When Fergus woke crying at night.
I would carry him from his crib
to the rocking chair and sit holding him
before the fire of thousand-year-old olive wood.
Sometimes, for reasons I never knew
and he has forgotten, even after his bottle the big tears
would keep on rolling down his big cheeks
- the left cheek always more brilliant than the right -
and we would sit, some nights for hours, rocking
in the light eking itself out of the ancient wood,
and hold each other against the darkness,
his close behind and far away in the future,
mine I imagined all around.
One such time, fallen half-asleep myself,
I thought I heard a scream
- a flier crying out in horror
as he dropped fire on he didn't know what or whom,
or else a child thus set aflame -
and sat up alert. The olive wood fire
had burned low. In my arms lay Fergus,
fast asleep, left cheek glowing, God.
I have not been to Jerusalem,
but Shirley talks about the bombs.
I have no god, but have seen the children praying
for it to stop. They pray to different gods.
The news is all old news again, repeated
like a bad habit, cheap tobacco, the social lie.
The children have seen so much death
that death means nothing to them now.
They wait in line for bread.
They wait in line for water.
Their eyes are black moons reflecting emptiness.
We've seen them a thousand times.
Soon, the President will speak.
He will have something to say about bombs
and freedom and our way of life.
I will turn the tv off. I always do.
Because I can't bear to look
at the monuments in his eyes.
Refusing the invitation
I was not given,
being given instead
the invitation to refuse.
Which I accept.
Am grateful for.
The chance to be part of
the poet's chorus,
the caucus of those
is obvious and earnest.
Whose wishes are simple:
everything to be negotiated.
but easy on the violence.
That's what we poets
learned from poems:
it's all on the table,
but it's stupid
to break up the table
with an axe,
to splinter the chairs.
And it's madness
to ask poets to celebrate,
when people can't even
for fear of war's imminence.
Spring wafts up the smell of bus exhaust, of bread
and fried potatoes, tips green on the branches,
but it's old news: arrogance, ignorance, war.
A cinder-block wall shared by two houses
is new rubble. On one side was a kitchen
sink and a cupboard, on the other was
a bed, a bookshelf, three framed photographs.
Glass is shattered across the photographs;
two half-circles of
sit on the cupboard. There provisionally was
shelter, a plastic truck under the branches
of a fig-tree. A knife flashed in the kitchen,
merely dicing garlic. Engines of war
move inexorably towards certain houses
while citizens sit safe in other houses
reading the newspaper, whose photographs
give sanitized excuses for the war.
There are innumerable kinds of bread
brought up from bakeries, baked in the kitchen:
the date, the latitude, tell which one was
dropped by a child beneath the bloodied branches.
The uncontrolled and multifurcate branches
of possibility infiltrate houses'
walls, windowframes, ceilings. Where there was
a tower, a town: ash and burnt wires, a graph
on a distant computer screen. Elsewhere, a kitchen
table's setting gapes, where children bred
to branch into new lives were culled for war.
Who wore this starched smocked cotton dress? Who wore
this jersey blazoned for the local branch
of the district soccer team? Who left this black bread
and this flat gold bread in their abandoned houses?
Whose father begged for mercy in the kitchen?
Whose memory will frame the photograph
and use the memory for what it was
never meant for by this girl, that old man, who was
caught on a ball-field, near a window: war,
exhorted through the grief a photograph
revives (or was the team a covert branch
of a banned group; were maps drawn in the kitchen,
a bomb thrust in a hollowed loaf of bread?).
What did the old men pray for in their houses
of prayer, the teachers teach in schoolhouses
between blackouts and blasts, when each word was
flensed by new censure, books exchanged for bread,
both hostage to the happenstance of war?
Sometimes the only schoolroom is a kitchen.
Outside the window, black strokes on a graph
of broken glass, birds line up on bare branches.
"This letter curves, this one spreads its branches
like friends holding hands outside their houses."
Was the lesson stopped by gunfire, was
there panic, silence, does
a torn photograph
still gather children in the teacher's kitchen?
Are they there meticulously learning war-
time lessons with the signs for house, book, bread?
"The girl (captured; later, freed)
and I (collapsed by a snip of lead)
remember well the tea you steeped
for us in the garden, as music played
and the moon plied the harvest dusk.
You read the poem on a Chinese vase
that stood outside your father's room,
where he dozed in a mandarin dream
of King Gia Long's reposing at Ben Ngu.
We worry that you all are safe.
A house with pillars carved in poems
is floored with green rice fields
and roofed by all the heavens of this world."
.....Well, that was the poem, written
in fullest discovery and iambics
by a twenty-four-year old feeling lucky
not long after those scary events.
Three years later, he (i.e. yours truly)
went back with his young American wife
(not the girl above "captured...freed, etc.")
and the night before the '72 Spring Offensive
(which, you'll recall, almost took the city)
tried to find Miss Tin's house once again
.....in a thunderstorm, both wearing ponchos,
and he (a version of "me") clutching a .45 Colt
while she, just clutched his wet hand. Of course,
anyone might have shot us--the Viet Cong
infiltrating the city, the last Marines,
the jittery ARVN troops, or, really,
any wretch just trying to feed his family.
