Poetry 2

Additional Poems In English

From the WHY DON’T AMERICANS LOVE AMERICANS Series

1. Whisper

And it came to pass, that, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb.

1.

It’s not important, whether it was whole, broken, or never more than a whisper,
The question is: Was he or she loved?

The journey takes her into a Brothers Grimm Forest
To a clinic disguised as a cottage made of cake
But once inside no babe will jump for joy at the prospect
Of a belly full of sugar.
There, a life is not measured as a whole,
Not measured in a lifetime
But in weeks, months, trimesters.
Certain death in the most fragrant bower.

The whisper’s fate is no secret.
Inside the womb waits Atropos.
Can a whisper feel pain?
Can a whisper die?
That which cannot be born
Cannot die.
What exactly was that thing inside her?
A whisper is not a howling
But howling follows a whisper.

2.

The only lies that hurt us are those we tell ourselves.

Abortion is a game of ring-around-the-rosy
—one trimester, two trimesters, three trimesters,
We all fall down.

Pro-Choice. Pro-Life.
Let the Devil throw the dice.

Count Choice on one hand:
Early Medication.
Vacuum Aspiration.
Dilation and Evacuation.
Labor Induction.
Hysterectomy.
All fall down.

Pro-Choice. Pro-Life.
Let the Devil throw the dice.

A woman’s body is a miracle.
Until it is no such thing and the life
Inside her was not a life at all.
At most a kind of a life.
Say, a whisper of a life.
This most sacred revelation of all human endeavors
Is only a whisper.
One cannot harm a whisper.

As a practical matter, and we are if nothing else,
A practical people.
No one present heard a thing.
Not so much as a whisper.
And if one curious, indistinct sound was heard,
God knows, whatever was heard wasn’t a whisper.
Wind perhaps, or a snap of gingerbread.

It’s not important, whether it was whole, broken, or never more than a whisper,
The question is: Was he or she was loved?


2. Active Shooter

Remember the Alamo.

He was, they say, broken, but was he loved?

I tell you, there is not one unnecessary death in America.
Everything works as a whole and everything is necessary.
Everything good has a twin that is evil.
The United States would not be the United States
Without the requisite number of murdered men,
Women and children.
We were always a nation of children playing cowboys and Indians
Cops and robbers.

Bang, bang, you’re dead.

America is the world’s glorious store of excess.
That is our reason for being.
Excess, our gift to our neighbors.
Excess, glorious excess is our gift to the world.
Every generation of Americans is obliged to exceed—
Whether across the Great Plains, in Europe, Vietnam,
In Iraq, Afghanistan, or in an invisible little town in Texas. 

Could that broken kid have done what he did without firearms?
Of course not.
But America needs him just as he is.
The NEA and AFT and The Universal Music Group,
Goldman Sachs, The Sierra Club, and the Sinaloa Cartel need him.
Rockstar Games needs him, and, if he survives being a Rockstar,
The Pentagon will take him.

Every stop on Route 66 from “sea to shining sea” needs him.
Even the flight path between Los Angeles and New York and
The angelic Gulf Stream jets that slide over flyover states
And far and beyond their dying cities need him.

2.

Bang, bang, you’re dead.

He was, they say, broken, but was he loved?

Demonic souls who commit unspeakable crimes are our broken children.
And we must love them as much as we love our children romping in
Martha’s Vineyard, East Hampton, and Malibu.
We must go out of our way to love them
In Camden, New Jersey, Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
And, yes, even dusty, sorry Uvalde.

We have to love our broken boys and girls.
We have to cover their faces with kisses.
They are all our children.
Even the homicidal ones, because in their hearts
They all want to be Tom Sawyer.

That curious sound at midnight all over America?
Are the moans of all the mothers and fathers who cry themselves to sleep.
All the melancholy mothers and fathers who know their broken children
Won’t wake to the smell of sizzling bacon and two eggs,
Served sunny side up.

