Tag Archives: political poems

Song From The Genocided (Ironweed Tea)

When you reach the point
where you trust nothing
except your gut
and your gun

and the finest music
you know is simple chaos
accompanied by
percussion

and every pow wow poster
makes you weep for 
your parents and 
your broken feet

and when the news comes on
the television you
hear chickens settling
into their roosts

to await the divine weasels
who will come for them
in the night and take them
for some yet-unseen purpose

When you write such things
that readers insist you must
roll your pen in flour to make it whiter
before the next workshop

that you invite them to 
go bobbing for your ass
in a hot vat of grease rendered
from the killing fields of Everywhere

and the music shifts to 
four on the floor and tosses
a cumbia over that until 
your fear is overcome by rage

or transforms to something akin
to a detachment from the future
and the present is all still past
and you clutch your gut and your gun

and shoot out the news on screen
and shove your pen into your eye
and you look the curious readers up and down
and ask for nothing from them at last

When you get there 
you give me a call and we
can sit together sipping tea
made from ironweed 

a yellow tea that will taste
like rust-burnt bridges and tonic sweat
and maybe then
we can call ourselves

worthy of our bloodlines
worthy of our tribes
worthy of all the dead who came before us
and worthy of being ancestors ourselves someday


Downtown Cookie

Cookie, one look at you tells us
you are fashion, you are
drugs, you are the art side
of a new canvas. It is not clear

if you are for sale or have been sold;
maybe you are self-possessed and 
not available except as display but
we all want as much of you

as we can get. That is how
downtown cookie crumbles:
do it for themselves, do it out of need
or for need-cobbled reasons; then

one of us grabs that unique skin, 
puts it on, wears it to cafe, cabaret, 
club, company store, the better end
of the street map, and that’s that.

Cookie, downtown cookie, we are know
you get left behind but you’ve done it before:
reinvent, come back as new fashion,
new drugs, 
newly living art.  Come back 

and see us sometime — or better yet,
we’ll come back downtown when it’s safer,
when we need an appropriately downtown skin
to perk us up; when downtown’s less you, and more us.


Bellwether

There: a being visible
in the edge of the forest,

barely solid in the dusk;
silver mist, cloak with no face within.

Unwilling to find it supernatural
until other options are exhausted,

you call to it using names
of living people it might be,

ending with “Hello? Hello?
when there is no response

and there is still no response
with those greetings. Day dims

and that being, now firm
and opaque, moves into clear sight

in the backyard.  You still can’t be certain
of what it is, but it seems honest

and ominous, not trying to hide
as it moves toward you. 

You’ve heard of such things 
lurking in other lands, poorer lands;

bellwethers, harbingers, 
avatars. Perhaps divinity,

perhaps depravity, perhaps
something not defined well

by your limited experience. It seems
all news in recent days suggests

such beings have been among us
at all times, are more numerous 

than ever now.  You stare at it
approaching across land

you thought was safe,
thought was your own.

It’s stopped now, stands
in your sightline. Takes

the measure of your regard.
Waits for you to name it, then

to move toward it or flee;
waits to name you as well,

since it sees you as a silver mist,
a cloak with no face within.

None of us have names now
or faces. All of us clouds of fear

looming in each other’s woods
on the outskirts of safety.


Crowned Demon

When I was your crowned demon
I lived better. I slept better
and dined easily with no
shredding pain in my belly
after. I was kingly in my affect
yet had no subjects to fawn
for me, scrape for me, die
for me. I fought you like 
any threatened being and 
wore both winning and losing so well
you ground your teeth at night
with the nagging cancer of 
victor’s envy.

Now that I’ve become
your logo, your clowned
honoree, your advertised 
history, I can’t stop bleeding
inside. I see what you’ve made
on posters, hats, cigarette packs
to help you lay your claim
to what you think I was, to help you
twist me into believing
that all I am is memory and 
template and rogue wave. 
You name me ancestor without
a crumb of shame, name me 
friend without a hand to offer,
name me chic without a care.

When I was your crowned demon,
your merciless savage, I was still
a better human than you.
When you named my children
nits, called me lice, I was 
still a better human than you.
When I was your obstacle,
your plague, your big “in the way,”
I was still a better human than you.
When you beat me into pale imitation
and cut me free of my tongue, 
I was still a better human than you,

and if I am now to be your mascot,
you had better learn how to sleep
with one eye on me, because 
I recall what it meant to be
your crowned demon and as such
I am still

a better human
than you
.


Revisionist History

(Originally posted 3/20/2012.)

In the full history of governments
it has never mattered how they start;
they’ve always ended the same way.

The venal game their way to power
and stay there regardless
of the label they choose to wear.

In the full history of nations 
it has never mattered how you love them;
they’ve only liked you back, only at certain times.

