An acronym which by any other name is a sore
On the way to D.C., we drove by the NRA—
which stands for Nietzsche Read Aeschylus—
it's off 66 and glass box ugly, architecture
was killed or at least wounded by capitalism,
which is ironic, money being the primary reason
the NRA—which stands for Narcissistic
Rationalization Association—exists, I waved
and then it was gone and I didn't think
about the NRA—which stands for Nebulous Reality
Adaptations—until we visited Lincoln,
who was shot, you might recall, not far
from where he was turned to stone, though maybe
you don't recall, we Americans aren't big
on history, or vegemite sandwiches,
or gun laws, visited in the morning
when no one was there, before we'd begun
slipping in and out of the various Smithsonian's
for free, going from space travel to dinosaurs
to Degas, the Mall is democratic
in its seduction of our minds, and I thought
of Booth and how the NRA—which stands for Never
Reasonably Accountable—would say,
If only Mrs. Lincoln had been packing,
then got back to admiring the man in the chair,
and the sculptor who made him so big,
and Pickens County, Georgia, for producing
such lovely marble, and even the NRA,
for that matter—which stands for
National Ritual Absolution—is inspiring
the way a great white shark is, the NRA—
which stands for National Racial Attenuation—
is a great white shark, never sleeping,
always eating, always ready to defend
the right of certain people to die
November 8, 2016
Now I see the damage an earthquake does
to faces—something falls out—
whatever struts there are in our smiles
are knocked away—eyes pace
in the head—there's this taste of plaster
in everything I say and the crunch of bones
in everything said to me—but as much language
as we bring to ruins, a week in, it remains
a startled life of kindling—
I'm still putting an ear to the ground
to autopsy the rumble so I can hear it coming
retroactively and not be here at all,
if that makes sense and you too
are human—but at least I've begun
picking up old books and holding each one
ridiculously like a child in my arms—
begun saying goodbye to the crushed bed
and window and sock—to imagine rubble
as loam—as when someone
you love dies, and you dream them
twice as tall and eight times as often
bending to your ear and kissing
the tip of it like a leaf finding its way
to a stream—though there's the small gift
that mirrors are shattered, and the shock
to our self-regard forces us to look
for ourselves in each others' eyes—
and as much as we struggle
to inventory the harm, the only true list
of what we've lost is what we'll build
My super power is the thought, Eve should be in my arms
when she's afraid, and there she is, safe, full of bones
and blood and going nowhere if I have anything
to say about it. Vice versa applies when I'm afraid,
this is our pact, that we'll hold each other
before we hold a door or gun, feather or piece
of a star, if we're ever lucky enough to be walking along
and trip over a discarded chunk of heaven.
I can also make anything below eight thousand pounds
levitate, but in comparison, that power is whimsical
and irrelevant to my emotional makeup, I can take or leave
making things float and fly, but I can't leave Eve.
My whole life has been an argument with the saying,
You're born alone and you die alone, as I suspect
my mother was there, otherwise, why has she taken credit
for the melding of my spirit and flesh, if we go
with the old-school notion of human beings
as a combo pack of soul and guts. You're born
into a relay race of affection if you're lucky, handed
from cherishing to cherishing and likewise
carry others as far as you can, until they ask
to be set down or you get tired, and then,
after a long struggle or just a few seconds
of looking at a donkey in a field eating alfalfa,
you die. There are other sequences, of course—
I'm exhausted, not exhaustive—but I'm pretty sure
I've made my point or at least acted convincingly
like I have one, though I'm not sure of much.
Does this sound familiar: one day, I found myself
looking in a mirror and thinking, Well I guess I'm you,
after which I went at the list someone put in my hand,
crossing items off only to have them appear again,
suggesting that the people who say It's a process
aren't just annoying but smug and we should ask them
to leave the pool. With thrashing this deeply
at the core of the endeavor, clinging
and being clung to aren't just romantic,
they're what static has been telling us to do,
and I refuse to ignore the physical laws of the universe,
especially the one about the Conversation
of Matter—that everything is speaking to us
all the time, we're just too busy to listen.
You don't remember that one from school?
Maybe you were absent or absent minded that day,
or it was wrongly presented as the Conservation
of Matter, that misguided notion that energy
is neither created or destroyed. I've created
a shit-ton of energy with Eve, that's a British measure
equal to 2,300 pounds, and plan to keep on
making this stuff up as we go, the going
being the most important part of any journey
or think piece or life, this thing I find myself
in or of, needing or kneading or both, be it desire
or bread I'm after, the love of a good woman
or bad star, as long as there's light,
I'm going to stand here clinging to the feet
of my shadow, and in the dark, hold its place,
as I would for any stranger in any line.
