Tag Archives: political poems

Our Nation Is A Concert Hall

The acoustics in this place
are fabulous — drop a dime
and it reverberates like a 
cop’s Glock in an alley — 
snap your fingers
and the echoes celebrate
like snobs in a gallery of pretense —
say the word “No” and 
men for miles beyond
will hear its glassy clarity
and be able to ignore it
as if it were uttered directly
to them. The sight lines leave

much to be desired; every seat
has an obstructed view although
you can’t see that until you sit.
From every seat
every other seat looks better
(and then the whispers start and
groaning starts and muttering and
the acoustics kick back in and
you can’t even focus on what you came 
to see because you’re drowning
in sound). Whoever lights the stage 

washes everything in such a 
hot white glaze that desperation
and passion bleach into hokum
and mistaken identity — imagine 
artists looking so blue-white 
you and they are blinded — the tech crew 
stumbles over them as they scramble
to keep things on track — and when it comes

to the season, the schedule, the booking
policies — well, it’s hard to tell an opera
from a mosh pit these days so perhaps
all can be forgiven as long as the public
is happy and buying tickets and 
not hurling pounds of their own flesh
at the performers singing their hearts
right out of their chests while 
blinking up there in the brutal light
that makes the stage blood look like
sheet cake frosting smeared all over
after the wildest party in the entire wild history
of the whole entire damned and damning world.

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The Garden

Here they are:
the fruits of 
our long and dirty labor

falling from their trees,
hitting the ground as rotten
as the heartwood that fed them.

When they break,
they will split, expose
their mush, stink.

It’s up to us
to rake them all up,
burn them, salt the ground

where they grew,
cut down sprouts,
end this. Of course

there can be no promise
that no missed seeds
will fall to the ground

to grow again
into a poisonous
stranglehold

on what we hold dear,
but we must put hope aside
as a luxury until

we’ve fulfilled the hope
that those who came before
put into us. This 

is our job.  These 
are our fruits, reeking
of us and our inattention

and lax oversight. Until
we atone and set our garden 
right, what right do we have to hope?


Our Burning City On The Hill

A thick blanket of chaos
falls upon the holy fires
consuming our city on the hill,
seeking a way to extinguish them;

we wake to mouthfuls of
robin feathers choking us
as we struggle in a bath of scalding air,
tortured by unbearable skin; we strip ourselves

of all objects metallic right down
to ancient fillings in our teeth;
we shift our church altars to the worship
of ice; we love each other from afar

in an effort to stay unmelted; watch
our unknown neighbors swell
with superheated air 
and rise,
sky lanterns celebrating 
immolation,

falling to earth in unknown places,
setting new fires 
in distant towns;
we can’t bother 
with those screaming beyond us;
we can’t bother to pick the stems

of those feathers from our mouths so
we swallow them as we do so much
else, knowing they will pierce us
like our bigotry from inside our deepest guts,

setting us to bleed boiling 
into our farthest crevices; a thick blanket
of chaos like a wool combed with spikes and 
the nails of dying children; in all this

the only hope left is that we drown soon
or suffocate in the steam of a rising ocean
that will bring the birds back in with it;
swooping over the last scraps of the old

conflagration, their feathers
coated in both mourning
and morning, exalting
as they grieve that our flesh

is no tender feast,
that we’re roasted to leather
as they swoop, seeking places
to nest in the wreckage

of our city on the hill.


A Revolution Will Only Come

A revolution will only come

when our children can kneel
among trees and remain still
as they are pelted from above
with falling acorns, nuts, fruits,
and cones, chanting the beat
of the earth upon them.

It will come when
they can kneel on shore,
shivering, soaking
in the rush of surf, shouting
the ecstasy of the sea upon them.

It will come when they can kneel
before each other,
look into broken eyes
both like and unlike their own,
saying nothing, rising
to embrace their opposites
and weep in their arms.

It will come
when they can
disown us utterly. 

It will come
when we are unable to stop them
from stepping away from us
toward the greater good.

It will come
when they fail us more joyfully
than we have failed them.


Copy And Paste

You must demonstrate
your devotion to The Struggle
through copying and pasting

You will bring down the State that way

Perhaps someone will be moved
by the words
Begin their own path forward
through your furious impassioned mashing
of keys

I won’t deny that there is a place
for some of us in those clicks and strokes

I won’t deny that sometimes
I feel less timid
after sharing

after seeing who liked it
after seeing who shared it

I have a spreadsheet of justice
shorter perhaps
than Santa Claus’s

Mine says
naughty nice and dangerous
at the top

It has columns
and pivot tables

I keep track of shares and likes
and originators and sometimes
I make a little mark about those
who never do anything

My spreadsheet of justice
tells me who I should love

Copy and paste this if
you want to end injustice
or stop cancer

Someone is always
watching and 
listening

Demonstrate
or be suspect


The All-American Halloween Poem

It’s like we’ve been having 
a forced Halloween forever
in this country,

what with all 
the villain masquerades
and stolen 

identities, what with all the handouts
we have grimly provided 
to unnamed shadows.

