What Room to Move

When this place grows untenable
where will its sad talent move –
those strong and young enough to run
with something left to prove?

What exit is there from the haven
that served in the past
to shelter those escaping from
freedom’s iconoclasts?

Where in the world will it be safe,
beyond this empire’s clutch?
What open principality
could offer half as much,

or prove themselves a thriving home
for those now tempest-tossed,
who flee with scarcely wherewithal
to reckon what they’ve lost?

Whose loving arms will welcome them,
these broken, hurting ones
that only know prosperity,
not bombs, disease, and guns?

When this, our country, falls diseased
and forces us to flee,
just who give us refugees
our life and liberty?

Where will we work to earn our keep,
feed our lust to consume?
Can we adapt to foreign life,
and in harsh soil, still bloom?

If this place grows untenable,
what will the options be,
and who will help us pay the cost
to stay alive, and free?

03 FEB 2017

Wake Up America (from Otherhood)

You’ve got to wake up, America, and face the facts
Your roads are built on broken backs
And there’s no way that you can track
The hypocrisy that against you stacks

There are storm clouds in those spacious skies
Of which you sing, but do you realize
Your purple mountains and amber grain
Will disappear in the acid rain

Of time, there’s no time, and the time is now
To turn our hawk-like swords into plows
And reap the seed that we have sown
The apathy that has destroyed our home.

You’ve got to wake up, America, and see the truth
There is no one standing in your voting booths
The people in this country who run your lives
Are free to find your back with their steely knives

You stammer, stammer and complain that there is nothing you can do
But you and I know that this is not true
We’ve focused our attention on the world outside
And now it’s time to take the board out of our own damn eye.

Oh, sleeping giant it’s time to rise
And wipe the sleep out, from out your eyes
You’ve enslaved your brothers to promote your creed
But you don’t know what it is, ’cause you can’t read

And your huddled masses yearning to be free
Are as tired and poor as they used to be
They’re dying of AIDS, selling or trying to score
Wake up, the future is right next door.

Around the world we act so proud
Americans, yes, and we say it loud
We rub our freedoms in everybody’s faces
But we let the media run presidential races

Freedom of choice is what is all about
So, make a choice, or be left out
If we stood for equality, life and truth
Then the flag we fly would be fire-proof

It’s our claim to fame, and our greatest shame
But we’re running out of fingers pointing out the blame
If you’re so proud, proud as you claim,
Pick up the pieces…and use your brain.

Wake up America, and read your history
So many have died for our democracy
But the facts are clear and can’t be ignored
There are strip mines where once eagles soared

It’s time we started listening to “Yankee go home”
And went through our problems with a fine tooth comb
Remember just like Patrick Henry said
Without liberty, we’d all be dead.

Excerpts from the Rap Opera “Otherhood”, circa 1985

Amerigeddon

There is no need to stop the clocks,
nor try to dim the constant noise;
let those who listen, soldier on,
despite the sonic din’s abuse.

There are no hidden codes to find,
nor secret doors along the wall;
let those who look, persist in vain
while their illusions peel and rust.

There is no gathering of tribes,
nor universal dream to come;
let those who would awake, sleep on.
The morning will come soon enough.

There is no right, there is no wrong,
nor side that always ends face up;
let those who would place bets dream on,
beyond the realm of win or lose.

There is no stirring battle cry,
nor mourning wail to soothe the dead;
let those who sing learn different tunes
in some more pleasing universe.

04 AUG 2014

America is Still: an erasure exercise

America, as Whitman wrote,
is fading low;
her heartbeat, a sour note.
Her voice blows sadness,
and one can hear her weep.
Her voice
resonates inside the bones,
reminding of truth,
your own.
Her war machines
bustle
songs of might.
Her technologies
keep hope alive
of should or could.

Across the age
times are lean,
radios
echo songs that
America still sings,
songs
sadly led astray by fools
who sing as others do.
America, they cry,
’tis treason to
keep this deadly pace;
grey and die.

And a dirge
echoes in the
Music
as hope sickens and
each
tune is fading.

The lifeforce beats strong
out in the wild;
but urban adult and child
recognize the rhythm is wrong.
The arteries swell
the weary head;
circulation is
sent off-course.
While doctors
sing of operations yet untried,
freedom varies;
avoiding blame,
they sew prejudice inside,
and her heartbeat is slow.