Elections have consequences
and confetti on one side, not the other
Suddenly I'm surrounded by republicans.
The president. Congress. The senate.
Three quarters of the governors
and state legislatures are red.
I kissed my wife last night
and she tasted like Richard Nixon.
The country's more republican
than I am Bob. I'm all Bob
in one sense, but in another,
I'm half Virginia and half Hershel,
so the math checks out. So what becomes
of checks and balances now?
Imagine asking yourself,
Do you think my ideas are brilliant
or merely inspired?
Republicans will be able to drill
for oil in my bedroom if they want.
Who'll stop them—me? Marcel Marceau?
Buddha? That guy's too chubby
and fictitious. But now they've done it—
the poets are mad. This means
the painters are furious
at having to listen to the poets.
Soon people who sell art supplies
will be livid that the painters
spend so much time hiding from the poets
and not painting color field portraits
of nudes. But how do you paint
a color field portrait of a nude?
O look—I just got distracted
by my own poem. I begin to understand
why liberals are out of power.
Republicans don't wonder
how to paint color field portraits
of nudes. They recognize
a trick question when they are one.
They see the chance to tell women
what to do with their babies
and take it. They know it's finally time
to give the long-suffering rich
the hand-job of a tax break. But what
am I really saying?
I guess that I'm at a loss
for a rudder, as it requires
first and foremost a boat,
and I am what technically
is referred to as drowning. Or this
isn't over by any means necessary
measures will be taken as a whole
the center will not hold me closer
tiny dancer in the dark-
ness falls on those who don't
check their flashlight batteries
first, everyone check
your flashlight batteries first
and then repeat after me—
America is the greatest
and messiest country
because whoever wants to be
one of us gets to be
on the team. Did I just say
suck your left-leaning thumb
one more week and then
get back to work? No,
I did not. Two days, tops.
In 2032, I try to explain 2016
White men were scared.
The clerks selling them Slurpees
wore turbans or spoke Spanish. Having complained
for decades about moochers on food stamps,
many of them were moochers on food stamps.
A wave of foreclosures sent hundreds
of thousands of families
into apartments full of Chinese drywall
laced with formaldehyde. Beyoncé
was more famous than Faith Hill.
The most common job for a white guy
who didn't go to college
was driving something somewhere
for someone else to buy. Imagine
what the idea of driverless cars
did to that guy's sleep. The world was turning
more black and brown. More expensive
and black and brown and urban
and black and brown and complicated
with robots and cell phones and drones
and black and brown. Women were saying,
I can do that. I can lift that, write that,
invent that, cure that. Women
were pouring in over the transom
and through the clouds. White men
had been the stars of the show.
The ticket to the big dance
was being a white guy
and it was all slipping away.
So one last time, white men said,
This is ours. This land is ours.
They voted for a libido.
For a mouth.
They voted for bragging.
They saw narcissism and voted
for the bright shiny ego
on a hill.
Fortunately I used to play hockey
so I had automatic Canadian citizenship.
I moved to Montreal.
I opened a coffee shop
not far from Cirque du Soleil.
I learned French so I could be polite
in two languages.
Time passed. The more
black and brown people
became even more more
black and brown people
mixed with white people
mixed with everyone's love of salsa.
People started putting salsa
on everything. Pizza. X-ray results.
Communion hosts. So I moved back
and you were born in the united
United States. If you think of democracy
as the people getting their way, sometimes
that way is crazy: what you've read
is true—we elected a president
who bragged that he could touch
a woman's vagina without asking.
He even put that on official
White House stationary:
President Donald Trump:
Touching Your Daughter's Pussies
Whenever I Want For Over Thirty Years.
Don't let anyone tell you America
didn't invent him. We did.
And the next time people think
nothing like that could ever happen,
we'll do it again.
I like to think I have a wing
inside myself, and if a wing,
that I've swallowed Icarus whole,
wax and all, in the moment
before the sun treats him
as an equal. There's a poem about him
I love about a painting about him
I plan to stand before
before I die, flapping my arms
until the docent comes over
in his sturdy shoes and holds a mirror
so I can touch-up my lipstick
before kissing the splash Icarus made
in the ocean going home. I have
all these plans to make plans
and all these desires to be brave
about the fall awaiting us all,
but I never quite get there,
like a man trying to leap
out of his tracks in snow. When
he lands, the first person
to welcome him back to Earth
looks so much like the person
he tried to leave behind,
that he leaps again, and spends
half of the rest of his life
landing, half in the air.