So here's the point: why would anyone
(esp. a: me, or b: my wife, or versions of same)
even dream of going out like that? ...Simple:
A. To show his bride a household built on poems.
B. To follow love on all his lunkhead ventures.
Anyway, when we found the gated compound,
we scared the wits out of the Vietnamese inside
on the verandah reading by tiny kerosene lamps
or snoozing in hammocks under mosquito netting
who took us for assassins, or ghosts, until
my wife pulled off her poncho hood, revealing
the completely unexpected: a pretty. blonde. White Devil.
Since Miss Tin wasn't there, they did the right thing
and denied knowing her, as night and river
hissed with rain and a lone goose honked forlornly.
The next night, we headed out again,
the monsoon flooding the darkened city,
the offensive booming in nearby hills,
and montagnards trekking into Hue in single file
as their jungle hamlets fell to the barrage.
I kept our jeep running, as my wife dashed out
to give away our piasters to the poor
bastards half-naked in the driving rain.
She gave it all away. Six month's salary,
a sack of banknotes watermarked with dragons,
(except what we needed to get back to Saigon,
but that's another story)...the point here being:
I often think of Miss Tin's pillared house in Hue
and those events now thirty years ago
whenever leaders cheer the new world order,
or generals regret "collateral damage."
Like the topaz in the toad's head
the comfort in the terrible histories
was up front, easy to find:
Once upon a time in a kingdom far away.
Even to the dreadful now of news
we listened comforted
by far timezones, languages we didn't speak,
the wide, forgetful oceans.
Today, no comfort but the jewel courage.
The war is ours, now, here, it is our republic
facing its own betraying terror.
And how we tell the story is forever after.
Beirut.Baghdad.Sarajevo.Bethlehem.Kabul. Not of course here.
Teaching the first lesson and the last
--great falling light of summer will you last
longer than schooltime?
When children flow
in columns at the doors
BOYS GIRLS and the busy teachers
open or close high windows
with hooked poles drawing darkgreen shades
closets unlocked, locked
questions unasked, asked, when
love of the fresh impeccable
order without cruelty
a street on earth neither heaven nor hell
busy with commerce and worship
young teachers walking to school
fresh bread and early-open foodstalls
When the offensive rocks the sky when nightglare
misconstrues day and night when lived-in
rooms from the upper city
tumble cratering lower streets
cornices of olden ornament human debris
when fear vacuums out the streets
When the whole town flinches
blood on the undersole thickening to glass
Whoever crosses hunched knees bent a contested zone
knows why she does this suicidal thing
School's now in session day and night
in the classrooms teachers rolled close
How the good teacher loved
his school the students
the lunchroom with fresh sandwiches
lemonade and milk
the classroom glass cages
of moss and turtles
A morning breaks without bread or fresh-poured milk
parents or lesson-plans
diarrhea first question of the day
children shivering it's September
Second question: where is my mother?
One: I don't know where your mother
is Two: I don't know
why they are trying to hurt us
Three: or the latitude and longitude
of their hatred Four: I don't know if we
hate them as much I think there's more toilet paper
in the supply closet I'm going to break it open
Today this is your lesson:
write as clearly as you can
your name home street and number
down on this page
No you can't go home yet
but you aren't lost
this is our school
I'm not sure what we'll eat
we'll look for healthy roots and greens
searching for water though the pipes are broken
There's a young cat sticking
her head through window bars
she's hungry like us
but can feed on mice
her bronze erupting fur
speaks of a life already wild
her golden eyes
don't give quarter She'll teach us Let's call her
when we get milk we'll give her some
I've told you, let's try to sleep in this funny camp
All night pitiless pilotless things go shrieking
above us to somewhere
Don't let your faces turn to stone
Don't stop asking me why
Let's pay attention to our cat she needs us
Maybe tomorrow the bakers can fix their ovens
"We sang them to naps told stories made
shadow-animals with our hands
washed human debris off boots and coats
sat learning by heart the names
some were too young to write
some had forgotten how"
It would not have been possible for me ever to trust someone who
acquired office by the shameful means Mr. Bush and his abettors resorted
to in the last presidential election. His nonentity was rapidly becoming
more apparent than ever when the catastrophe of Sept. 11, 2001, provided
him and his handlers with a role for him, that of "wartime leader",
which they, and he in turn, were quick to exploit. This role was used at
once to silence all criticism of the man and his words as unpatriotic,
and to provide the auspices for a sustained assault upon civil
liberties, environmental protections, and general welfare. The
perpetuation of this role of "wartime leader" is the primary reason--
more important even than the greed for oil fields and the wish to blot
out his father's failure-- for the present determination to visit war
upon Iraq, kill and maim countless people, and antagonize much of the
world of which Mr. Bush had not heard until recently. The real
iniquities of Saddam Hussein should be recognized, in this context, as
the pretexts they are. His earlier atrocities went unmentioned as long
as he was an ally of former Republican administrations, which were
happy, in their time, to supply him with weapons. I think that someone
who was maneuvered into office against the will of the electorate, as
Mr. Bush was, should be allowed to make no governmental decisions
(including judicial appointments) that might outlast his questionable
term, and if the reasons for war were many times greater than they have
been said to be I would oppose any thing of the kind under such
"leadership". To arrange a war in order to be re-elected outdoes even
the means employed in the last presidential election. Mr. Bush and his
plans are a greater danger to the United States than Saddam Hussein.
