Saturday, May 31, 2014

Marching on the Potomac (1971)


m a r c h i n g  o n  t h e  p o t o m a c,  1 9 7 1

Music videos, I admit, do hurt my eyes. They seem
like moments that have been seized by those who believe

they are young, and also believe that history is only words
and also believe that with images, words can be left behind

forever, words and the history that is made with words, and death,
which is made up of history, and pain that rehearses for death, and the memories

of shame the pain is built on – but the shame and pain
are images, yes? and history, yes? your history, your story

you tell yourself in pictures, is your music video
sung to self-loathing; and the one way, short of becoming

a filmmaker, of spitting it out, is to trade in words, the
the betrayer words that lie as soon as the ink is dry.

While I, so suddenly crone, thinking on mortality,
walking off small ounces along the winter river,

remember seizing a moment, standing with three hundred young
such others in our vision of moral progress around the entrance 

to the dark abysmal cave: National Selective Service Headquarters. 
We begged them to come out, the denizens of the cave, 

and took up collections for their families if only they would come out. 
Some did, and even took the money, perhaps to return 

to work next day with a laugh. Provocateurs circulated
among us, trying to hand out bad acid, but we stood firm,

singing our power songs learned from those who had come
here before us: Oh Freedom; We Shall Overcome;

so then the men in blue, with their sunglasses and their long
sticks, moved in and carried us away, one by

one, to the buses. D.C. Central Precinct Station,
in case you're curious, is, or was, thirty years

ago, like this: a corridor long and grey, with few
lights, and rows of animal cages, dark, with broken

bulbs recessed in peeled ceilings. Each
cage has two iron shelves hung from the wall

on chains, and no mattresses on the shelves; on the rear wall
a strange porcelain thing, both sink (not working) and toilet

(not working either); both filled with horrors, and running
onto the floor. Distance from front to back: eight feet.

From side to side, six feet. Someone is screaming contin-
ually; another starts the ancient chant, AUM.

It catches on, a hundred and fifty short-time nuns
in retreat, and the screamer settles down to a comforted

whimper. All day, half the night. At two in the morning,
arraignments. Fifty people standing in an empty room,

hungry. A judge passes the door, returns, converses
through the slot. You weren't read your rights? You don't

know the charges? No phone calls? Nothing? He goes away,
returns, passes fifteen candies through the mail

slot. All I can do right now, he says, I'll see what I
can do about this. We never see him again. We

are processed in groups of four. An old black woman comes.
She is our lawyer. Have you seen the charges? No?

Hey, you, go and get the charges so they can plead;
is this a court or a pool hall? They read us the charges.

False, from beginning to end, and they know it! You can hear it
in their shamed voices. They're young, like us, and got these jobs

for the sake of Kennedy, their dead god; they aren't used to
shitting on the people. I hear that I was seen by witnesses

(in blue, with their sunglasses and their long sticks) committing
unspeakable violence and destroying Property. Hearing

the shame in their trembling voices, I am brought to tears
of a new kind, deep grief for my country, which I had somehow

believed in, a little, until that moment, and for my now
forever lost innocence in these things. The judge leans forward.

Young lady, if you will plead guilty, I can let you go
right now with a ten dollar fine. If you plead not guilty, you

will be held in jail and your trial will not come up for two
months yet. I want you to know that the Central Precinct 

is clean and uncrowded compared to the City Jail. How
do you plead? Tears are drying; I tremble with sorrow and anger.

Someone, a stranger, steps up and sets a flower in the lapel
of my coat. Not guilty. All four of us say, not guilty as charged;

our old lawyer's eyes are wet with pride. The judge
hesitates; says that for twenty-five dollars each, we

can go bail. I'm eight hundred miles from home, with ten cents to
my name. Someone, another stranger, hands over twenty-

five dollars for me; I leave the courtroom dazed and hungry.
I have nowhere to go. It is three o'clock in the morning.

The demonstrations have been going on all week, and I
haven't eaten in maybe three days, or four. I'm not

sure I can make it to the Friends Meeting House where I know
I can sleep. There is a voice from above: Hey, you! I look up. It is 

a middle-aged woman in curlers and a robe, in a third-floor window
of, for God's sake, the D.C. Hilton Hotel. Are you

one of the people that just got out of that kangaroo court?
I heard about it on the radio! Wait right there, says she,

and disappears. A moment later, she's in the window
again, and a can of Coca-cola, two orders of fries,

and a half-eaten burger fall from the sky. She looks over
Her shoulder, afraid of someone. Gotta run! So

it goes; wars and rumors of wars are for the rich;
it is left to the trapped, the owned and the poor to feed one another.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Eight-six, he stands


e i g h t y-s i x,  h e  s t a n d s

                                in his garden and tells
of the journey from Ohio that never ended,
not even with the case of sun-ripe peaches.