Who are the great?
What works?
The grand and strange,
is the rage.

Her story must be
in jokes
to be
the common folk,
America’s juke-box
hit parade, unsung,
memorized by rote;
her Music faded,
the piano
a frequent sour note
and her song of hope,
a new way
will join the fray,
and fight for dignity
but her
vulgar selfish lot
enter the ring
to entertain
yet she cheers,
hoping their valor will prevail,
the cause will win.

America sings a
song of travail;
Her voice shouting in the wind.
Out in the night
ploughmen
turn this great gold
and reap nature’s plight.
This diversity of
income
can
pay the cost.
She sings for
for the forlorn,
crying out in pain,
that still defy
the song that sells the future.
Where triumphs and ideals
spurned a nation to believe,
to grieve –
and turn the wheel.

With funeral songs
she celebrates
memory gone wrong,
the dregs of misery.
Those who listen
with deaf ears –
faces in the rain,
are called deranged,
and must abandon careers;
there is a sadness.

She cries out for the
sculptor and newsboy;
they pursue another dream,
and silence is the song.
In that chasm her dreams
heed and follow
in shadows,
with strength to give.
Before the dawn, some fools
grasp at them before
drink the mead that fills,
in spite of
others’ dreams, cheaply made
now and again.

26 APR 2013

Today’s NaPoWriMo prompt was creating an erasure, in essence a rewrite of a longer poem by eliminating words or even whole sentences from the original resulting in a new and potentially drastically different poem, in both form and meaning. While this kind of exercise is often done using a “famous” long poem, like “Howl” or “The Raven”, “Evangeline” or “Paradise Lost”, I decided to apply this idea to one of my own longer poems, an envelope sonnet inspired by Whitman and intended as a song of hope. The original can be found here: America is Still Singing: an envelope sonnet. The result, I think, is not so hopeful and slightly more dire in its outlook. Maybe.

The Failure of American Public Schools

The failure of the American public school system is that while we have emphasized the importance of those skills that “get things done” or that provide our children with the technological tool set to “compete” on a global scale, we have neglected to teach them the reasons WHY one should avail themselves of that technology. In addition, by eliminating the arts, we have removed the one source of study that provides insight into how all these technological skills fit together, how they construct a culture, how they inform an intelligent community, how they make life worth living.

When I look back at what I learned from the fine arts in school (back when they were part of the school curriculum), I wonder why they are not mandatory education.

From music (both instrumental and choral), I learned history, foreign language, mathematics, literature, geography, ratios, fractions, timing, physical and mental discipline, team dynamics and collaboration, listening, posture, breathing, improvisation, balance, poise, public speaking, and self-respect.

What I didn’t learn from music, I learned from art: proportions, composition, construction, optics, chemistry, preservation, creative visualization, theme, and color theory.

And what both gave me was a healthy introduction to religion, philosophy, anthropology, marketing, psychology, communications, politics, self-criticism, self-discipline and logic.

Only one or two of those things I learned in P.E. or playing sports. And while math and science as individual subjects may provide greater depth into some specifics, they certainly are pretty dry when you don’t have something meaningful to do with them.

The arts are not an elective.

Not for a culture or society that hopes to survive its technology. Not for a culture that wants to do better than just “survive”.

They are, and should always be, mandatory education.

Stale Yellow

This morning my country’s on orange alert;
or maybe stale yellow, if you feel perverse:
the color of bullies, who’re cowards, in fact,
who put down in others convictions they lack.

The war is on terror, they’ll loudly proclaim;
but killing is killing, no matter the name.
Nobody learns nothing by point of a gun,
‘cept when to stay hidden, and which way to run.

Freedom’s a journey, not some point in time
when your way of living is the same as mine.
Truth is an ocean and peace is a verb;
How we each get there shows what we deserve.

This morning my country’s enmeshed in a war
financed by the rich, fought by the young and poor
who trust in their leaders and will pay the cost
regardless of who we say has won or lost.

The war is for freedom, those leaders will say;
the world is our oyster, let’s keep it that way.
But force just accelerates, it won’t evolve;
making more problems than it ever solves.

Freedom’s a journey, not some future point
when who we like has the run of the joint.
Truth is an ocean and peace is a verb;
How we each get there proves what we deserve.

This morning my country’s on orange alert;
or maybe stale yellow, which may be much worse.

22 FEB 2007

Stale Yellow (demo)