All night waking to the sound
of light rain falling softly
through the leaves in the quiet
valley below the window
and to Paula lying here
asleep beside me and to
the murmur beside the bed
of the dogs' snoring like small
waves coming ashore I
am amazed at the fortune
of this moment in the whole
of the dark this unspoken
favor while it is with us
this breathing peace and then I
think of the frauds in office
at this instant devising
their massacres in my name
what part of me could they have
come from were they made of my
loathing itself and dredged from
the bitter depths of my shame
"Write as if you lived in an occupied country."
And we were made afraid, and being afraid
we made him bigger than he was, a little man
and ignorant, wrapped like a vase of glass
in bubble wrap all his life, who never felt
a single lurch or bump, carried over
the rough surface of other lives like
the spoiled children of the sultans of old
in sedan chairs, on the backs of slaves,
the gold curtains on the chair
pulled shut against the dust and shit
of the road on which the people walked,
over whose heads, he rode, no more aware
than a wave that rattles pebbles on a beach.
And being afraid we forgot to notice
who pulled his golden strings, how
their banks overflowed while
the public coffers emptied, how
they stole our pensions, poured their smoke
into our lungs, how they beat our ploughshares
into swords, sold power to the lords of oil,
closed their fists to crush the children
of Iraq, took the future from our failing grasp
into their hoards, ignored our votes,
broke our treaties with the world,
and when our hungry children cried,
the doctors drugged them so they wouldn't fuss,
and prisons swelled enormously to hold
the desperate sons and daughters of the poor.
To us, they just said war, and war, and war.
For when they saw we were afraid,
how knowingly they played on every fear--
so conned, we scarcely saw their scorn,
hardly noticed as they took our funds, our rights,
and tapped our phones, turned back our clocks,
and then, to quell dissent, they sent....
(but here the document is torn)
The old rancher of seventy-nine years
said while branding and nutting young bulls
with the rank odor of burned hairs and flesh
in the air, the oil slippery red nuts
plopping into a galvanized bucket,
"this smells just like Guadalcanal."
* * *
The theocratic cowboy forgetting Viet Nam rides
into town on a red horse. He's praying to himself
not God, though the two are confused
in the heat of vengeance. The music
is the thump of derricks, the computerized
lynch mob geek dissonance. Clint Eastwood
whispers from an alley, "George, they
were only movies." Shock and Awe.
God is only on God's side. War prayers
swim in their tanks of pus like poisoned
frogs in algae laden ponds. The red horse
he rides is the horse of blasphemy. Jesus
leads a flower laden donkey across the Red Sea
in the other directions, his nose full of the stink
of corpses. Buddha and Mohammed offer
cool water from a palm's shade while young
men die in the rocket's red glare
and in the old men's hard puckered dreams
René Char asked, "Who stands on the gangplank
directing operations, the captain or the rats?"
Whitman said, "so many young throats
choked on their own blood." God says nothing.
Don't you see them? They are coming to blind Samson!
But some of us don't want the day to end!
If Samson goes blind, what will happen to the sea?
Isn't it bad enough that the sun goes down
Each night, while children throw shoes at the moon?
I remember my mother's grief at sunset.
Now I remember my father. I remember
Every father when he is wrestling with his son.
Oh Lord of the Four Quarters
You gypsy singers, make some raw cries!
Call in the crows to fly over the plowed fields.
I want the beating palms to cry out for Samson.
I want rough voices and shouting women
To cry out against the blinding of Samson.
I will always cry
Isn't it enough that the Evening Star sets every night
And lovemaking ends at dawn? Please, God, help
The human beings, for men are coming to blind Samson.
Flags are everywhere.
Tied to cars, strapped
to twisted girders, fanning the air
where silver needles have pierced
the steel ribs of a bold idea,
tossing hope to the teeth of gravity
cinching the collar on a world
straining to breathe.
Men are lifting broken children
from stones in Beirut. A flop-eared mutt
guards a human foot in Bosnia.
Stacked skulls peek
through lianas in Cambodia, while a fireman
breathes into the mouth
of a dead infant in Oklahoma.
The cookies of mothers, pomegranates, musky sheets
of marriage beds, pistachios and birthday cakes
are drenched in oily smoke and iron slag. Everywhere,
electrons serve only their own will,
heavy metals float as ash. Gaps appear
in every skyline. Everywhere, flags
open their wings in the hearts
of people, flutter in the corner of my tv
while a man who thinks he is speaking,
barks, his lips
slick with marrow.
The prep-school boys
are rampaging again. The palm-frond bars
stocking brewskis, and 'gimme'-hats
for the the dead-drop boys,
the dirty secret boys,
from El Mozote and Panama,
off to Baghdad and Kabul now,
dropping in to Peshawar.--
Their itineraries clot the tongue
blood leaks from the ears of history.
the Class of '55 boys
are crazy for bottle-neck flies.
snapshots, an upturned chair, a thumb--
--everywhere people are weeping and afraid,
waving flags, plotting check and mate,
as if one smooth move might rid the world
of shadows. They are burying
Jews in Tel Aviv, lofting flag-wrapped martyrs
in Ramallah, cursing the mourners in New York.