The New York Times lies after every incident, its editors
Lie to themselves, the better to lie to you.
Big lies. White lies. Black lies.
I tell you, there is not one too many pistols in the hands of children.
Nor is there a shadow-dwelling animal stamped AK47.
Not one more prowling in Uvalde than in the City of Brotherly Love,
A city bursting with broken children.

I tell you there is not one unnecessary death in America.
Everything works as a whole and everything is necessary.
Everything good has a twin that is evil.
The United States would not be the United States
Without the requisite number of murders. 

He was, they say, broken, but was he loved?


3. Greta Thunberg

1.

The Children’s Crusade

She was, they say, broken, but was she loved?

Was mostly the concern of those who worked
With two hands and a backbone—farmers and those who toiled
Outside The Air-Conditioned Nightmare.

Climate, which once resided like the old gods
In the heavens, has come down to earth
To turn forests to matchsticks and cities into ovens.

I tell you, the sky is not falling, but she says the crack of thunder
Here, and 100-year flood there, are signs of the long-prayed-for apocalypse.
Not even sweet Antarctica, the earth’s bluest work, is safe.
No fieldmouse, no elephant left, not even the petting zoo.

We were warned when she screeched:
“You stole my childhood”
While skipping over fair seas and following winds.

Good God, everything that built strong bodies in 12 ways is guilty.
Wonder Bread stole her childhood, even Ivory soap stole her
childhood. The humble baseball?
Catch it, it’s a thief.

A new orthodoxy would have us throw out the baby with the bathwater
Because five billion superfluous mothers collaborated with King
coal, global finance, and the shimmering princes and princesses of Silicon Valley.

We ruined everything, and now everything must be built from scratch.
Rebuilt by Greta and her Children’s Crusade.
By children reared, but never imagined, by Tolkien or Lewis or Disney
Or by the horned beasts on Sesame Street.

I tell you, the sky is not falling.

Children who have never changed a tire will raise on our ruins a utopia.
Route 66 is dead.
There will not be ice cream for everyone.

2.

Red Rover, Red Rover, Send Greta On Over

Could that broken kid have done what she did
Without The New York Times collecting her tears
In a crystal vial?
Without sentimental American lords and ladies of mammon
Who weep at the thought of trailer parks and their occupants
Blown off the face of the earth.

Without Hollywood producers and their twinkling stars
Feverishly writing checks
To save every African made of dust and bone
Fleeing to the U.S. for a glass of lemonade or to Italy
For a flute of Prosecco.

She was, they say, broken, but was she loved?

The global sibyl, her scrunched little face so Aryan
Goebbels would have put it on a Nazi postage stamp.
I tell you, the sky is not falling, but she says this crack of thunder
Here, and that 100-year flood there, are signs of the coming global Dust Bowl.
A shake-and-bake world, where not even sweet Antarctica
The earth’s bluest work,
Is safe.

Those who worship at her Temple will not be spared
Their future, too, only darkening skies, a cruel impetuous sun
Spitting jellied gasoline.
Malibu parched as the Horn of Africa.
New York City under ten or twenty feet of water.
There will be no place for buffalo to roam.

“Put the pedal to the metal,” and you are guilty.
Shout out “Dinner’s ready,” and you’re guilty.
Whisper into your lover’s ear, “Throw caution to the wind”
And you’re guilty.
You’re already guilty if you haven’t taken the Dutch Way Out.

I tell you, the sky is not falling.

Children who have never changed a tire will build on our ruins a utopia.
Route 66 is dead.There will not be ice cream for everyone.

She was, they say, broken, but was she loved?

DONALD SAWYER’S DEAD OR THE LAST OF THE GRAY FLANNELED MEN

Buffalo Bill’s defunct
e.e. cummings

Donald Sawyer’s dead.
Who used to stay at the Hilton, Sheraton, Palace, Plaza, St. Regis
And ate at the Palm, Sparks, Gallagher’s, 21 Club and The Four Seasons.
Who wore worsted, twill and gabardine in solids
Pinstripes, glen plaid and herring bone.