The point of life
is to go out and put my arms
around a horse. While it might appear
from the road I'm cheating
on my wife, I'm cheating
at not being sad that I'm a person
by holding the pulse of a horse
against my ear. I've also rested a cloud
against my ear at the top of a mountain,
and the bottom of a mountain
against my ear by laying down
and listening for the Earth
grinding its teeth. I usually
bring a carrot I pulled up myself
from where it was hiding in the ground,
the horse always eats the carrot
I usually bring, this is certainly
almost certainty in a world famous
for making up its mind every second
who lives and dies, who looks good
in plaid or in the back of a squad car,
crying. The owner of the horse
doesn't know I've stolen her dew
on my pants or kissed her horse's neck
while wind stirs the shadows of grass,
I don't know if I flew as a boy
on the horse outside the grocery store
my mother always let me ride,
she'd put a coin in and go shop
and the horse would try hard
to run away and set both of us free:
when it couldn't, I'd settle
for finding my mother a little later
holding a can of something
trying to keep us alive.
I'd like the woman who owns the horse
and my mother, who'll always
have dibs on me, to meet.
While they talk, the horse and I
will continue our thought experiment:
if a man only seems himself
clearly in the brown mirror
of a horse's eyes, is he reborn
every time she blinks?
The dichotomy lobotomy
In the old argument
over left versus right, nature
versus rapture, nurture
versus murmur, bullet
versus ballot, ballot
versus mallet, power
versus sharing, money
versus gimme gimme gimme, screaming
versus what did you say,
I try to listen to both sides
of the wind as I pedal my bike
up a mountain to see
what I can see. Which is trees,
mostly. Trees up close
and in the distance, trees.
Green here and green there
and green green green
between. All under a hat
of blue sky. Versus, hearses, curses:
nothing good rhymes
with versus. Nurses, I guess.
Nurses with purses.
I was wrong. Humility
versus humidity. Ears
versus jeers. Love
is to livid
as kissing is
to pissing on. Middle ground
versus middle finger.
On July 9th, the Houston Chronicle ran a story entitled, “In a violent week, Americans turns to Poetry.” It’s not just Americans who seek solace in poetry, of course, but the essence of the article resonated for me, and frankly gave me a way to approach this preface, something I’ve been struggling with. I can’t shake the feeling that writing about Diode’s new site design, or our book contests, seems vulgar when there’s so much else to say. The thing is I don’t have the ability to say anything at this moment. Perhaps you are struggling in the same way. I want to say something about violence, about racism, something clear. I want to say something disarming, compelling, beautiful. But I can’t. Not yet. Maybe never. Saying anything else feels frivolous. And this speaks to the heart of the Houston Chronicle piece. The article reported that Twitter users were sharing poetry in the wake of violence, and reprinted some of the poems that have been shared. When we are shocked mute, stunned into silence or incoherence, poetry can give voice to our outrage, our despair, our horror; it can speak our grief, our exhaustion, our heartbreak. It speaks to us and for us until we can add our own voices loudly, than louder still, to its overarching refrain: enough.
Enough. Enough. Enough.
I am grateful that we turn to poetry, and that poetry turns back to us. I am grateful that Diode allows us, me, Law Alsobrook and Jeff Lodge to share these poems with you. We hope you find solace in them. We hope they speak to you, and that they help you speak.
And finally, I leave this with you. This poem appeared in Diode 8.1. Thank you Bob Hicok for speaking to me, for me.
Woke to this on Google: another black man
cop-shot. He was already on the ground.
I didn’t read why because there’s always
a reason. He had a gun gun or a toy gun
or a hand that looked like it might have once
been or held a gun. He was on crack or PCP
or vitamins. He was too big, too powerful,
too feral for three cops, six cops, X cops
to control. It was dark and he was dark.
It was sunny and he was dark. Every time
a cop kills a black man—whether the cop
is brown or black or white—the killing
is white. I am killing these men and want me
to stop. If you’re listening to yourself
write this poem, know the world
knows who we are. I’ll spread my hand
across your heart, our heart, so you’ll feel
it’s a friend asking, How do you want to live?
But please—don’t keep looking like me
and saying this is justice. This is hunting.
E. Kristin Anderson
Lisa Marie Brodsky
Gerald L. Coleman
Darren C. Demaree
Jennifer Kwon Dobbs
Jeannine Hall Gailey
Ed Bok Lee
Sue Fagalde Lick
Amy & Doug McNamara
Diane K. Martin
Wendy C. Ortiz
Lee Ann Roripaugh
Terrell Jamal Terry
Ellen Doré Watson
Diode Interviews George Abraham