Por un Futuro Mejor

Archbishop Óscar Romero’s birthday was last week. My family marked the date with a trip to a pupusería for dinner, something I know some other friends were doing a couple time zones away. I know that the Catholic church is in the process of beatifying him, which I think is maybe how you become a saint. No longer a believer myself, I’m only glad that I was able to pray at Romero’s tomb while in El Salvador in 2002.

Americans would do well to understand that our current refugee crisis with unaccompanied Central American minors has everything to do with the atrocities against which Romero bravely preached and U.S. involvement in those atrocities.

Por un Futuro Mejor

When asked about the war
Miguel lifts his shirt to show
a tangle of scars from
a homemade bomb.

Imagine Miguel in conflict outside
el Museo de la Revolución Salvadoreña,
tracing the lines on his stomach,
which is now so uneasy.

A neighborhood of sadness and struggle,
como la linea.

La Linea where he makes his home,
a sprawling slum from San Martín
to Soyapango and beyond,
a sea of shacks on a decommisioned rail line.

Miguel remembers it wasn’t always this way.
He tells a story of a boy he grew up with
who lost his legs to a speeding train.

“The existence of poverty as a lack
of what is necessary
is an indictment.”

Miguel never heard the Archbishop’s words
broadcast on rebel radio
while fighting on the other side,
but he can’t get them out of his head.

Imagine me in Morazán
outside that same museum.
Me and Miguel and Monterrosa’s ghost
and a myriad of unanswerable questions
about life and death, wealth and without
and history’s immutable thirst for blood.

Ferguson

Ferguson

I saw Dunbar’s Mask in reverse:
black journalists don’t choose the news
anymore than the rest of us.

A straight face can be hard to come by
when talking about black protesters,
majority-white police departments,
and efforts at community relations.

He imagined the press bulletin:
Terribly sorry about how we reacted
to how you reacted
when we shot and killed that kid.

This is not a justification.
I believe in stoicism
where the news is concerned.

But let’s give the newsman his due.
He kept it together until he couldn’t,
till it started to crust and sugar over.

And there, nearly imperceptible
at the corners of his mouth,
glass breaking in the night.

 

Sanford Florida Public Works

Sanford Florida Public Works

They’re ripping up the sidewalks,
Cardinal calls drowned out
By jackhammers, bobcats.

You can’t weaponize a sidewalk
That isn’t there.
No more crime scene photographs,
no more guns discharged.

This is a peaceful place –
And don’t we all deserve
Some peaceful ground
To stand on?

Soft and grassy,
Surrounded by gates
A worn path in place of pavers.

A word of caution:

This is our life.
People not from around here
Who make us so afraid
That we go towards them
Instead of away –

They don’t get a warning shot
This isn’t Tallahassee,
This is a peaceful place
Where we do what needs doing.

Bring on the jackhammers:
We’ll walk on the grass
If we have to.

I AM FONG LEE

I AM FONG LEE

Animate an arrow on a map.
Imbued with all of the cultural sensitivity
of an Indiana Jones movie.

Launch in lush Laotian jungle,
cross continents and seas,
and split
like the forked tongue
of a serpent,
or a dragon,
upon reaching the Mississippi.

One end lands in Minneapolis,
calls itself Fong Lee,
and falls, one weekend
outside an elementary school
on the beleaguered North Side.

No saint, this Fong Lee,
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.

When shot eight times.

And a gun recovered later
has no prints,
no bullets fired.
Official reports attribute it
to the late Fong Lee.

The arrow’s other end
lands in Saint Paul,
on my roster.
This Fong Lee is quiet,
yet alive.

His shirt reads “I AM FONG LEE”

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 moniker
and migratory history
was killed by cops
not fifteen miles away.

Indiana Jones only had snakes
and caricatures of Nazis
to contend with.
This shit is for real.

An animated arrow splits in two,
dead ends,
but cannot retract.
It must remain,
A red stain on a map. 

New poem after long hiatus… first draft… crowdsource workshop!

HCP

This poem sets up on the floor
no pretense, no bullshit
preferring a basement, 
eye level.