The man liked blondes, brunettes and redheads
Tall slender church-going women
Exotic voluptuaries who charged by the hour.
Housewife, coed, salesgirl, brand manager
Chic or raw, it was all the same to him.

He dreamed and kept his dreams to himself.

The man worked, built, gambled, won, lost, began again
And again made it and again threw it away.
He sang for his supper, picked a few pockets
Boasted, bragged, betrayed, and betrayed
In the end, alone, paid the devil his due.

Donald Sawyer’s dead
Who walked in Church’s, Florsheim, Gucci and Bally
Who flew on PanAm, Delta, American and United
And drove a red Triumph, a black
Lincoln, a white Mercedes, and when I saw him last.
A borrowed sapphire Jaguar.

He dreamed and kept his dreams to himself.


ENAMELED TWILIGHT

This place, so real, it appears artificial
Like the painted backdrop
Of some Technicolor musical
Where real was simply not good enough.
Here too are colors too true —
Blue without a drop
Of anything that isn't blue.

The sky, sapphire
And the gently rolling spaces
Enameled with a hard ice shell
The blue of a weak gas flame.

And these trees too are blue.
Bereft of song and sway
They tremble against a transparent sky
Like hands reaching for a moment
More of life.

The park's enameled.
Above it, nothing flies,
Across it, nothing moves
Except for this polished ribboned path
And my own darting brown eyes.


IN A CHURCH BY CHANCE

I am so tired of being observed
Of holding my tongue
And hiding my nakedness.

I’ve seen enough.
I’ve heard enough.
I’ve endured too much.

But, before I go, tell me.
Why are bright objects
Never bright enough?


LEGACY
For Murray Schneiderman

We die with empty hands
That was your final lesson.

You might have taught:
We live with empty hands.
But that would have been too abstract
A gesture. Instead,

You promised me every bright object, everything
Sweet, everything ripe, but left nothing
Having lost everything
You accumulated over 80-odd years.

Love was your excuse to hide the truth
That we expand, contract, and in the end
Have nothing to show for our pain
But our pain.

Now, a year after your death,
I am no closer to understanding how things are lost
Or why it is necessary
We must lose them.


MOON FROM THE CORNER OF CHARLTON AND 6TH AVENUE, SEPTEMBER 19, 2002
For Charlotte Barnard

Ladies and Gentlemen, I direct your attention overhead.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I present to you a marvel.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you your moon.

Are there no taker?
No one among you who will steal a glance.
Ladies and Gentlemen I implore you.

What has she done to be so reviled?
This spent coin.
Shorn collaborator.
Empty promise.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I offer for your pleasure
Ladies and Gentlemen, step right up and see for yourself
Ladies and Gentlemen, for one night only

This broken heart.
This downcast eye.
This frozen tear.

Ladies and Gentlemen, there’s nothing to fear.
Look into this blind mirror
And see yourself as you really are
More than a fragment but less than whole.


THE THREE GORGES OF THE YANGTZE RIVER

Dynasty after dynasty after dynasty
From Xia and Tang, through Mao and Yuan
Poets have praised these rocks
And the fierce river that made them.
But poets are lazy and avoid hard work.

To them rivers are metaphors
Wrecked ships and drowned fishermen are metaphors.
The tears of wives and mothers are beautiful.
Their desperate cries and screeches make a kind of music
Which in poems are frequently described as beautiful.

But from this point on there will be no music.
No more metaphors or, for that matter poets.
Qutang, Wuxia and Xiling will disappear
Behind the monstrous Three Gorges Damn.
And the water, for all its centuries of howling, will be calm.

“No music.” Perhaps I overstated my case.
Metaphors, like energy, won’t be destroyed or transformed.
As for beauty, we shouldn’t be surprised when poets find it
In displaced people, drowned villages, engineered landscapes.
After all, what possible use is there in suffering except to
To inspire words so full of feeling that they break into song.


