Monday, January 29, 2018

Weekend Poem


Something severed gets unexpectedly sliced.
It gets chopped off, dismembered
Fingers and toes you never meant to surrender
Meanings of words cannot suffice.
It’s an assault, an act of violence:
Battlefield woundings, factory accidents,
A sectioning into arbitrary parts

Wrong words convey meanings we never intend
We say it’s not you, it’s me
We say I’m so sorry
We say, this is the last goodbye
We say, I know we'll meet again
We say, time heals all wounds
But what we really mean is in the sound of a door slamming
A scalpel clanking against a stainless steel pan

We try not to sever in surgery.
A severing is a mistake, an injury.
In surgery we amputate through defined tissue planes.
We disarticulate between joints.
We extirpate bulky tumors shouldered up against critical vessels.
It's anatomic: skin, fat, fascia, strands of muscle.
Dissect, excise, it's therapeutic.
Cool, dispassionate, unfrantic.
But a sudden severing leaves you cold and pulsatile and pale
----a shivering

In the end, it makes no difference
Whichever word you use (sever or amputate)
You’re left with an permanent absence.
It’s gone
It won’t regenerate.
You just have to move on

But maybe I’m not ready to lose a piece of my whole
Maybe I’m not ready to lose you,
Lose my heart or lose my soul.
I know you never meant to do me harm.
But to see a missing arm
Is to see a lost past, a boxed future,
And a present reduced to an orderly line of rough black suture.

Maybe I’ll hold on to this rotting bit of flesh
This slowly sloughing limb
I’ll soon enough no longer possess.
Maybe I'll hold on to it, no matter how grim;
Though it sickens me, marks me, rends me unalterably changed,
The lingering stench of the perpetually estranged


Sunday, January 21, 2018

Weekend Poem

Winter Rest

Winter is for rest, for things to go slow
To sleep under a deep blanket of snow.
Winter drags on with ominous inactivity;
Maybe that is the natural state and not the other thing:
The exhaustion of productivity
The anxiety of generativity in spring.
To bud, to continuously bloom,
To cast color upon a half dark world shadowed in gloom.  

The old regal oaks stand bare, unadorned
Terminal branches veined against the gray sky.
Early morning I feel most alive:
Half awake, until the sharp burn of inhalation.
The simple act of breathing a privation.
My bed was a warm hearth
But here outside--- vulnerable, forlorn,
A gauzy sentimental notion stumbles forth:
To push up through the frozen ground,
To penetrate the slumbering crust---
Though the stem be reedy and unsound,
Though the flower be plain and hushed---
To unfold our arms to the world like fresh petals
Before we're all crushed by a multitude of oblivious devils


Sunday, January 14, 2018

Weekend Poem


Early November and the trees are all done.
Time to gather the leaves, let the dog run

Some wait too long---
Let the leaves lie, scattered across the lawn,
Clumped in corners
And up against walls---
Which the winter rains and sleet change
Into a heavy black sludge
You can’t rake.

Others start too early
When their lawns are first dappled orange, yellow and red,
Before the trees have emptied.
You wouldn’t start to clean the pans
Until everyone’s been fed---
You have to be patient.

I wait for a day when the sky lowers
And the trees stand like skeletons
In the dim gray afternoon, when the world seems domed,
Hemmed in and colorless.
I have blowers and tarps and rakes.
I make wide coned piles and drag them into the woods.
The hours elapse.
It’s hard work.
You have to wear gloves.

The lawn freshly revealed; a deep India green.
The blades of grass sweeping forward as if combed.
The geese fly overhead and the dusk descends,
With a weariness and ache in my bones.

But soon the harsh December winds howl down from the North.
Leaves from the woods are rustled from piles and blown,
Skirting across my lawn like skipping stones.
I see them from the window.
But it’s too cold now.  
Let them litter the dying green pastel;
You will never get them all.  


Weekend Poem

Full Moon Driving

The full moon while early driving.  
What if I could gaze longer?
Where my thoughts might wander.
Could it be so easy?
Could a full moon save me?
It’s off to the left
I’m not heading there, I confess.
Where we want to go, always repressed.

The tree line breaks over the next crest
But I don’t want to be late.
Daughter to school.
Follow the rules.
Rounds before clinic.
The moon through the black fingered branches
Looks scratched---
Strobed in my peripheral vision
Keep your eyes on the road…..

Just pull over.
Just pull over and stop.
Find a clear view,
Before your heart infarcts in the gray thin pallor.
Do it now, this small act of valor
Before the moon whittles away,
Shaved by time, all those passing days.

It's beautiful like this once---
One never knows for sure.
Bland spring is never too far.
The sun always burns away
The lovely residue of the smudged lunar scar


Saturday, January 6, 2018

Weekend Poem


We’ve ignored the dead tree in our front yard;
It leans right, it’s rotted.
Too many trees planted too close, roots thwarted,
Hollowed out, pocked and scarred.