The secret handshake anyone can learn,
this poem is not interested
in selling
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

Right

Before

The

Mosh

Part

Took

You

In

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.

The Texas GOP Weighs in on Higher Order Thinking Skills

This is based on the Texas Republican Party’s 2012 Platform, excerpts from which you can read here

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.

New Guy’s Villanelle

I like writing poetry much more when I have a prescribed form to follow, so I’ve been playing with different forms lately.  This may or may not be the first villanelle I’ve ever written.  My wife and I are expecting our first child, a son, in May.  This one’s for New Guy.

NEW GUY’S VILLANELLE

We will give you all that we are able
though so much is left outside of our control.
Soon you’ll take your own seat at the table.

We both know that soon this very day will
fall to memory, etchings on a scroll.
We will give you all that we are able.

Giving hope: for other days to wait till,
not knowing what they’ll overlap or hold.
Soon you’ll take your own seat at the table.

We know not how long your lungs will stay filled
or what you’ll say about us when you’re old;
we will give you all that we are able.

I imagine something brimming, something stable,
something glowing with an ember never cold…
soon you’ll take your own seat at the table

We can’t wait to meet you, let’s just say we’ll
never be the same (or so we’re told).
We will give you all that we are able –
soon you’ll have your own seat at the table

Sickbed Sestina

I believe that this is the first sestina I’ve ever written, and, I have discovered since, not a true sestina. Oh well. The end result is maybe a bit overly philosophical and plodding, but the process was pretty fun. Common and Very Common Nouns courtesy of Random Word Generator.

SICKBED SESTINA

What does a half-filled glass of water represent?
What trite and useless lesson might it teach?
And can such aphorisms save a man
or woman’s beating shipwrecked heart enough
to buoy it toward something more complex?
Can mystery and meaning join with plot?

Those who’ve read the ending, know the plot,
and can decode what symbols represent,
(the ones that are straightforward, not too complex)
and these we might well count upon to teach
us something – not quite all but quite enough
about the heart of woman and of man.

And who am I in all of this? A man
who ruminating on it hatched a plot
to etch the glass’s midpoint just enough
that drinkers decide what drops do represent
and maybe then they’ll all decide to teach
lessons arid, waterlogged, complex.

For is life empty? Full? A complex
of organisms making up a man
or woman waiting for the thing to teach
or data points that we forgot to plot?
Hold the film up to the light and represent
it in reverse and see if it’s enough.

Tip the water over, then we’ll teach
the lesson of having had more than enough
of forced compliance with a placid plot
of fearing the blurred edges and complex
paradoxes intrinsic in each man
and woman with all they represent.

This man hopes to muddle through a plot
at once complex and never quite enough
to represent what he could never teach.

 

 

 

 

 

Northern Poems

A photograph of a lake with trees.

Image via Wikipedia

I’ve been sitting on this Word document for the better part of a year, maybe even more, called Northern Poems.doc.  The idea, if I remember correctly, was to try to capture in verse something of the idea of Minnesota, whatever that is.  I think, to be honest, that it wasn’t even Minnesota, necessarily, but that thing that we in the Twin Cities call “Up North.”  It’s a funny thing, really; if you look at a map of Minnesota, you’ll see that the Minneapolis/Saint Paul metropolitan area is located in the East-Central part of the state, and maybe even hovering just a little bit south of that designation.  That means that places like Hinckley or Lake Mille Lacs become “Up North,” despite their considerable distance from what might be called Northern Minnesota.

Geographical innacuracies aside, there is something kind of wonderful about getting out of the city and pushing into that part of the state that is not prairie but woods and lakes.

I remember reading Tony Glover‘s liner notes on the Jayhawks’ 1995 masterpiece Tomorrow the Green Grass something along the lines of “these songs are Minnesota” (if anybody can provide a link to these online I’d be grateful), and it changed the way that I listened to that record, which, for what it’s worth, is still one of my favorite albums ever.

I don’t expect these poems to gain such wide popularity and/or endurance, and I’m actually fairly insecure about my poetic dexterity, but even so, I offer these Northern Poems.