Everywhere, there is emptiness, tattered space
where someone once sauntered
or warmed their hands with steaming chestnuts.
Each banner a thousand deaths
each flag a sword, or swooning plane,
each snapping pennant taps
a riddle in code:
can the heart of a people
be opened by a killer?
Closed by a leader?
Numbed to suffering even
as it weeps?
in Chile are poems,
in Nicaragua palms and vines;
in Yugoslavia catalogued in Brussels,
in Baghdad irradiated dirt.
In New York, dust
drifting on sills
and dashboards through vaporized glass,
dancing in freshets of air that whisper,
startling those holding their breaths
to hear the faintest of cries.
And the hard man with the soft eyes
resting in the shadows of poppies,
negotiates with the lavender angel
the number of souls required
as threads in a flag
woven to the glory
The dead do not want us dead;
such petty errors are left for the living.
Nor do they want our mourning.
No gift to them--not rage, not weeping.
Return one of them, any one of them, to the earth,
and look: such foolish skipping,
such telling of bad jokes, such feasting!
Even a cucumber, even a single anise seed: feasting
My daughter, who's as beautiful as the day,
hates politics: Face it, Ma,
they don't care what you think! All
passion, like Achilles,
she stalks off to her room,
to confide in her purple guitar and await
life's embassies. She's right,
of course: bombs will be hurled
at ordinary streets
and leaders look grave for the cameras,
and what good are more poems against war
the real subject of which
so often seems to be the poet's superior
moral sensitivities? I could
be mailing myself to the moon
or marrying a palm tree,
and yet what can we do
but offer what we have?
and so I spend
this cold gray glittering morning
trying to write a poem against war
that perhaps may please my daughter
who hates politics
and does not care much for poetry, either.
Amazing. We're all still here,
and everybody's talking at once.
But each moment works against us—we can't
hear everything—and gets us through the hour
in buses and taxis, airplanes
carving the sky, the slow shade of a cloud
that creeps through an open market with promises of
nighttime striking a deal with the daylight.
No. We can't see everything,
but when did looking convince us?
Now we don't want these flowers,
and we curse the vendor for showing them.
It's all regret, the fish on the ice,
the baskets of potatoes and green beans, all
regret, until regret too
is demolished. From the dust and rabble
steel skeletons stand in the grandeur of distance
and glass skin. And today, again,
we've hurried to Century City, but we arrive
forever early, unable to live up to our destination—
neither shades nor galoshes, but
the myth of afternoon.
Perhaps that's enough. Perhaps
it's all true. These designs of ourselves, and the wind,
somewhere else. Among corporate towers
and modular dunes, among vacant, dazzling plazas
we're all just here, and each voice
is a tiny fissure in the earth's veneer.
And each voice calls to us, calls in the spirit of
a beggar with something to give.
It's terrorism, isn't it, when you're afraid to answer the door for lack of
a Green Card
afraid to look for work, walk into the hospital when yr child is sick,
and what else than terrorism cd you call those smallpox blankets we gave the
the trail of tears, the raids on Ghost Dancing tribes
It's terrorism when you're forbidden to speak yr language
paddled for it, made to run a hundred laps in the snow
in your thin & holey sneakers. What do you call it
when you're locked in yr high school classroom, armed policemen
manning the halls? Isn't it terrorism to force a young woman
to talk to her parents abt her clandestine love
the child she will or will not carry? Is it terrorism
to shoot striking onion workers (1934), pick off AIM members one by one?
What happened to the Hampton family in Chicago his bed;
would you call that terrorism? Or the MOVE kids in Philadelphia
bombed in their home. Or all the stories we don't know
buried in throats stuffed w/socks, or pierced w/bullets.
Wd you call it terrorism, what happened at Wounded Knee
or the Drug Wars picking off
the youth of our cities twenty years ago now;
you know the names.
What was COINTELPRO if not terrorism? What new initials are they calling
Is Leonard Peltier a victim of terrorism?
Is Mumia Abu-Jamal?
Is it terrorism if you are terrified
of the INS, the IRS, the landlord, yr boss, the man
who might do yr job for less?
if you're scared of yr health insurance
no health insurance
scared of yr street, yr hallway, scared every month
you might not get to the 1st and the next measly check?
Is it terrorism to take food from hungry school-kids?
To threaten teenagers who still have hope enough
have joy enough to bring babies into this mess?
How has terrorism touched you, shaped your life?
Are you afraid to go out, to walk in yr city, yr suburb, yr countryside?
To read, to speak yr own language, wear yr tribe's clothes?
Afraid of the thin-shelled birds w/twisted necks
poisoned by nitrates, by selenium?
Afraid that the dawn will be silent, the forests grey?
Is it terrorism to fill the Dnieper w/radiation?
or heat the ionosphere w/magnetism "to see what will happen"?
A wonderful weapon, they say, it will perturb
the weather pattern, disrupt communications
Who are the terrorists in the lumber wars?
(the water wars are coming)
And we haven't even talked about AIDS and cancer.
