can look at what’s being asked
and understand what would be required of us
and understand the ridicule to come and the depth
of violence and pain to come from being
the ones with the ideas and the calling 

to follow through? All we want is to get through
the 57% or 35% or 68% of life expectancy we’ve got left
with as little fuss as possible and here it comes:
all the fuss, all the weight, all the dread and all
the obvious fear. We sit up in bed or at the table

or at the bar and say: we were told there would be
no math and look, there’s math.  There’s math about
calculated risks and divisions and separations and
the number of minutes we could stand to be tortured,
and the arithmetic processes of how to time a revolution

perfectly. I’m a long way from happy about this. I never
wanted this hugless, bloody, spitfire examination
that I will likely fail. I’m not prepared. I didn’t study.
I’m neither smart enough nor strong enough. I’m 
73% of the way to death without it and here it is

presenting a word problem: if a world view
gains power with 400% more hunger
than it showed before — it’s always been hungry
but now it seems fatally famished — and zero
concern for others,

and another world view starves
as the first feeds, how many of us
will it take to choke the first one dead,
and how long do you think it will take us
to get enough hands around its gargantuan throat?


Dawn

I said I shouldn’t have to prove
my exceptional nature and skills
to be valued, that I am human

should be enough to make you want 
to care about me and not think of me as
a heap of dirt to be danced on 
like some grave. 

Then I looked around:
when has being human 
ever been enough?

I said that everyone came here
from somewhere except for those of us
whose folks were here already.

Then someone reminded me
of the Bering Straits and someone else
pointed at carved heads and said Africa
and another one laughed
and said Irish monks and let us not forget
the sky people from Sirius or 
Alpha Centauri,

and I realized
how much people
love the colonial buffet.

I said something about
a living wage and
not having to fear that
a broken turn signal 
might get you beaten
or jailed or deported or
killed. I said something

about people who had no choice
about coming here, about people
born here with no voice to be heard
here, about people burning here
and drowning here.

Then it struck me
that no one could hear a thing I’d said
over the sound of locks being locked
and deadbolts being thrown, guns
being cocked and hands being clapped
over ears and eyes.

I stopped talking long enough
to consider the possibility
that perhaps they heard me just fine
and that was why they locked
and loaded and shut themselves away.

I stopped talking.
I looked up.

There was
dawn in the air. It was lonely
but it was new. It might not have lasted
long but it was clean. It might
still have been night
but that hint of sun

felt sacred.


Tuesday

Released from caring
for a moment about
the state of the world

through the act of cleaning
all the kitchen cabinets
and reorganizing pots

and pans and too many
coffee mugs and making
donation piles and nodding

in sadness at the need to 
simply deport some things to
the recycling bin as if they

could be something other
than what they are and have been
for their entire lives and then

collapsing into the couch
coated in sweat and my sugar’s
been stupid high of late and

I should go to the doctor but
the co-pay is beyond my means
and it feels like there’s a nuclear war

under my skin until I shower
with the water turned up high and hot
drowning me almost like a hurricane

but thankful that I left the TV off
and stayed strictly away from the news
and kept the personal separate

from the political


Performative Allyship In The Days Of Revolt: A Treatise

 

Look at me
longing to flip tables,
pile and burn them
in front of temples
and banks. Look at me
dreaming.

Look at me 
with the words on my lips:
resist, disengage, revolt,
fight back. Look at me
pretending I’m an undeclared
war inside; look at me
dreaming

with whetstone
and oil and 
blade; look at me

pronouncing the old word,
“guerilla,” rolling it on
my lips as if I know
anything, anything at all
beyond wild dreams.

Look at me.

Maybe
the operative phrase here
is “look at me.”

Maybe
all I want is a stage and
a moment where I get to say
“pinch me, is this real 
or am I still dreaming
revolutionary dreams?” to
an audience and have them
come up on stage and pinch me
in lieu of taking a stab
or a bullet wound. We all get to
take part. 