As a final note, the irony in these poems is that they seem to celebrate a certain warmer something than the seven degree temperature that’s here today (which is to say nothing of the windchill, of course…).  I think fellow Minnesotans will agree that we endure winter in order that we might be able to breathe in the more temporal beauty of our state’s more temperate months.

* * *
Promise

There is a juniper berry
between your thumb and forefinger
And birchbark in your voice.
I will build us a canoe.
Your laugh will be the oars,
Stirring up the depths
As we make our way.

In time this lake will freeze,
The snow upon its surface
Crunching under heavy boots.
At these temperatures,
No one questions the integrity of ice.

We will walk without purpose for a while,
And you will lay in the snow,
Arms and legs working together
To make a snow angel,
And your laugh will echo across the granite.♦

Crepuscular

The air is wet and full of pine.
A tawny miracle stirs not twenty feet away.
Eyes meet, a question mark against birch and fir,
Answer: hooves push off for safety.♦
Resorting

The lake dark and shimmery,
Sky reddening as the sun
Says, “this is all you get,
But not all there is.
Also: this is spectacular.”
We stand silently, a vigil
To its departure, emptying
As it goes.

You say, “well,
Should be getting back,”
And a spell that stretched
From the eastern shore of Elbow Lake
To a distant spot below the earth
Snaps, component parts
Lighting up the night like fireflies.

I say nothing, and we walk slowly
The worn path to the cabin.
“This is everything,” I say,
Hoping to stretch something.
The air is sweet with wildflowers, and
You laugh your laugh,
Which I also have to tell you is everything,
Say, “it is?” and kiss me under the porch light.♦

New Morning Poem

Astringent air blows in with morning,
Wet sand like witch hazel.
My breath lingers just there,
In the space between the workweek and a sunrise,
And in the distance, a loon.
In another second, both will disappear.♦

Marking Time

When the last of the whiskey is gone,
Secrets buried in the yard
Roll over to get comfortable.
You rub your bleary eyes,
View the world through ragged pouches,
And listen to the crickets.
A million little metronomes,
Keeping pace of life up here,
Restless legs more symphony than syndrome.

Sloshing spirits can’t bring him back
Forty-five years on,
But the crickets, tiny and dependable,
On the smell of the tall, wet, grass
Fold time in on itself.

On the long walk back from the ballfield,
He strutted in the road, just next to the shoulder,
Tony Oliva will be Rookie of the Year.”
You, younger, afraid, dependent,
Straddled the seam between pavement and dirt,
Kicking a rock that you found by the park,
Trusted he was right.

Headlights now, and you want to yell “look out,”
To grab his waist, to pull him near you,
But he is gone, and they fall across the kitchen,
A million pieces of glass, future sands,
Upon which tomorrow’s insects scurry.♦

Vermilion

This island pulls radio
From Hibbing,
Some nights as far away
As the Cities,
North to International Falls,
Atikoken.
Those clear nights,
You sit with CBC
Radio One
On your grandpa’s old transistor
Pale ale and a map
That came with the cabin.

How easy it seems,
Those clear nights,
To pack up the truck
And drift north,
Slipping undetected
Into a foreign land
The way radio floats
On the wind.

How many gas tanks,
How many portages
To Winnipegosis?
Or in the other direction
To the great Hudson Bay,
To the sea?

Greenland and Iceland
Become mere stones,
Breaking laws of physics,
Skipping across the surface
Of the sea
En route to Edinburgh,
To Ireland.

Grandpa’s transistor,
A six pack of beer
And a map,
And you’ve traveled the world
From a cramped lakeside room
That smells of mildew.♦

Out

Amidst moss and wet leaves,
Little room for worry.
There’s the smell of the earth:
No small comfort.

Soil in the fingernails
Signals a day spent well.
The dock your father built,
Forgotten paperback
Left behind years ago,
Both weathered now.

Maybe it’s holy here,
Wooded sanctuary.
Amidst moss and wet leaves,
Holy moments.♦