Ordinary folks sit at home
with the lights on 
afraid of the vague threat

of “tricks” as defined by men costumed
in camo, in blue, worst of all
in gray or navy pinstriped

suits. We give all we have to them,
and when we turn the lights out
for the night we still sit there waiting

for late, ominous knocking, for our doors
to be kicked in. The beloved dead
do not return to us,

ever; the ancestors
vanish in a haze of 
genetics and whitewash.

It’s All-American Halloween,
disguised as always
as the Fourth of July.

Though the dawn
is red, it does signal
that it’s almost over. 

Time to ask: Halloween America,
we know what your real face
looks like.  What mask do you think

will save you? What face
will you be able to hide behind

once our after party begins?


Crumbs

Aren’t you tired
of living on crumbs?
Aren’t you tired
of fighting for crumbs?

Of waking up 
after three hours’ sleep
and lying awake 
until morning?
Of rising and aiming
your heart at a job
that takes all you’ve got
then returns a few scraps from
some folks at a table 
you won’t ever see
that hangs above you
like a solid cloud —

aren’t you tired
of waiting for crumbs?
Aren’t you tired of 
living on crumbs?

Of hearing three words of praise
for your being and doing
for every four hundred 
you hear in rebuke?
Of seeing the horizon
as some kind of carrot
to keep you running 
with the stick right behind?
Of becoming the person 
you dreaded you’d be
when you thought the horizon
was a sweet dance away?

Aren’t you tired 
of scratching for crumbs?
Aren’t you tired
of living on crumbs?

Here comes day
and then night
and then day
and then night
and every hour
falls into gray
till you can’t tell the difference
anymore

Here comes something
falling from the table
One atom of sleep or
one atom of comfort or
one atom of peace or
one atom of how to get by

And just as you catch it
It melts into memory
Then it grows in your memory
That’s how you survive
By turning those bits
into magnified moments
Turning those moments
into amplified stories
Fantasies of joy
you claim to believe
and try to believe
and want to believe — 

A whole culture feeds that
even while it bleeds you
Makes it hard to get past it
and realize that
it’s the dark of the day
and the dark of the night
at the same exact moment
and it is every moment…

you know you are starving
though you can’t admit it — 

and aren’t you tired
of living on crumbs?

Aren’t you tired?


Getting Past It

Three fractured heads 
in the crotch of a tree.

Dog-torn infant arms
strewn in a ditch.

On a dirt road, 
dark wet sand.

New genocide and massacre
glimpsed on a screen.

You can’t look away
even as you say

“it can’t happen here.”
It has happened here.

Here is here because
it has happened here.

You didn’t do it. You had
nothing to do with it.

But you are here, in part,
because it has happened here.

This is why 
you can’t look away

even as you say
“it can’t happen here.”

You want to know
what it looks like,

want to toughen up.
It can’t happen here

but who knows where
it will happen tomorrow

and if you are there
by chance or design

your today could be gone
when your tomorrow gets here.

You keep an eye
on the screen

and make plans and promises
about what you will

and will not do 
if it happens

where you are:
how you will stay upright

if the road runs slippery
with blood, how you will avoid

tripping over flesh
on your walkway, how you will

get past it. How you
will thrive in the aftermath,

how you will raise a family
there.


We Ought To

You don’t have to 
say anything, really.

Stand there as yourself.

We ought to know
that it is likely, probable, that
the chances are better than even
that it’s happened to you

simply because
we ought to know
this place 
operates now as
a carry-on from 
all kinds of horrible
places, and 

we ought to know
that whether or not you tell a story
of how it has been for you,

currents and channels
carrying polluted water
dirty every person standing
in them, and
it’s likely, probable, 
the chances are better than even
that you’ve been soaked
in certain poisons

for as long as you’ve stood
in the flood and we ought to know

who needs to get upstream
and dam the river
and clean it up and 
we ought to do that
without jabbering on and on

about not me and not all
of us and not now and not
true and not that dirty.

It is, and it is, and it is,
and it is, and it is, and it is.

Shame on us. We ought to
hang our heads. 

More to the point,
we ought to

get to work.


The Season Of Beginning

In most overheard remarks
on this first frost
is a sense
of saudade — a sweet sorrow —
for an ending

when one could instead look forward
to the dying off of weeds that have been
strangling the yard and air
with gnarled vines and snarling
pollen,

or to the cooler, cleaner
air and light pouring through
branches now clear
of leaf clutter so one can see
what can no longer hide
as easily. It’s true that soon

shrouds of snow will follow, but for
a few weeks this naked clarity will 
offer more opportunity
than was available in the dank 
and overgrown summer;
do not forget that this year
there is war
and this is the season

when enemy and ally alike 
come into open view,
when battle lines
are drawn,
when the fight
truly begins.


