I’M AFRAID

Stonehenge

I’m afraid

That stray cultural thread

Waving above the fabric

Long ignored

Has been pulled

I’m afraid

An uneasy order has

Unraveled

Uncontrolled by small generals

Hovering over spreadsheets

I’m afraid

We’ve slept

Too peaceably

Allowing bogus men

To do their battles

On our behalf

I’m afraid

We are freezing life

A peace handcuffed to

A failed post-war

Parchment ideal

I’m afraid

We’re melting calamity

Spreading red

Across planned communities

In unplanned retribution

I’m afraid

We’ve failed a test

To which we were given the answers

I’m afraid

The hand we’ve elected is cloven

A hoof with 50 apostles and

All the good lines

I’m afraid

The last man standing

Won’t be man or standing

Just

The illiterate hand  hovering

Over our thread-thin culture

ignorant of

The implacable

Geometry of chaos

CIRCUS FAMILIAR

  Gwen glad pty  I’ve come to accept the spectacle

The morning face that stares back at me in the mirror

Large pores packed with night-sweats and frustration

There’s lots to do but nothing to say

That will ease the guilt of not doing

Most likely I’ll clean my keyboard

       remove the fingerprints

       angry smudges that dappled my screen with hope

I’ll open the Times app before adjusting a pillow behind my aging back

I’ll sip some tea as I consider the tilt of the screen and font size

I’ll search for good news as if

I’ve not already thrust my chin up to the edge of humanity

To improve my view of its destruction

Comes the Fate Upon Us: Taking Adversity Seriously

King - 20th cent. martyrs
Martyrs of the 20th century – honored in granite and poetry – Westminster Abbey

December 17, 2016

I’ve just read a summation of our president’s news conference on Russia’s hacking of the election that allowed Donald Trump to steal the election from Hillary Clinton. I saw clips of our beautifully cerebral President Obama thoughtfully picking his way through the minefield of words available for times such as these; words that could highlight injustice in a big and angry way. And for that moment I wanted him to be that angry black man – the idea that so scattered the brains of bigoted whites eight years ago – I wanted Obama to tear away at that inbred institution designed for service to the very few. But he didn’t, and that saddens me. My president’s behavior revived for me the belief that there is some unseen player in presidential politics. One who holds all the rules governing this experiment we call democracy. This is the player who gladly sits sideline whispering, to the one front and center, cautionary tales; this is the preemptive hand upon which are written all the options at a President’s disposal. What were the options facing you Mr. President? Instruct the Electoral College to do the right thing, nullify the elections? Declare Hillary Rodham Clinton president? (Personally, I think your parting tasks to ensure a legacy of courageous decision making should be to put Sec. Clinton on Supreme Court and declare Santa Claus legally, officially, a black man). But no, sadly, you have no legal standing in this case. You may have been besieged by thoughts of a civil war even as you understand fully your duty to ensure a “peaceful and orderly transition”. But, there will be war – an uncivil war – waged by the upcoming Theatre of Thieves – the 21st Century robber-barons. And yes, we will protest even as we hide the sickness that resides in the thought that our beloved President, hands tied by a constitution he has taught, is as helpless as we are  watching further shredding of this democracy.

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December 19, 2016

It seems clear to me today – December 19, 2016 – that we are moving towards that southern economic doctrine of low wages, no unions and little concern for the environment. A southern doctrine that addresses ideas like diversity and the need for common courtesy (erroneously referred to as political correctness) as frivolous, white-power killing, sentimentality. This new “strategy” will ensure that those who live in poverty and those refugees whose fate lies in the kindness of strangers remain 2nd and 3rd class citizens (if they are allowed to remain at all). It will ensure that those who, by nature, have to work outside their small circle of cultural acceptance live in fear. Fear of a capriciously dispatched army who will bend and convert non-believers to their will. This doctrine resides in the barren drought-stricken stretch of community where women know their place, little girls don’t appear too smart and all females understand the ugly consequences of striving to be richer than a man. It is a place where the aims of decent men and the female pantsuit are outlawed.

It is time, now that the Electoral College has affrimed its predilection for inertia, to take Trump seriously and not literally, as Christy Wampole of the New York Times suggests in her piece, How to Live Without Irony (For Real this Time) Yes, we now have a president who can’t spell, who tweets his thin-skinned pain like a hurt child, who has grabbed women by their genitals because he could. Now, according to Wampole, we should be seriously prepared “for a new, expressive austerity.” I agree. It was easy to sit on our self-righteous liberal laurels and ignore the suffering of the “uneducated deplorable” citizens. We are all guilty, in some form or another, of this class combat. And these self-righteous thoughts may still be the palliative we use to soothe the cuts of loss. I know I sleep better knowing I am right; that the best candidate did not win. And, God help me, I have to catch myself, feeling happy for the sure to come ‘I told you so’s”. The low-income, less educated worker, the praise-worthy military and its veterans who will stand and die for the next war to come in spite of GOP continued resistance to Veterans Bills and continued funding, all will suffer (much more than I will) for their willingness to trust a different voice – as long as that voice promised personal well being and for some, as long as that voice as male and white. I have to acknowledge and take serious the ‘trust’ his voters have. I agree with Wampole when she says “this president-elect, seems incapable of laughter…[embodies] the thirst for profit …apocalypse fetishism, joyless ideology, and even cruelty. [His] is a punitive seriousness, a burn-it-all-down ethics that favors revenge over reconciliation.” That said, we must never normalize his brand of seriousness. We must never forget this man is a dangerous buffoon who takes money and retaliation seriously. His hollow promises, laughter and smiles are simply means to an end. As decent human beings, we must take the high road as we struggle to soften the blow Trumps tactics will surely have on those who simply wanted to “shake things up.”  God help us.