Is the assault on native intelligence & good will
that we call the evening news
anything other than an act of terror?
What was the Gulf War but terrorism
wearing the death mask of order? < one big car bomb it was
the guys who drove it dying now
one by one
Is acid rain a form of terrorism? (Think for yourself.)
Is GATT or NAFTA anything but a pact among brigands and their back-up men?
How long before they fight over the spoils? Who'll do their fighting for
Is Alan Greenspan perhaps the biggest known & named
of our terrorist leaders, here, nurtured here,
the dark design of whose hearts makes
Hutu & Tutsi
Croat & Muslim & Serb
mere diversionary tactics before the onslaught
Mr. President, our history speaks to us, the history of Chile
and China, El Salvador and Nicaragua, Somalia, Puerto Rico—
today, our solemn duty is to defy your willful aggression,
to parse provocative words and habits, your heroic battle
to distract us. Perhaps you think God will protect us
from the religious zealots who sanctify your rule,
from your opportunism and the race renewal,
the investiture you have assumed because, as
always, it is not yours. Let me ask
an obvious question.
If we are to establish peace
and security for our nation, must we not do
everything in our power to end
the beginnings of war, must we not allow
our imaginations to craft a lasting peace?
Are not the children you would choose
to incinerate our own? We try on masks
to trick our isolated, frightened selves,
to propagate our sacred uncertainties
among the children of this blue planet,
a world we create and ruin every day.
where do we walk, where may we sit down,
where can we work or rest, weep or pray,
what field does a man sunder and seed
in a country living only in memory, dying
every day at the hands of those who profess
to love her most? They say God loves America,
and that this “old bitch gone in the teeth” is
heaven on earth; in preemptive violence,
in obstinacy, in entitlements for the rich,
this murdered land, this, the people's
earth, is our reward for being right
no matter how wrong we are.
What “urge and rage”
thrives in the American heart, that so many cheer
this obsessive, unilateral madness?
precise layers of glass, the TV peddling
a thrilling efficiency, we cannot see them,
the ghosts that inhabit our malnourished
statistics, inhospitable closets, cold kitchens
where we eat meat and raise goblets of wine
to celebrate our belief that they are not like us.
I want to spend more time with my daughter,
my five-year-old, I want to see her, to know
she is alive. It is her “evening of the morning,”
she is just fine, though she implores me to tell her
the “acommitation of naked truth.”
Iraqis, weakened by sanctions, spending time
with their children. What do they play together,
what makes them laugh, what crude medicine
do parents spoon down fevered throats, when
they too are roused from nightmares of fragile
necklaces of bone, slung around the necks of
American fighters whose hearts we camouflage?
Who will witness the small charred bodies floating
in the Tigris, children writhing in pain, in smoking rubble,
in the ruins of Bab al-Wastani or the Mirjan Mosque,
severed limbs and glazed eyes that last night
followed their favorite story by candlelight?
what does it mean when you say Saddam Hussein,
Butcher of Baghdad, official liar, terrorizes himself?
If he brings terror upon himself, will our dark angels
exterminate him or his already wounded people;
and would you answer Mr. Korb: What if Kuwait grew carrots, what if Iraq's
main exports were chick peas and cotton shawls
destined for American women
longing for the exotic?
To be honest,
I have forgotten from what we must abstain,
yet we know how to prevent conception. “C'est la vie,”
you say, saddled up, ready to ride with your posse
across oil fields just like those in Texas.
It appears the one thing we cherish
more than petroleum or our children
is the greased machinery of destruction.
1. “old bitch gone in the teeth”: Ezra Pound, from “Hugh Selwyn Mauberley”
2. “urge and rage”: Anne Frank, from The Diary of a Young Girl (1947; tr. 1952), entry for 3 May 1944
3. “evening of the morning”: Kyra Gray O'Daly
4. “acommitation of naked truth”: Kyra Gray O'Daly
5. Bab al-Wastani: the last remaining of the renowned gates of Baghdad
6. Mirjan Mosque: ancient mosque, completed in 1358
7. “If Kuwait grew carrots we wouldn't give a damn.” Lawrence Korb, former U.S. assistant secretary of defense, on the motives for “Operation Desert Storm”
8. “The war on terror involves Saddam Hussein because of the nature of Saddam Hussein, the history of Saddam Hussein, and his willingness to terrorize himself.” George W. Bush
9. “C'est la vie” : “Either they are with us or not. Either one is fine. C'est la vie.” An aide to George W. Bush, quoting him
10. “I know some in Europe see me as a Texas cowboy with six-shooters at my side. But the truth is I prefer to ride with a posse.” One senior Bush aide, recalling President Bush's comment to Czech President Vaclav Havel in Prague (Fall 2002)
The heart line begins
on the thumbless side of the palm
traveling horizontally under the fingers,
when it is clear & deeply etched
you have deep emotions...
so the war is over, my love,
and we have killed enough of them,
torched their homes
trampled their fields
mutilated their arms
burned their legs
harvested their ears
and wore them like dark pearls
drove them crazy
made night a sure sign
their schools, lost canyons
with nothing blowing through them
and an exact count of
and all that was given
What do you do now
with the hunger
and the poverty glaring in their faces?
would have probably kissed it,
but we were not saints
we were soldiers
hiding in the enemy's world.