My dreaming of 
righteous fury? That’s 

my honored part. You looking at me
as I do it? That’s

your glorious part.


When You Are Done

When you are done
wringing your hands
over spilled blood and
split bones, perhaps

you should look down
and see that the same blood
has puddled around your shoes
where it fell from your own hands.

When you are done
weeping over the plight 
and the pain and the history
of some big bitter words, perhaps

you can check to see
if your face is as red
as your hands were
when you were wringing them out.

When you are done
commiserating and thanking
and shoulder-clutching over
how bad it is, perhaps

you might set that shoulder
to the juggernaut’s wheel
where it sits lodged in the mud
that’s so red and deep now

from your wringing and weeping;
then, despite getting sloppy,
despite being scared, perhaps
you might push on it and see if it moves,

even a little.


My Morning Thing

I woke up for once feeling 
pretty good and that meant
all the usual pain was barely
mentionable and I thought
I might have had one decent
dream to try and recreate

but none of that lasted long.

I did the morning thing: got up,
put out the trash, fed the pets,
tried not to wake up the house,
had fifty more thoughts about 

creating a better world, tried to
translate them from the language
my dream head speaks to 
English, failed and failed
and failed, dared to read

the news, read the comments,
became the comments, held back
from commenting and then 
the pain of this age rushed in 
like water through a breached levee,
flood in the form of questions: 

it’s really not going to be all right,
is it? I won’t see a better future or
world no matter what I do, will I?
It’s not personal, is it? It’s not about
me or anything at all to do with me, is it?

I took my worn drenched self back to bed.
I took a long time falling back to sleep
because that’s my morning thing: buying
into an illusion, 
working, sagging,
slipping, drowning — 

all before the first cup of coffee. 


Fossil Poems

In anger, we say, “Fuck it.”

That’s a kind of poem. One kind of poem, the memory of a moment of utter disgust digested, compressed into a singular phrase. Cliches are fossil poems; pat phrases are living, wriggling fragments of attempted poems — and who among us doesn’t have a pat, pet phrase…?

These are attempted poems.

All around us a murder of attempted poems, their wings barely raising them from the ground.

All of us are poets.  All of us are suspect to the art police. — daring us, goading us to say something at once superfluous and necessary.  

When we say “Fuck it,” we decide how the scale tips.


Rifle

On a late summer day
that should have been 
a hammock day, a cookout day,
I went to war.

In the privacy of my home
I raised an ancient rifle,
long unfired, to my damp
and blurring eye.

I did not dry fire it. That much
I recalled from long ago; I set it down
and stared at the manual,
began to calm myself

by cleaning it as prescribed:
barrel, chamber, magazine,
bolt, carrier, spring. A peace
beyond understanding took hold

as I reassembled it and
once again sighted down its length,
all the time reminding myself
that this was last resort, ultimate

surrender to reality; I know
for years I would have thought it
more fantasy than practical plan
but practicality has failed, planning

has failed for too many of us now;
when I was done I sat and stared
at the news for a while with the rifle
in my lap, the ammo still boxed

on the coffee table, the empty clip
beside the box, waiting to be filled.
I held onto comfort, telling myself
at least I had no need or urge

to raise the shades and load and fire
randomly into the neighborhood,
hoping to strike an enemy 
without seeing them fall —

it seems right now they are 
everywhere and friend and foe
are too often the same in face
and word. Then I said: this is insane.

I put the rifle away while trembling
like leaves on the poplar trees upon which
I hang my hammock in which I
am lying now, reckoning with how

the newly cleaned and now loaded
weapon I’ve long claimed to abhor
no longer languishes in a chest
in the spare room, but instead

is stashed and waiting
on an obscured
but easy to reach rack
inside the closet in the hall.