In the full history of history
what happens has never mattered;
all that ever matters is what is said

about what happened
or did not happen, or is said
to have not happened.

I tell you these things
not to make you despair
or get you angry.

I tell you this not to make you
shrug away the urge to justice
or fall into dumb acceptance;

nor do I do it 
to delight in your 
earnest helplessness.

I tell you this to say
battles are never won; instead
they become games to be replayed.

You will lose, and you will win;
some will die playing,
killed by others who are also playing.

There are no nations but two: 
the strugglers and the lords. 
Both are everywhere, speak all languages.

If you want to pursue happiness,
chase it
but recall

history 
and nation 
and government

pursue happiness too — 
they do it, always,
by hunting you.

In the history of humans
there’s dancing and loving,
making of art and music,

good sweat, 
grand tears,
and lots of laughter.

Those lift us into being human,
keep us hoping,
make us happy

beyond the vagaries of
what the lords desire.
It’s our story

to hold, not theirs to hand us.
Do not forget that
when you tell it to your children.


My Gods

You come at me
and come at me
as you have for years

with gods
you brought 
with you
from your land

and tell me I am 
cursed, doomed, 
blighted.

You cast spells,
toss masses;

lay ghosts under my feet;

offend with talk of
how wrong-soaked
my soul is.

You brandish
the things you stole from us
as if they were your own
wands or censers or
crucifixes,
as if your hands
upon them are
enough
to use their power?

Listen to me,
missionary;
listen to me,
pagan colonizer;
listen to me,
plastic shaman,
thief,
dog 

so unleashed from 
your own stone and sea
that you cannot feel 
how lost you are:

you are
on ground where
my gods live and 
no matter how far yours
traveled to get here,
they’re still

tourists,  they’re surely
tired, 

they certainly
do not
belong;

I have gods
at my back
rested and waiting and
grounded deeply
in this earth.

Nothing of yours
has ever
shaken them.

Nothing
ever will.


Orange Crush

In a New Hampshire
tourist trap cave, confused
in mid-step
about which way to turn

by the dim light,
my hammering chest,

and the sudden rubber
in my knees.

I’m not getting
any younger, of course. No
one is, even the kid behind me
who settles against the wall
with obvious impatience, 
waiting for me
to move again.

I take another second
and grunt myself through
the crevice someone long ago
joyfully named 
“Orange Crush.”
I think of 
soft drinks and R.E.M.
and the Denver Broncos and

what if I have a heart attack here?
Don’t know what that kid would do
if I did. I doubt “Orange Crush” 
means the same to him
as it does to me but I’m sure
its meaning would change
forever for him then, becoming
“fat old man expiring before my eyes.”

Fat old man expiring before my eyes,
none of us getting younger, militia flags
on the trucks in the parking lot,
“Blue Lives Matter” T-shirt on the kid,
the Orange Crush in constant redefinition. 

Someone once said, “the personal
is political.” Someone once said to me,
“Not everything is political, y’know.” Someone
once said “isn’t it nicer not to talk politics
and just be happy?” 

I make it out of the cave into 
the light, the view across the valley
into the White Mountains. Someone
named them that, someone who came here
and called them White.

That Someone has sure said a lot of things.

Me? I’m just saying,
I’m suddenly sorry

that was the last cave on the trail.

It was cool in there, and dark, it smelled
as it’s likely smelled since the last Ice Age,
and I didn’t feel like I had
anything to worry about

except dying.


Independence

There has been
a bit of a break in the wall.

More like a fissure,
a thin crack.

Something’s
leaking out of it.

It isn’t blood. Not water
or oil or sewage,

those classic fluids
usually found at disaster sites.

It may not even be a 
liquid in spite of

those spreading stains
around the crack

which now seems to be
opening wider and perhaps

that’s a sound coming from it,
a sustained howling or maybe

someone’s idea of a song. Nothing
I recognize from my long memory

of this holiday or all the years
around it.

Something is getting out
that’s been walled up for years.

Maybe something we knew was there,
but which used to operate

from the relative cover of the wall
that’s now cracking.  Something

we knew was there but tried
to forget and now there’s a crack

and it’s getting out and we
preferred it when we could pretend

it wasn’t back there at all. Maybe
the fireworks finally 

shook it loose. Maybe we shouldn’t
have been so quick and lax about

setting so many small fires and laughing
at the explosions which followed.  Maybe

we leaned on the wall for support
too hard and too long.


From Mountains

No,
I don’t have a word
to say
about the latest and 
gratingest
thing said or done
by the latest and 
baddest of the big
bad monsters
we currently live with.

Instead, I want to speak
about mountains,
about the core of the earth.

All my people on both sides
came from the mountains.
In the mountains, you learn
to be silent and watch things
from a distance.

