History & Politics

What Kind of Times Are These

There's a place between two stands of trees where the grass grows uphill
and the old revolutionary road breaks off into shadows
near a meeting-house abandoned by the persecuted
who disappeared into those shadows.

I've walked there picking mushrooms at the edge of dread, but don't be fooled
this isn't a Russian poem, this is not somewhere else but here,
our country moving closer to its own truth and dread,
its own ways of making people disappear.

New York American Spell, 2001

I / omen

What was going on in the New York American
Black/red/green helmeted neon night?
The elevator door was closing behind us, we were the ones

Plunging floor after floor after floor after floor
To the abyss — but it was someone else’ s face
Staring from the screen out at us, someone else’ s face

Saying something flashing from the teleprompter:
Though what the face said was meant to reassure,
Down in the abyss the footage kept playing,

KM4

1/ THE MOUTH

Not English Somali Italian French the mouth
blown open in the Toyota battle wagon at KM4
speaks in a language never heard before.

Not the Absolute Speaker of the News,
not crisis chatter's famine/flame,
the mouth blown open at KM4
speaks in a language never heard before.

Speaks back to the dead at KM4,
old men in macawis, beards dyed with henna,
the women wearing blue jeans under black chadors.

Easter, 1916Easter, 1916

I have met them at close of day
Coming with vivid faces
From counter or desk among grey
Eighteenth-century houses.
I have passed with a nod of the head
Or polite meaningless words,
Or have lingered awhile and said
Polite meaningless words,
And thought before I had done
Of a mocking tale or a gibe
To please a companion

Blood on the WheelBlood on the Wheel

Blood on the night soil man en route to the country prison
Blood on the sullen chair, the one that holds you with its pleasure

Blood inside the quartz, the beauty watch, the eye of the guard
Blood on the slope of names & the tattoos hidden

Blood on the Virgin, behind the veils,
Behind — in the moon angel's gold oracle hair

What blood is this, is it the blood of the worker rat?
Is it the blood of the clone governor, the city maid?
Why does it course in s's & z's?

TonightTonight

Where are you now? Who lies beneath your spell tonight?
Whom else from rapture’ s road will you expel tonight?

Those “Fabrics of Cashmere — ” “to make Me beautiful — ”
“Trinket” — to gem — “Me to adorn — How tell” — tonight?

I beg for haven: Prisons, let open your gates —
A refugee from Belief seeks a cell tonight.

God’ s vintage loneliness has turned to vinegar —
All the archangels — their wings frozen — fell tonight.

Lord, cried out the idols, Don’ t let us be broken;
Only we can convert the infidel tonight.

Dan Emmett Writes “Dixie,” 1859

He started with the tune his mother had hummed
in Ohio, nostalgia he’ d carried for years,
and by Sunday afternoon he had the words.
A triumph, already; he whistled the banjo’ s part.

(Himself a sympathizer from the North,
called copperhead, called traitor by his own kin.)

Something lively, some git-up-and-git they’ d wanted
and didn’ t he deliver —
Miss Susan got seven encores the first night.
That gave them their tune, their Negro walk-around —

A Panic That Can Still Come Upon Me

If today and today I am calling aloud

If I break into pieces of glitter on asphalt
bits of sun, the din

if tires whine on wet pavement
everything humming

If we find we are still in motion
and have arrived in Zeno’ s thought, like

if sunshine hits marble and the sea lights up
we might know we were loved, are loved
if flames and harvest, the enchanted plain

If our wishes are met with dirt
and thyme, thistle, oil,
heirloom, and basil

or the end result is worry, chaos
and if “I should know better”

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