FALLEN (On Broadway)

"I wish I understood the beauty
in leaves falling. To whom
are we beautiful
as we go?"
David Ignatow
From Three In Transition

Will I end up like him, oblivious to time and place
Furiously scratching at a small square of paper?
Better him than the woman squatting between parked cars.
Or like that tiny man, who having misplaced everything else,
Decided his shoes were dispensable too.

It's hard to be part of another's fall.
Fall is the only word for it.
Even from a distance it's unnerving. Isn't it?
And aren't we ashamed of our response to it?
How we wish they'd go away, bad dreams and all.

Still, it's hard to see so many falling.
Hard to imagine how anyone can be so alone
Here in a world that sings of little else but love.


FALLEN 2

A man on fire
A woman, shrunken as a dying cat
A child beating his arms like a bird
"Cockadoddledo."

They emerge like hornets from behind a wall.
Each one inhuman.
Each one more monstrous than the last.

I could say, “Isn't it just like a pageant?”
But we both know better than that.
Only a fool sees beauty in them.
Only a liar sings their praise.

Can a person really be transparent
Or a woman turn to stone?
When a people are exhausted
Anything is possible.
Watch as one man spontaneously combusts
While that woman blossoms into allegory.


GIRL IN A CHOCOLATE SHOP

She’s unhappy
And in a chocolate shop, too.
Of course
One shrugs.
Irony is pretty much the order of the day.
Still one wonders
Why?
A broken nail?
An impatient customer?
Or has she grown bored with chocolate
As one tires of too keen a lover.

She takes a length of ribbon, pulls it as long as her arm
She ties a bow.
I like to think that when she hands the box
She smiles.
Those expensive chocolates will make someone happy.
This girl could play Leporello
to some Don Giovanni
Certainly a reward waits in heaven for people
Who water a budding romance
Hasten a reconciliation.
I hope, she doesn’t end her day with a piece of toast
A bowl of condensed soup.

I watch her
Stretch
Another length of blue ribbon
Tie another bow.
Still unhappy.
Was another customer rude?
Who would blaspheme the Gods
By showing impatience in a chocolate shop?
Then again it’s possible
She’s grown to detest the scent of chocolate
As they say prostitutes tire of flesh.
Or is it simply that being trapped inside a candy store
Is too unbearable to endure
Like having your cake and eating it too.

(Ile Saint Louis, May 2004)


GOOD NIGHT

To find His light
I made my own dark.
Although I’d been assured
It was extinguished some time ago
I continue on.

I move through my dark
By touch, by smell, by instinct
By fear, by hurt, by doubt
By bruise, by cry, by blood.
I continue on.

The universe expands or contracts
Explodes or implodes
Its entirety contained on a black board
Marked by white scratches.
I continue on.

I am not discouraged that the sun sets
Or by that same treacherous sun’s return.
Light, dark, dark, light, neither illumines
Or conceals my way.
I continue on.


HOW I KNOW SHE'S COMING HOME                                                                      For Jodi Lister

Her apricot soap French milled and expensive
Is wrapped in violet tissue paper
And hidden in the medicine cabinet.
In the dish on the sink she left behind
A bar of Ivory.

Plain and substantial as a baseball
That's for me.
Five thousand miles away
And she does not want me to use her soap.

I unwrap it and hold it as carefully
As an antique netsuke. Its perfume
Rises like a summer morning
Reaching through a screen door.

When she's here I receive strict instruction
Not to use her creams, shampoos or powders.
Although I may touch any part of her body I please
Her beauty products are taboo.

Yesterday, it removed bus exhaust and sweat
Leaving her face soft and damp,
So when I kissed her it was like touching moss.

Today, I run water, make a lather and inhale.
Although it’s my face that looks back from the mirror
It is her scent that slips into the room
Like a secret hushed from the lips that held it.


WINTER WALK NO. 1, 1995

These trees, stripped bare.
I feel so embarrassed for them.
Is it because I also know what it’s like
To extend an empty hand?

Best New Poets 2007; 50 poems from emerging writers. Edited by Natasha Trethewey, Jeb Livinggood, series editor.

RASMdChoc

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