 

So, this evening, my second glass of wine has sufficiently lubricated the hinges on the doors to my big, rusted political heart and I find myself returning to a line in Homer’s Odyssey, a scene really, where Polyphemus, blinded and bested by an arrogant, boasting Odysseus, stands huge upon an outcropping, breaking off mountain-tops and hurling boulders and curses in the direction of Odysseus’ retreating ship. And, for the moment, we are Polyphemus, blinded and outwitted by our lack of seriousness and the arrogant tools of injustice. The line that haunts me? “Now comes the weird upon [us].”

 

 

The Ghosts of Jr. High

Jr. hi sch

They advertise the old junior high school now

as luxury apartments.

A community of renters of classrooms now

better used as kitchens, bedrooms and

living spaces.

 

I wonder about the Feng Shui of old schools –

is there such a thing?

What about the sleepwalking renter who turns

down the wrong hallway and finds himself

at the mercy of the bruised hands of the bully.

He better keep lunch money in his pajamas

to soften the blows.

Bullies don’t die; they are the hissing saboteurs

that live long on the shoulders of the bullied. I know

I wonder about that old mattresses full of dirty secrets

from the musty storage area under the auditorium stage?

 

What about the science labs? All those electrical outlets?

To be used in the bedrooms maybe?

 

And the principal’s office? Those silent walls painted in a white

sadness faded gray with by the

hollow projections of success. And the chairs

just outside – chairs that held the scared &

waiting and the tears of the kid who solved

her problems with her fists, whose father

would do the same.

Ahh, those weighted 10 minutes felt an

unmerciful hour of despair – many times.

 What about the guidance office – off course for sure –

 sailing past abridged horizons of the disadvantaged

 rich and poor. The test scores that tell too little locked

 away from any potential help.

 

What about the cafeteria; that battlefield of emotion

all watched over by bullets and targets.

Fear palpable, quaking food trays

passing the cool tables. Hip A&F, Gap,

& old navy, establishing beachheads

waiting for dispatches from the

cute banana republics

shielding frightened dictators

in well-decorated spider holes.

 

And the gymnasium with its polished hardwood that

felt like stone when struck by the head.

What about the janitor who cleaned that

hardwood of blood that gushed

from your wound? Did he harbor sympathy

for you? For your victimhood? Or did he give

that imperceptible nod to an abuser’s covenant?

 

And what about the locker rooms and the gym

teacher who waved, back and forth, a

yardstick through your new Afro laughing

derisively in spite of her over-pressed &

outdated hairstyle?

 

And remember your heart breaking with all the pain

of a truth  that couldn’t be spoken.

 

On Sunday, there will be an open house at the old

junior high school that has been converted into

luxury apartments.

No need to go. I’ve seen it all before.

A Country For No Child

Jaime Kalenga, whose mother died in labor, suffers from malnutrition and tuberculosis. Credit Nicholas Kristof/The New York Times
Jaime Kalenga, whose mother died in labor, suffers from malnutrition and tuberculosis. Credit Nicholas Kristof/The New York Times

There is a country rich in diamonds,

Oil and foreign sports cars

I know this – having read it in

The Times

This is a country in which one child

In six will die before the age of five

Says The Times’ Kristof

But I live in a country that cares

About children – Some of us

Care so much we call authorities

On parents whose children walk

Home from the park – alone

Keeping our children absurdly safe

Ignoring the Angolan mother holding

The “twig limbs,” swollen belly, wizened face

Of the near carcass that is her child

She’s waiting for care from the few who do

Those people who come from far off places to nurse and

Heal everyone’s children

Those people who know that diamonds

Are friend to no one

The people who recognize

The diamond’s sparkle

Being stolen everyday

From the eyes of babies

Leaving in its place a

Haunted spectacle, skeletal frame

Held together in wrinkled brown

Wrappings of skin

THE LIFE LIMITED

train head-on

Not the express

The one gladly missed

Dawdling on life’s platform

Counting cars

Windows flashing light

Quick, dark faces inert

Blank stare ahead

Glimpsing the gold

Coins of paradise

Gone too soon

We, unhurried & unnoticed

Age and wisdom

In separate cars

On that same track

Tearing through

A landscape of

Scattered grace

THE MUSEUM OF LOVE AND UNDERSTANDING

red door

Where we keep our humanity

Hermetically sealed

And in the future they will come

Down long google-glassed tunnels

To collect artifacts

Heartless facts from

Our artless landmarks

Blind to the act:

Giving succor to the enemy

Night on the battlefield when mountains

Of hatred became mere

Mounds over which we stumbled with gifts

The weight of humanity too great

Too heavy for the light of day

A light used to make way for

The resumption of war

GO THERE!