How many times
must I be dipped into the water
to be a child again?
(Warning: This is a rant and may not be good for your mental health)
Old myths die hard as they say in the American West, and perhaps no lie is as captivating as the romance of the American Cowboy. Talk about a sacred cow that lives on in Texas. What I want to know is how George W. Blue-blood Bush has spun his identity to the point where we believe him when he says his preference is “home on the range” rather than commander-in-chief.” Karl Rove, his trusty genius-in-residence, actually said, “Given the choice of Wall Street over Main Street, the President would choose Main Street every time.” Yup, he's just a regular ‘ole guy in a Stetson and levis who just happens to live in The White House.
He is a man who wears a Stetson and levis with a relentless appetite for war..
Yee-haw! Ride e'm cowboy, all the way to Iraq. Forgive me, but that's what it feels like every day in the USA, where conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh tells his viewers to “relax, we'll get our war” as he called the anti-war demonstrations anti-American demonstrations fueled by communists and environmental wackos. Never mind that freedom of speech is a tenet of American democracy or that dissent is what this country was founded on in the first place. Bush and his conservative army of listeners wants blood, not ours, but theirs. And theirs is no longer Osama Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda, but rather Saddam Hussein and Iraqi dissidents who are a more stable target, not prone to hiding in caves or shape shifting. We want to show what we've got by way of military prowess, in case the world has forgotten.
Just the other day, Dan Rather exposed the latest military scheme called “Shock and Awe,” a strategy developed with the hopes it would “have this simultaneous effect rather like the nuclear weapons at Hiroshima, not taking days or weeks but minutes” to destroy the enemy. 300 to 400 cruise missiles would be deployed at once, more than the number launched during the entire 40 days of the first Gulf War. “The sheer size of this has never been seen before, never been contemplated before,” a Pentagon official said. “There will be not be a safe place in Baghdad,” “The horror and destruction will be so vast and fast it will inspire nothing but shock and awe.” Within minutes, blood-soaked handkerchiefs will be waving from the rubble begging for mercy, and then presto, the war will be over. Nice and neat, clap the dust off our hands. In and out, mission accomplished.
One lariat thrown around the neck of Saddam Hussein, and it's the end of the rodeo. George W. Bush will wave his white hat to the crowd as he takes a bow from the saddle of his fast-riding horse in the middle of the arena.
“Shock and awe.” Read all about it. Barrel riders secure the Iraqi oil for themselves in record time.
It is time to expose the myth of the American Cowboy for what it is, a lie designed to perpetuate the rugged loner who takes the law into his own hands..
It doesn't matter if in truth, he's just a hired hand of the people who pay him. Or that his real home is not on the range, but simply moving through with no sense of responsibility to the folks who live there. What matters is that he can speak in simple verse and smoke his Marlboro cigarettes with style at the same time he rides off into the sunset with his silver pistols lashed to his thighs as he feels his trustworthy horse between his legs. Bodies left behind or broken fences never mended don't trouble him. He is the perfect image for American individualism. Take what's yours and move on.
Of course we can “go it alone,” says George W. to the increasing world-wide opposition to war in Iraq. That's the American way. “You're either with us or against us.” As the president so eloquently said, “I don't do nuance.”
The cowboy president doesn't talk details, he just points his pistol in the general direction of fear and starts shooting off his rhetoric like those three quick bullets, “Axis of Evil,” that were heard around the world.
North Korea flashes news of nuclear weapons and then it's our turn to reply that our missiles are bigger than their missiles and now it's no longer rodeo time, but Super Bowl Sunday, with the United States Cowboy on the starting line with George as quarterback, his arm cocked and ready for a military touchdown.
George W. Bush loves a good game. The problem is -- war is not a game. And for those of us who do not view this man as our legitimate president, how do we get his attention?
I used to think democracy was a good place to start, but since September 11, and the creation of the new Department of Homeland Security, our civil liberties are being whittled and eroded away. Our voices raised in question are discredited and quelled. Fear has replaced reason. Confrontation has overruled contemplation. Entitlement has replaced respect as we watch environmental laws slashed and sensitive wildlands ravaged for their oil and ancient trees in the name of national security. The "war on terror" is first being waged here at home.
To those of you living in Europe, we thank you for your leadership of resistance. We thank you for gathering in the hundreds of thousands in London, Florence, Madrid, and Paris, showing us what is possible and inspiring our own demonstrations. And our numbers in the anti-war movement in America are growing. We thank you for crying foul on what we Americans have only dared to think to ourselves until now. And we thank you for your prayers and we pray with you believing there is a "conservative compassion" that can stay the violence of war. What we are learning from you is that those with a memory of war on their own soil are the first to call for patience and pause...
Perhaps, it will continue to be this kind of pressure from countries with a memory of fascism and a history of empires that have risen and fallen, that in the end will remind our cowboy culture in America that the poster with burnt edges, “Wanted Dead or Alive,” has never translated well in international law. America right now, under the Bush Regime, has a very destructive, call it foreign, policy for peace.