You learn to watch
mountains rising slowly, pushed up
by waves from the core
through the mantle;
you learn to watch mountains
wearing away
under the wind and rain;
you learn how to be silent and wait
for changes that will happen
with or without
your regard;

you learn that even
a cataclysm closes
gently, eventually,
and it all slips back to slow. 

Red core
stirring, mountain
twisting up toward sky,
earth shivering.

Someone, maybe a lot
of people, are going
to die, I know, and

no,
I don’t have a word
to say today about
any of it —

I’m mountain stock.
I stay
quiet,
watch the world seethe, 
wonder 
how many more words
people really need.

I can’t see everything
from here, it’s true,

but I see enough.
What else is there to say
that has not yet been said?
The mountains
are still echoing. 


Simple Mathematics

You

steal
feather, deity,
lineage, land;  
make up
a predecessor’s name,
a bloody
joke, a gross mascot, a 
pretty trinket trend.

We don’t need 
those definitions,
you know.

We don’t need you
to reform and relax
and lean into
understanding,
you know.

What we need,
what you need, is
simple mathematics: 

your five hundred years
are still
far less than 
our eons and 
once they’ve been
thoroughly subtracted, 

we shall not even notice.

The land will recall you
for a little while and
we might recall a bit
longer

but we’ve always known
what was ours and what
you took and what 
you called it and what
its true name
has always remained.

We don’t need you
to get it clear before

you are
dismissed. Before
we turn the paper

to the 
blank side and
start over.


Salt And Fire

There are places on Earth
so soaked in hate that

the only moral
thing to do

after finding new places
for people to live

may be to burn every scrap of wood
from furniture

to framing, fill in every
foundation, break up

all the roads that lead 
into and out of town, then

salt the ground into 
permanent sterility. Every day

you hear of places
so poisoned

that they have forfeited
the right to those locations

and instead should live on only
in the nation of infamy,

country of horror
stories and nightmares.

I do not say this lightly,
for I know every town

is someone’s home and
has at least a modicum

of love clinging to it. I do not
know how to make hate

disappear, and perhaps
I have become hate

when I think these things —
perhaps I should burn myself

then have a friend roll
my smoking corpse in salt

and bury me
in barren ground. But

something must happen
and it is hard to believe

that it will not somehow involve
fire and salt.


Empowerment

I think now and then

that it would be best
if all of us could fall into
amnesia,

tumbling to the ground
without our past knowledge
of walking, talking, sleeping,
shouting, killing.

It would not be
glorious renewal —
I’m no Utopian.

Instead I see it as
a fitting end to things:

all of us helpless, seeing 
every other one of us
from ground level,
lying there uneasily
as if new born, waiting
in complete equality
for an explanation
that will never come.

We’ve lived
for generations
terrorized by
by dark claims of 
mastery from those
utterly in thrall
to a lie called history.

It would be fitting, 
even at such cost, if
they were freed long enough
from that spell
to know how it felt not to be
empowered.

To see the world as it is,
from the ground up.

To squirm.


Our Joy In Their Teeth

Off to the carnival
before they get us
by our necks.  We can
practice shooting
at the fake little gallery game
with the lights and the sad
stuffed critters before we have to
shoot back at them
for real. 

Off to the ocean
for beach frolic
before they grab us
and hold us face down
in the bitter surf. We can
sing and dance and
serpentine away to fight
all the livelong day.

Off to the club
and the stage and the lawns
to toss one back and burn one down
before they toss us and burn us out
of body and home. We can
swirl through the thick
air of their war
and bite right back before we go.

We’ll sit there and snarl 
even if we’re bleeding
and they’re holding our joy
in their teeth
as they hover above us
waiting for us
to show pain.

Goddammit, they’ll say to us,
lie down and weep 
the way you’re supposed to;

Goddammit, we’ll bark back to them,
go ahead and kill us
but we will not give you our joy

without war.


Underfoot

No, he said,
I’m not responsible
for these wings
torn from so many
that litter the ground
for millions of 
square miles.
I was not
the scourge, the 
brute who laid
the lush carpet 
beneath my feet,
am not to blame
for my soft footing.
This crushing sound
from where I pass?
Merely the past, the
detritus of that unpleasantness
having been stirred, echoing
so loudly that it might
drown out anything
left alive, I admit,
but how am I expected
to know that? How
am I expected to 
know what damage
might be happening
underfoot? No, he said,
you can’t blame me
for anything except
walking on what 
was there to walk on.


Hell Of A Wind

Here we have
an ordinary man

feeling more or less pain
who thinks something
needs saying
about it.

He wraps
a prehensile tongue
around the trigger
of a rifle

and learns
how to pull with it:
a broad rush
of words on the wind
crossing his ear delivers
instructions; it proves to be
not easy,
but not impossible
for a quick student.

There’s a hell
of a wind

blowing out there.
Lots of people 
listening,
stretching
their tongues.