Broken off branches dangle from sticked limbs
Halfway down,
Have yet to hit the ground.
Swaying in the winter winds

Like a lynching.
One strong gust before dawn
Becomes debris on the lawn
We gather in the morning.

Bark sheds like old paint chips.
Carpenter ants have bored their holes,
Trees with cored out souls,
Every spring wasps build a nest

This is the fruit of our toil,
Our indiscriminate sowings
Into barely buried rubble and rock, unfit for growing;
Seeds plugged into a thin veneer of scant soil

You’d never know by a cursory glance:
Landscaped lawns neon-greened by chemicals
The transient summer flash of annuals
In edged flower beds: postcard beautiful.

I wave at my neighbor across the street.
I don’t even know his name.
Silent diorama of the suburbs
Plays out every Wednesday,
We bring our garbage cans down to the curbs.

Ersatz Tudors and Georgian colonials
Set back from the streets.
Our Lexuses and Audi 6’s hidden in 3-car garages
Trapped in 4 year leases,
Half-hearted, half-ironic causes,
Ready with our sad, scripted testimonials.

But this is how we announce our arrival
Into an acceptable echelon.
Barberry bullying forth along regimented property lines
Of demarcation, tended by migrant crews of five.

And if not this?

Then you are the picked dandelion
The trampled crabgrass
The hauled away clippings from hedges
And the autumn detritus.
You are the man who
Sprinkles cheap mulch--- too sparse to hide
The parched dust beneath

One Sunday before church
I borrow a chainsaw and truncate the old birch---
Angled to control the fall.
But a stump remains, cannot be uprooted;
Just cover it over with leaves.
We kneel at our pews, nothing’s refuted,
No one really believes.

I partition the trunk into logs.
The branches are fragile;
They snap like a pretzel.
This is what passes for husbandry;
My arms abraded, sore,
But it feels good, like effortless flat jogs,
Something old and honest to have done before
Another Monday in a tie at the company.

This rotten wood,
This pile of decay,
Is good for a backyard bonfire.
Throw some old cardboard boxes on there
And the Evening Post.
Burn it all up.
Stack the kindling,
Light the pyre,
And don’t stand too close.


Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Thoughts and Prayers

Last month marked the five year anniversary of the shooting at Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut.  Newtown has become a word loaded with political implications.  Gun control, left vs right, state's rights, 2nd Amendment rights, NRA, concealed carry laws, assault rifles, semi-automatic, ammunition limits, etc etc.  Time passes and the word Newtown is sheared of any connection to real life events.  It becomes something abstract and conceptual, a nagging insolvable that one wearies of wrestling with and so we quietly put it to rest, close the lid, forget the events that gave meaning to the word.  We allow a word to function as a signifier for vague gauzy notions.  It stops being an actual place.  It loses its link with the living.  Newtown means tragic.  Newtown means aberrational horror.  Newtown means unpredictable and unpreventable.  Newtown is in the past. Newtown.  Newtown was.  Never again, we promise.  Remember Newtown.  Newtown was a thing that happened.  Newtown becomes a word one uses to signal one's political stance, a cultural projection, a transparent bravado. Newtown was a moment for collective outrage.  Newtown Newtown Newtown.

If you say a word over and over it starts to lose its function as language, as signifier of a particular meaning.  Newtown.  Look.  Newtown.  Say it again.  Say it one more time.  Mourn for Newtown.    A time when, all too briefly, we came together to express our thoughts and prayers for the victims. Millions of good intentions and earnest entreaties released into a quiet void by decent, hard working [patriotic Americans.

We say "thoughts and prayers" a lot now, in this age of social media and 24 hour news cycles.  This is how a modern man or woman communicates an identification with social norms.  With each new horror, whether mass shooting or terrorist attack, we post to Facebook or pin Tweets expressing our solidarity.  Look at me, we seem to be saying, look at me identifying with a collective moral outrage.  Look at me as I mark my spot on the moral continuum.  I am just as appalled as all of you.  But now is not the time for public debate, for a national reconsideration of current gun policy.  That would be tacky and gauche.  It is enough to express our thoughts and our prayers.  And those thoughts and prayers are cast into the ether like spells, like magical incantations that, deep down, we know do nothing at all.  Because for thousands and thousands of years, when we are afraid, when we feel utterly powerless to change anything, mankind has resorted to the transmission of thoughts and prayers.  Divine intervention and supplications.  When overcome with fear, when the darkness blots out all forms of light, we have always been an animal that bows its head and prays to be saved by abstract higher powers.