What I fear in America right now is this: War is the body bag flown home with a nice note from the president that reads, “She served our country well in the fight for freedom.” War is also amnesia, so that in the grief of that moment, Americans will choose to believe him and find ourselves imprisoned by our own arrogance.
Thank you for your invitation to the White House event on February 12, “Poetry and the American Voice.” I appreciate the honor and I welcome recognition of poetry's vital presence in our country.
However, to my regret, I must decline to attend.
In our current political situation I am unwilling to participate in a Washington event that invokes an “American voice” in the singular.
Specifically, I mistrust the president's contention that we must invade Iraq preemptively, in defiance of important allies, and contrary to the processes of international law. He asks us to trust him that this extraordinary, violent and uncertain plan is in our interest.
Like many other ordinary Americans, I wish I could trust the president even though I oppose his policies. But he has not been trustworthy: for example, using deceptive, misleading arguments for his tax proposals, speaking as though that proposal would help “average” Americans-- which is a trick. On the issue of affirmative action, he hedged while running for office; now he is trying to hinder a modest, sensible affirmative action plan at a great state university, the University of Michigan; he uses deceptive language like “quotas” and “preferences”: more accurate for the way members of rich, powerful families enter private universities like Yale.
In these areas, closer to home for me than geopolitics, I know that the president has not been trustworthy, so I cannot trust him on the world stage. To participate in a poetry symposium that speaks of “the” American voice, in the house of authority I mistrust, on the verge of a questionable war, is impossible— the more so when I remember the candid, rebellious, individualistic voices of Dickinson, Whitman, Langston Hughes.
I salute your intentions, and I hope a time may come when we will again be able to honor such great ancestors, wholeheartedly, together, at the White House.
Evening traffic homeward burns
Swift and even on the turns,
Drifting weight in triple rows,
Fixed relation and repose.
This one edges out and by,
Inch by inch with steady eye.
But should error be increased,
Mass and moment are released;
Matter loosens, flooding blind,
Levels drivers to its kind.
Ranks of nations thus descend,
Watchful, to a stormy end.
By a moment's calm beguiled,
I have got a wife and child.
Fool and scoundrel guide the State.
Peace is whore to Greed and Hate.
Nowhere may I turn to flee:
Action is security.
Treading change with savage heel,
We must live or die by steel.
for the 43 members of Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees
Local 100, working at the Windows on the World restaurant,
who lost their lives in the attack on the World Trade Center
Alabanza. Praise the cook with a shaven head
and a tattoo on his shoulder that said Oye,
a blue-eyed Puerto Rican with people from Fajardo,
the harbor of pirates centuries ago.
Praise the lighthouse in Fajardo, candle
glimmering white to worship the dark saint of the sea.
Alabanza. Praise the cook's yellow Pirates cap
worn in the name of Roberto Clemente, his plane
that flamed into the ocean loaded with cans for Nicaragua,
for all the mouths chewing the ash of earthquakes.
Alabanza. Praise the kitchen radio, dial clicked
even before the dial on the oven, so that music and Spanish
rose before bread. Praise the bread. Alabanza.
Praise Manhattan from a hundred and seven flights up,
like Atlantis glimpsed through the windows of an ancient aquarium.
Praise the great windows where immigrants from the kitchen
could squint and almost see their world, hear the chant of nations:
Ecuador, México, Republica Dominicana,
Haiti, Yemen, Ghana, Bangladesh.
Alabanza. Praise the kitchen in the morning,
where the gas burned blue on every stove
and exhaust fans fired their diminutive propellers,
hands cracked eggs with quick thumbs
or sliced open cartons to build an altar of cans.
Alabanza. Praise the busboy's music, the chime-chime
of his dishes and silverware in the tub.
Alabanza. Praise the dish-dog, the dishwasher
who worked that morning because another dishwasher
could not stop coughing, or because he needed overtime
to pile the sacks of rice and beans for a family
floating away on some Caribbean island plagued by frogs.
Alabanza. Praise the waitress who heard the radio in the kitchen
and sang to herself about a man gone. Alabanza.
After the thunder wilder than thunder,
after the shudder deep in the glass of the great windows,
after the radio stopped singing like a tree full of terrified frogs,
after night burst the dam of day and flooded the kitchen,
for a time the stoves glowed in darkness like the lighthouse in Fajardo,
like a cook's soul. Soul I say, even if the dead cannot tell us
about the bristles of God's beard because God has no face,
soul I say, to name the smoke-beings flung in constellations
across the night sky of this city and cities to come.
Alabanza I say, even if God has no face.
Alabanza. When the war began, from Manhattan and Kabul
two constellations of smoke rose and drifted to each other,
mingling in icy air, and one said with an Afghan tongue:
Teach me to dance. We have no music here.
And the other said with a Spanish tongue:
I will teach you. Music is all we have.
"I'm like a country who can't remember the last war."
They told you that the enemy and the liberated throng
swaddle themselves in the same robes and rags,
wear the same masks with eyes that follow you,
pray in the same bewildering tongue, until your rifle
trembles to rake the faces at every checkpoint.
They told you about the corpse of a boy or girl
rolled at your feet, hair gray with the powder
of rubble and bombardment, flies a whirlpool blackening both eyes,
said you¹ll learn the words for apology too late to join
the ceremony, as flies become the chorus of your nightmares.