Earworm

1.
Early afternoon
and I’m glad I’m unheard

tunelessly humming
a current popular song

as if I liked it or it had
meaning beyond

its currency on all
media when in fact

tomorrow afternoon 
it will be displaced

from the odd cranny 
where it has lodged itself

by the next hot tune
or turn of phrase that

offers a sense of immediate
connection among those

who hear and repeat it
(although in my case 

nothing could be less true
as I take its presence here

to be a sign of how I have failed
to resist the dicatorship

of the official soundtrack
of these days) even when

no one’s listening as
is happening now

2.
No one is listening
as I hum this ditty

which is likely for the best 
as I carry the shame

of knowing it
better than I carry the tune itself

3.
This unheard song
of mine is not mine at all

but was likely crafted by 
committee

across continents
via the Internet

with the sole aim of
ensuring that it would be hummed

in all quarters
by all people who hear it

whether they want to
or not

not in response
to an emotional need or

appropriate situation
which would bring it

obviously to mind
but instead

simply because 
repetition and songcraft

have stuck it into
so many places and 

so many ears that
to hum it or sing it

becomes involuntary
even if it is hated

by the one
humming it

4.
Imagine what else
a committee

capable of such
manufactured taste

could make you do
and you may understand

why I am tempted
to slit my own throat

when I realize that I
am humming a song

whose name I do not know
only because it has driven

all else from my head
and I don’t know what else

is in there
hiding behind it


101

In the works of
Quentin Tarantino
revenge and retribution
are frequent themes.

I think they reveal 
the fullness of 
recent American 
dreams.

This explains so much of
how we got here,
where we’re going,
why we can’t turn aside.

This is Tarantino’s world.
Think of all the casual
evil accepted within
his concepts high and low.

Think of how
with winks and smiles
they comfort and authorize
a stab, a shot, a blow.

Think most of all
of the one where 
an actor demands
his men bring him

one hundred scalps —
usually enough
to make me turn it off
and turn away.

Too long a history
for me and mine
to fantasize in comfort
over scalping once done to us

for bounties
much like this one. Still,
late nights or early mornings
when I sit and see the news,

when I watch
and wring my hands, sometimes
I whisper when I know
no one will hear

a phrase that tells me
I am part of his world now,
although I hate it: “One hundred?
Not enough. Let’s make it

one hundred and one.”


Rule Of Three

The questions, 
as always, are these:
if you have a choice

among being target,
gun, or bullet, who
would choose target

over the other two?
And if you have rejected
becoming a target, 

do you prefer being
ammo
or agent?

These questions
are asked of you and
predicated upon

the fallacy that
you will have
a choice.  Choosing

happens 
far above our pay
grade in this

establishment —
but if we make
our own 

home on this 
range, we could be
either guns or bullets

as needed. We 
would automatically
become targets as well,

as we already are,
of course, but at least
we would not fall

without at least 
some notion of what
free will feels like.


Bedroom Story

resting easy in the embrace
of clear definitions, and isn’t it
lovely? lounging about on
a bed of words that make
perfect sense. knowing always
that you’ll never have to eat them
because they’re perfect. 

then someone says excuse me, no, 
wrong, incorrect. you roll off
the platform to fight them. maybe
they hate the stitching, or they
loathe you for your comfort?
no matter, you come up swinging.
they challenge you as if this was not your bed
to make, with the audacity of
wanting to lie in it too and you’d have
to give up some room for that.

after a fierce battle you cower
in a corner of the bed. you’re aware
of the cold stickiness of every little
spot of blood and every little scrap of bone
left in the bedsheets grinds into you
like a pea, a boulder, a whole continent 
you never used to notice. from the corner
where you are you notice others in bed
with you looking just as miserable as you
and maybe it’s time to change the bed
but the memory, the memory of how soft
the old definitions used to feel when you
snuggled into them keeps you immobile
as you glare back at those people over there.
you’re certain it’s better over there.


Rescue Diver

I filled my pockets
with my hands
after wringing them
just a bit, then

tied a thought to one leg,
a prayer to the other, 
jumped into a flood, and
sank to the bottom.

Down there were thousands
who had sunk before me.
I cut the weights from my legs
and handed them out.

It was like the Sermon
on the Mount — I’m no 
savior but it seemed like
one thought and one prayer

went a long way
around that crowd.
As I rose back
to the bright air,

I started to think
about opening my heart and mind
to what I’d seen
but became afraid 

of taking on too much weight, 
drowning, suffocating like those
below.  Breaking surface
I swam ashore,

grabbed another thought,
another prayer, tied them on
as I stood on the bank, ready
to dive again, to do my part.