Race

I’m trying to get past hating the life I’m in
though I admit I find it bracing
to race through it with my fists up

It’s been pretty easy of late to get my fight on
It’s all I can do to keep from screaming for violence
as some kind of rapid response solution

which I’m told might feel far better
but be less effective than slowing down
and talking out the various issues and concerns

with sweethearts on the far side of where I’m at
who still keep my well being in their hearts 
or claim they do while doing all that’s in their power

to close down all the nourishing parts of my life
and the essence of this place where I find myself now
is that I’m halfway through a marathon

that should never even have been a sprint
that should never have gotten out of the blocks
and I’m not talking about the politics of the moment

or the previous moment or the one before that
I’m talking way back at the starting blocks when 
after first contact and first settlement and first

Thanksgiving and all the other self-serving myths
of first steps that were in fact kicks and stomps
so I’m beginning to think that all the calls for peace

and love and moderation and patience are in fact
exactly what all the kicker and stompers want 
so in the running of the race they’ve started

they can reach back or over
and with an outstretched arm knock us back
while barely breaking their own deadly strides

so why in the hell am I still listening to those
who believe in loving the enemy even as they kill us
when instead my blood sings the truth that we are

almost to the end of the race so there’s no shame
in wanting to cross that finish line
on my feet and not my knees 

not to mention the fact that I’m not even
trying to win this race I never wanted to run
I just want it over


Big Beautiful Bullet

Someone designed
a monument
to a stray cop bullet
that broke through walls
and killed
a child asleep
in a crib,

couldn’t decide 
on which city
needed it most
as there were so many
to choose from,

cast a giant version
of it and placed it
in the dead geographical center
of the USA

where it was supposed
to become
the singular idol
of all who saw it,

its shadow coloring
all the land around it
for thousands of miles,

where it stood until one day
people began to ask
why the statue had been made,
why the statue had been placed so centrally 
as to shade everything so deeply,

and most of all,
why honor the bullet
and not the child,
why the bullets
and not children,
why build such
a statue at all
instead of building a wall
between our babies
and such
hard, officially blessed
Death.

The people reached
to tear it down
even as some cried out
for the vanishing beauty
of the bullet’s hue.

The people reached up
and pulled it down
even as some cried out
for the loss of memory
they feared would come.

The people turned their backs
upon the empty pedestals
even as some cried out 
for the loss of their big, beautiful bullet
and the fear shadow it had cast
for so long.


Privileged Prayer

I want to know
when it will be 
permissible
for me to turn my face
away from the 
blood-soggy state
of the world and 
return to praising
the clarity and 
loveshocked hue of
my beloved’s eyes,  
to bask in the sun
under the leaves of 
a grand oak while 
summer buzzes around us,
to drowse without 
reaching for the radio 
to turn up a raging
story or turn down
a tragedy.  I want to know
what it feels like 
not to care about
what is happening
in places other than my
own garden. Now that
my privilege and my ability
to ignore so much
have been torn to rags,
I want to know how
I can mend them well enough
to enjoy unalloyed happiness
again, as this desperate 
scrabbling to seize joy
between moments
of fear is so hard; 
I cannot understand
how so many millions
have done it
for so long.


The Story

We have reached that point
in the Story where you can no longer deny
that you understand it,
that you have no part in authoring it,
that you have no role to play.

We have come to Page 101,
passed the exposition and the set up
for the main thread.
We have met the major characters
and heard their backstories.

We have come to that point in the Story
where we understand the Conflict clearly,
where we’ve seen everyone’s Tragic Flaw,
where we can sort Protagonist from Antagonist
with little effort, and where you see
how you’re written into the narrative,
even if you are confused about 

where you will end up at the plot’s
Climax.

We have reached that point in the Story
where we have to turn Page 101
and see, or write, the Next Chapter.

We have reached the point
where you have to decide
whether to take a conventional path
from here or step aside, become
a Divergence, a Tangent; whether
to advance the Action or provide 
an amusing or tedious aside
to the prevailing Narrative.

We have reached that point in the Story — 

and there you stand, finger in the air, asking
which way the wind blows before
deciding if you’re a writer
or a reader — as if you don’t know,
as if you have a choice. As if

you can deny that, close the book,
stick your head into the dark,
and dream up something else —
as if

it won’t be in the Story if you do.