They told you about the double amputee from your town,
legs lopped off by the blast, his basketball friend
bumping home in a flag-draped coffin
the cameras will not film anymore,
about veterans who drench themselves in liquor
like monks pouring gasoline on their heads.
They told you in poems and stories
you did not read, or stopped reading
as your cheeks scorched with inexplicable fever,
and because they spoke with a clarity that burned your face,
because they saw with the vision of a telescope
revolving around the earth, they spent years wandering
through jails and bars, exiled to roads after midnight
where gas stations snap their lights off one by one,
seers unseen at the coffee shop waiting for bacon and eggs,
calling at 3 AM to say I can¹t stop writing and you have to hear this.
You will not hear this, even after the war is over
and the troops drown in a monsoon of desert flowers
tossed by the crowd, blooming in their mouths
to stop their tongues with the sweetness of it.
Oaks tear up the storm floor
Nothing left to warn
The poisoned rat has poisoned the owl
The striped air of the state is choked
With pointed salty star materials
They've cut the tips off dollar bills
Now chipped stars everywhere seems like
Death planes with Daisy Chains
Bomb planes with cute little names
Swordfish stab the water's skin
The sea has no plot
Earlier thinkers thought of air
As a mist not a context
With each bomb the part
That was narrow shrinks.
Our god passes by briefly
From another existence
With his pretty floating rib
The one they call the twelfth
The webbed arch of caravans
Frames the desert horror
The owl's eyes follow them
on this side of the pale
One night in a vision
Your future car was buried
Today they drive the buried car
Turn like a three-part song
Electricity wants not to be anymore
Or to be darktricity
The brain is an atmosphere of rooms
A situation without a future
Where us presides over an it
The doom's-whim-bride's-trace fog
Doubles as a shroud
If the flute cannot be found
Its breath is in you
Making an @ sign of sex or grain
What was it thinking of
The catkins look so like grenades
Maybe the particle spirits
Will spin in the at of each address
Knock the wheel of fate from its orbit
Race to a curled up
Solomon's sleep in the clock's
Ring moist with air
These poems – the first by an Iraqi woman writing in the seventh century – I send you as a fellow mother. The proposed pre-emptive strike seems to me a “September 11th” which can still be stopped in time, sparing many children. It seems to me that all avenues to alternative actions should be explored now. I pray you agree and will bring your deep and humane influence to bear, for the children.
My camel kneels at Ibn Marwan's door
and groans three times in birth pangs.
Men circle her each night
with torches lighting the hills.
A leader and a youth bring companion armor
and words bright as Yemen cloth.
But crude milking injured her.
Now softly, on the slopes of Thadaq,
she's given dry food.
Then quickly to water, on good hoofs,
fast, her body lean.
Her summer offspring is unweaned
but day already smells of autumn.
-- Laila Akhyaliyya
Just don't tell me about the issues.
I can see the pale spider-belly head of the
newborn who lies on the lawn, the web of
veins at the surface of her scalp, her skin
grey and gleaming, the clean line of the
bayonet down the center of her chest.
I see her mother's face, beaten and
beaten into the shape of a plant,
a cactus with grey spines and broad
dark maroon blooms.
I see her arm stretched out across her baby,
wrist resting, heavily, still, across the
Don't speak to me about
politics. I've got eyes, man.
This is the man who sits in the house of madness.
This is the time of the man named Bush who sits in the house of madness.
This is a time-bomb ticking away in the time of the man named Bush who
sits in the house of madness.
This is the child strapped to the bomb ticking away the time of the man
named Bush who sits in the house of madness.
This is the ravaged land of the child strapped to the bomb ticking away
the time of the man named Bush who sits in the house of madness.
These are the years and the cries of loss, the starving poor,
the reeling stocks, the chanting young, the face of the child
strapped to the bomb ticking away the time of the man named Bush
who sits in the house of madness.
These are the oil wells pumping dry, the corporate lies, the Enron ties,
the reeling stocks, the jobless lines, the face of the child strapped to
the bomb ticking away by a cyclone fence with a nickel bag in Our Hometown
in the time of the man named Bush who sits in the house of madness.
These are the oil wells across the sea, the dictator's deal, the
torturer's cage, the affairs of state in the ravaged land of the child
strapped to the bomb ticking away in the time of the man named Bush who
sits alone in the all-White House of madness.
I want to add my voice to the many who oppose the war which is mostly being treated as a major sporting event by the American media. I have yet to meet a single citizen who believes pre-emptive striking is appropriate for the mightiest country on earth. I have yet to meet anyone who thinks diplomacy is a secondary mode of conduct. I have yet to meet anyone who thinks the world will be one iota safer for our proposed actions. I have yet to meet anyone who thinks slaughter becomes US.
Everyone I know and in fact everyone I have ever met abhors your designs on the world and despairs of the wrath it will bring on our citizenry. You will no doubt go down in history as a decisive President and accommodating First Lady. You will go down as monsters.
What shall we sing
on the crest of a war
all sense we ride wrong
save the mad boy in power
deaf to the cries
deep in cities and forests
tuned only to praise
from his patriot chorus?
What anthems or lullabies
soon can restore us
after we killed the children?