It is worth re-visiting what Newtown actually meant on a particular day.  To get beyond the abstractions and review the tangible actuality of a day in the life of America.  On December 14th, 2012 a disturbed young man killed his mother and then broke into Sandy Hook elementary school, the same school he had once attended as a child, and there proceeded to execute 20 children and 6 adults.  Before he could be apprehended he committed suicide by putting a bullet inside his own skull.  The children were all either 6 or 7 years old.  Some were hiding under desks or in bathrooms when murdered.  The carnage lasted about ten minutes.  Within ten minutes 20 children were dead.  These were not mythical deaths like Achilles or Hector or Iphigenia, mere stories to tell future generations, symbols of man's eternal unsolvability.  These were real live children, suddenly gone silent forever.  It's worth re-visiting these children.  Looking at them.  Remembering them not as abstractions but as sentient beings, as living flesh.

This was Daniel Barden:
This was Charlotte Bacon:
This was Noah Pozner:
This was Jack Pinto:
This was Jesse Lewis:
This was Grace McDonnell:
This was Jessica Rekos:
This was Ana Grace Marquez-Greene:
This was Madeleine Hsu:
This was Olivia Engel:
This was James Mattioli:
This was Chase Kowalski:
This was Catherine Hubbard:
This was Josephine Gay:
This was Emilie Parker:
This was Caroline Previdi:
This was Avielle Richman:
This was Ben Wheeler:
This was Allison Wyatt:
This was Dylan Hockley:

Others killed that day included Rachel D'Avino, Dawn Hochsprung, Anne Marie Murphy, Lauren Rousseau, Mary Sherlach, and Victoria Leigh Soto.

The perpetrator had arrived at the school with a .223 caliber Bushmaster XM-15 ES2 rifle, 10mm Glock 20SF semi-automatic handgun, and a 9mm SIG Sauer P226 handgun.  Within the span of 5-10 minutes he had squeezed off 156 rounds.

This is what a Bushmaster XM-15 semi-automatic rifle looks like:
It belonged to the shooter's mother.  It had been purchased legally.  All the paperwork was in order.  This was a legally owned, legitimately possessed semi-automatic firearm belonging to an American adult in a small city in random Connecticut.

Since then, 3 of the 5 deadliest mass shootings in American history have occurred.  In Sutherland Springs, 26 people were killed by a lone gunman who opened fire inside a small church with a semi-automatic AR-15 style rifle.  In Orlando, a lone gunman opened fire in a crowded nightclub wth a SIG Sauer MCX semi-automatic rifle and killed 49 people.  This past October, a lone shooter set up a sniper's perch in a Las Vegas hotel with an arsenal of weaponry and unleashed a hail of bullets on a crowd of people attending an outdoor country music concert, killing 58 and wounding over 500.

But those are just the mass shootings, an extraordinarily rare event.  The vast majority of firearms-related deaths are not mass shootings.  Most never make the front page of a local newspaper, let alone go viral on social media.  Firearms cause 30,000-35,000 deaths every year in the United States.  Two-thirds of these deaths are from self inflicted gunshot wounds.  Another 8,000-11,000 homicides are the direct result of firearms.

Compared to other wealthy developed countries, the United States is far and away the most violent country on earth in terms of firearms-related deaths.  There are also, surely a coincidence, more firearms per capita in America than any other country on earth.

A paper in the American Journal of Medicine from last March studied the epidemic of firearms-related deaths in the United States compared to other high-income OECD countries.  The data was rather chilling:
The United States has an enormous firearm problem compared with other high-income countries. Americans are 10 times more likely to die as a result of a firearm compared with residents of these other high-income countries. In the United States, the firearm homicide rate is 25 times higher, the firearm suicide rate is 8 times higher, and the unintentional gun death rate is more than 6 times higher. Of all firearm deaths in all these countries, more than 80% occur in the United States.
The United States has a serious homicide problem. The overall homicide rate in the United States is 7 times higher than in these other countries. Men in the United States are approximately 9 times more likely to be a homicide victim than their male counterparts in these other high-income countries, and women are 4 times more likely to be a homicide victim than women in these other countries. The homicide rate is fueled by the firearm homicide rate in the United States. More than two thirds of the homicides in the United States are firearm homicides; by contrast, firearm homicide accounts for less than 20% of homicides in the other high-income countries.
But hey, what is data?  What are numbers in a world of real  bullets and bump stocks and drones and cluster bombs?  Figures on a page.  Tangentials.  Binomial functions.  Asymptotes verging in the infinite distance.  Numbers become abstractions.  Like thoughts and prayers.

Somewhere in Newtown, a classroom full of boys and girls are now reduced to thoughts in the dark recesses of the minds of grieving parents.  Ghostly recipients of prayers whispered by the living in the sleepless nights and lonesome dawns.  Prayers hoping to collide with little thoughts in the netherworld of inexplicable loss.  We all reach for our children in the night when awakened by the ancient fear, clutching for their warm bodies, their pale faces, their smallness beneath the covers; but for too many their trembling fingers find only the cold steel thoughtlessness of a gun.  And our prayers stutter to a halt, become wordless.