The problem with writing poetry, it seems, on a website such as this, is that WordPress can’t be bothered to keep my linebreaks in my poems, and I can’t be bothered to learn to code anything, so we’re at a real impasse here. This blog is due for an overhaul anyway, so look for a new iteration in the coming weeks, possibly hosted elsewhere.
(early draft – feedback is encouraged)
I AM FONG LEE
Animate an arrow on a map.
Imbued with all of the cultural sensitivity
Of an Indiana Jones movie.
Begin in lush Laotian jungle,
Cross continents and seas,
Like the forked tongue
Of a serpent
Or a dragon,
upon reaching the Mississippi.
One end lands in Minneapolis,
Calls itself Fong Lee,
Outside an elementary school
On the nefarious North Side.
No saint, this Fong Lee,
Some say, or maybe he was,
Or maybe it doesn’t matter,
When chased on a bike
By cops in a squad car.
When rammed, run down,
When running like hell isn’t enough.
And a gun recovered later
Has no prints,
No bullets fired,
But is anyway attributed to you:
The arrow’s other end
Lands in Saint Paul,
On my roster.
This Fong Lee is quiet,
But, at least, alive.
His shirt reads “I AM FONG LEE”
Comedy and tragedy,
Poetry and politics,
Shakespeare and Espada,
And who knows if Fong
Has read either man’s work?
This one gets the joke
Because he tells it,
But forgive his lack of laughter:
There’s nothing funny
About having to know
That some kid with your name
And migratory history
Was killed by cops
Not fifteen miles away.
Indiana Jones only had to contend
And charicatures of Nazis.
This shit is for real.
And so, an arrow splits in two,
But cannot retract.
It must remain,
A red stain on a map.
Below is the first poem I’ve written in nearly a year, largely because of the duties of teaching and parenting, both of which I love to death and both of which demand a great deal of time of a guy. As it’s been a long time, and I have always thought of myself as an outsider poet at best, I’d like to offer this first draft up to whoever is out there on the other end as an opportunity for critiquing and workshop. Please, don’t be shy, and comment wildly below.
This poem sets up on the floor
No pretense, no bullshit
Preferring a basement,
The secret handshake anyone can learn,
This poem is not interested
Or in being sold.
It is the lyric sheet passed out
At the outset,
Because the words fucking matter,
A butterfly pressed in your pocket.
This poem is the moment there by the water heater
That you realized both your privilege and your potential
These are loud stanzas, and, okay,
A little abrasive,
But they know that’s not enough.
They are also starry-eyed,
And why not?
Nothing good ever came
Out of anything that wasn’t.
This isn’t the most lyrical poem I’ve ever written, that’s for sure, but as the debate about Voter ID rages on (it’s on the ballot as a constitutional amendment in MN this year), I wanted to get at what I think the real problem is: racism. Communities of color came out for Barack Obama in record numbers in 2008, and I think that there are some who would cynically move to do whatever they can to prevent a repeat of this in 2012, making those same communities pawns, once again, in a game they didn’t consent to playing. Like a lot of racism, this is of the unexamined variety — voter ID advocates would never make the connection between redlining and the proposed amendment (after all, it isn’t Obama’s skin color they don’t like, just his politics, and I have to say that I believe their sincerity in this) yet there it is, an attempt to further disenfranchise groups of people based on skin color and a socioeconomic status that is directly linked to policies of the past (e.g. redlining). This kind of historical amnesia is very dangerous for our country.
We’re standing on maps left behind by our grandfathers,
Covered in red lines and promises of financial solvency.
We’re the architects of a grand plan all our own.
We’ll make a man out of straw and call him voter fraud.
Ask him for identification – what’s the harm in that?
If he doesn’t have it, we deny the vote,
Light him up as an example to others.
Use the maps to get it going –
We don’t need them anymore.
Behold, arms outstretched in supplication,
A burning beacon in the night,
A cross to light the way.
These are times of values.
Of course, that’s far too scathing a critique.
After all, we were very careful not to identify
Those most likely not to have identification.
We never said anything
Or skin color,
Or people groups voting in record numbers,
Electing the country’s first black president,
By a landslide.
That’s not what this is about.
We just want to make sure we know who you are.
What’s the harm in that?
Blog Exclusive just means that, being a sort of amateur poet (at best — the “Sickbed Sestina” featured elsewhere on this blog is six lines short of being a true sestina, evidence of how sick I must have really been, I guess), I didn’t bother to try to submit this anywhere. Of course, as with anything else on this blog, if someone wanted to come along and offer me some money to reprint something, that’s a conversation I’d be willing to entertain. So desperate sounding! Anyway, the poem. It is based on the Texas Republican Party’s 2012 Platform, excerpts from which you can read here. If you don’t like the poem, just hang in there: it rhymes at the end.
The Texas GOP Weighs in on Higher Order Thinking Skills
A magician (or a fancy waiter with a lot of flair)
Yanks a tablecloth in one fluid motion.
Audiences gasp, convinced
The silver and china will be casualties
Of this man’s caprice.
But that’s not the trick,
And our man is to be commended–
Everything remains in place just so,
Only a little lower.
I am neither waiter nor magician,
But a teacher; even so,
I take no joy in having to explain
The more obvious metaphors.
So ponder, please, (though of course not critically);
I’ll cut to the candid:
“Challenging the student’s fixed beliefs”
is my life’s calling,
Not because I don’t respect them,
But because I think that someone should.
I am a teacher, and this is what I do.
Oppose this work,
And I am a revolutionary, too.