"The Lord sure has blessed me. Oh, yes.
See how the apricots grow, and the pears,
and the oranges? And these now, the farmers

hate them, but I don't, I water them;
the Spaniards, when they landed, looked for a sign
and the loaves and the fish of our Lord

were seen in the flowers of the vine."
He walks in the shade of the live oaks,
talks of Kentucky, of boyhood and manhood,

Of the girl that he married, who fell
years later, and broke something inside,
and the child they had found, and the land,

and the tall pines he tended, that stand
where the wind-driven lake once rippled
and broke on the crystalline sand.


Saturday, May 17, 2014

The painted angel


t h e  p a i n t e d  a n g e l

                                       with his heavy wings
paced along the footworn ancient flags
of the deep cathedral nave before the quiet

congregation, awaiting three Marys,
ready to proclaim the great and terrible emptiness
of God's tomb: Non est hic; surrexit,

sicut praedixerat!
So that a friar
preaching to a dubious crowd, at length
advised them: "If you believe not me, go

to Coventry, where you may see it acted
every year." Faith enacted may
be faith, or it may not be faith, and yet

thousands were thrilled to hear the angel cry,
and homeward bent their weary peasant backs,
some with missing limbs or eyes, and some

all poxed, yet talking as they went, of God,
and of brightness all around, one night,
that vexed those frightened shepherds long ago.


Saturday, May 10, 2014

George Fox


g e o r g e   f o x

sits in hollow trees in the rain,
and seeks this same God whom all the people
call upon, half in jest, from pillowed pews.

The King! The King! cry they, asleep, while he
sees chains still on their legs, and his,
and questions this, and them, asking of priests

and of great men of learning, hearing but vacancy
in their sonorous answers. Then, in a high place
(it is often in these high places that it happens,

take heed) he heeds a voice no chain will stand,
and his heart leaps. All creation has now
for him a new smell, such as it had not before,

and the God-swarmed man's heart leaps over the world,
and over its bad master. Good George, broad head
bible-steeped, sees through the steeple to the soul's

church, and calls in the voice of Isaiah: come,
buy wine and bread without money and without price!
And many come to hear the mad man speak;

life is hard, and God's fools must be their fun.
But this one will strike sparks, his Christ-fire spreads!
Hell helpless for once looks on, as love, the power

of God, rises from the dead; even England
draws saints' breath, and some for a time are such
as God in Eden walked with

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Fourth of July


f o u r t h  o f  j u l y

The rest were absorbed by crowds round the huge
cherry trees, or on the impromptu volleyball court,
or touring the huge gardens, or tasting,

in hot sun, microbrews found floating
in icy washtubs. The boy, who never mixed well,
wandered off to sit in shade alone, a brown study.

To him I gravitated, not crowd-pleased myself,
and said: In the car's trunk there are two rods,
and the creek is still high; perhaps along the bank

we can find bait. He had never, in his ten years,
caught fish, as he often reminded me, but I
had never found the time. I found the time.

We slunk away, and stalked along the country road
deep in shade of hemlocks, cedars, and bigleaf,
looking for a way steep-down, with vine maples

and giant ferns to cling to. Below, the sun burned
on golden unmown hay, lodged by the frequent passage
of quite untroubled blacktailed bucks with harems.

We found the place, and bushwhacked through
to where the icy water rippled over bedrock
beneath the old-growth alders. All there

was just so, with a good pool every fifty feet,
black with promise. I looked for caddis larvae,
turning over stones, and finding nothing,

but the boy quick of eye and hand leaped up
with a tiny crawdad clutched. I gently took
and threaded the sacrificial creature on the shank

of the gleaming, tiny hook. I glossed over the pain,
as so many have done before me,
of this small life, quickly casting hook,

life, and split shot expertly into riffle
just above a pool half-lost in willow branches.
I handed him the rod. He sulked: It won't work,

I'll never catch a fish, and this creek's
too small. I said, do not misjudge it. The trout
winter here, and are not driven by the sun

to the river's deeper pools till later on.
There will be several in that hole, and one
of them will be big. He watched the willows,

the dappled banks, the far pasture, passing birds,
and me; I watched the line. It zigged. Pull!
I shouted, and the boy hauled back, more

in startlement than skill; I itched to snatch
the rod from him. Reel in, reel in, pull back,
give him slack, now reel! I was beside myself,

and so was the lad. The fish fought well, then
gave up at our feet, reeled on to land. We
slacked line, and I knelt and slipped my hand

along the back, so as not to get caught on hackles,
and disengaged the hook. I whispered: this
is a rainbow trout; see the colors as I turn her

in the sun. The boy stroked the big trout gently,
and solemnly announced: I have caught a fish.
We waded through the riffle to let her go;

but she was tired all through, and rolled
over, showing white. I gave the boy the way
to turn trout right, facing upstream, until

they catch their wet breath and swim away unaided.
He helped the fish, and stood up rich in life; then,
reluctant to break the moment and go back,

we stood together, silent as two trees.