%22A View in Piagentina (Una veduta in Piagentina) 1863

We live so long – hopefully long enough

To know life is enough

All we should want

The rest is fearing
The opinions of others

We are old enough to resist
The urge

Know there is great pleasure in GO!
It is not the There
But the trip

The memories will come years later (if at all)
With its uneven ruler
To defend life’s
Crooked calculus

THE POLITICS OF EBOLA: GOD’S PLAN, AND I TOLD YOU SO

ebola

Last week I was stunned by the unkind comment of the stranger next to me as we filled a container with donated cans of soup at the local food bank. The comment came after a polite discussion that almost lulled me into dangerous camaraderie with this woman whose conversation segued from motherly pride in her daughter’s nursing career to her idea that Ebola is God’s punishment. “Whoa!” I put up my hand and responded with the usual; where was God when….(insert any historical scourge here). I pointed out Nazi Germany’s contribution to earthly scourges but, after a few days of contemplation, I know there is not much I could say to this woman and others like her who make their stabs at somatic immunity by volunteering in local food banks and presuming to know what God has in mind for believers and non-believers. And maybe my discomfort comes from my own questioning about a belief system that asks me to suspend belief in reality; a reality in which I live. The reality here is that Ebola is not new and as long as it stayed in some faraway land punishing others for being… well, the “other,” Ebola remained that terrible disease plaguing those sad people in that faraway land. Ebola is here, in our face, live and in living color (cue the hysteria).

We first-world (as opposed to third-world) inhabitants are quite predictable in our approach to life; we live our comfortable lives (some more comfortable than others) consumed with the daily familial and material concerns of the species. Oh, we read the headlines as we pass from one engagement to the next but no headline gets our attention like the local headline giving us the exact location and identity of the killer who has been knocking at our door for decades. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Ebola was first discovered in 1976 near the Ebola River in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In 1994 Richard Preston introduced a generation of readers to The Hot Zone: A Terrifying True Story, a non-fiction thriller that frightened even Steven King who, according to Wikipedia said the first chapter of The Hot Zone was “one of the most horrifying things I’ve read in my whole life. ” Preston’s book paints indelible images of people in the throes of hemorrhagic fevers and bursting vomit-bags of black bile on transatlantic flights. (After reading the Preston’s book in ’95 I have seriously changed my original position on monkeys as sweet and adorable pets). But Preston’s bestseller did not act as wake up call for the “free world”; shaking our collective shoulders and encouraging us to answer the door. No, it was not until the aftermath of the September 11th attacks, according to Slate.com, that serious research spending occurred at the behest of Dick Cheney whose fear of America’s vulnerability to attack by enemies using bioweapons (as if airplanes were not enough) prompted the Project Bioshield Act. And here is just another story from the file of tragic irony; were it not for the vicarious warriors – those men who fight wars with other people’s children – and their projection of retribution, we would be living with an even worse prognosis for survival.

It is Monday morning, our favorite team has lost the game leaving fans with nothing but hindsight to tell us that America has, once again, been caught deaf to the knocking of humanity. Had we listened to those doctors on the front lines fighting diseases (diseases that know no politics or religion) we wouldn’t be in this heightened state of terror. Had we studied the past, listened to our hearts, and reached out with all the atomic weight our country can muster (especially in times of war) to assist a world far less fortunate, we would not be at this intersection of moral chaos and panic. We allow the scourge of Ebola to continue by proclaiming it a part of “God’s” plan – a passive aggressive approach that did not work with the aids virus. As a country we need to read, reason, and understand. After reading the story of the Ebola virus in The Hot Zone we should have understood Preston’s terrifying conclusion: EBOV will be back. And so it has.

EVERY TEACHER PRAYS

cropped-kw-seminar-books.jpg

Every teacher prays

The Catholic, Protestant, non-Christian, Atheist …

Everyday, walking the classroom’s threshold  

We pray to be delivered from

The menace of caprice

In a land governed by misery

The only evidence of our existence

With nothing but a chalk

backbone for the onslaught

The gunfight

The fire

The explosion

The educational cataclysm

That will leave the classroom

Scattered in doom

Books, bodies and minds with

Words and dreams

Obliterated beyond recognition

 

   …pray for us teachers now

   and at the hour of our test,

 Ah women