So…what do you do? A Collection of Poems

Spend a day observing people. 

Most of the time, it’ll be boring. But if we’re lucky, we’ll catch a glimpse of something we’re not meant to see. Pilots leave an apartment window open while waiting for flight attendants to arrive. We see their desperation. A man in a breezeway doesn’t think anyone is upstairs when he tries to get his dealer off his back, all while his little girl plays. The fratboy next door doesn’t know someone can hear everything — and wants him anyway. A whole political party shows its true colors. 

These poems are dedicated to who we are when we’re on our own time — to the strange, laughable, heartbreaking, dangerous ways we do ourselves.

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More poems? Click here.

Or maybe a short story.

Bible-School

In those days, 
after God scourged their enemies,
the holders of the land
and keepers of older scrolls, 
after those made in His image
dashed soft child-brains against dusty rocks
and bathed triumphant feet in still-warm blood and tears,

Little Mikey raised his hand in Picture Class
and setting down his crayon, asked:
“Excuse me, Mr. Hawley,
does this mean it’s okay
to kill? ‘Cause it says 
‘Do Not Kill’ somewhere.”

To which the teacher replied, 
smiling down at seven-year-old Mikey:

“Son, it’s always okay to kill.
We kill cows, don’t we?
It’s murder you got to watch out for.
And you can’t murder an animal.”

*

Other work? Just find your way through the Menu above.

Or your could start here, with Stories.

CapitolSchool: Violent Not-Nice Insensitive Seminar for Liberals in America

They look like sweet town-folk,
salf-of-the-earth, flannel and jeans.
People that watch the sun come up.
Handsome.
Christian.

My God their pies are good.

Killers
who pray your mamby-pamby principles 
die with you, slaughtered in the street,
your thoughtful guts lapped up
by well-trained Republican dogs 
named Dog.

(Damn.  I forgot the warning.
“Warning.”)

But!  But!  
“How did this happen?” as the
flagpole stakes your throat, 
as unprecedented wheezes
through gurgled blood
and your solidarity-warm pink hat
floats down Constitution Avenue,
used and dark and alone.

You didn’t see them multiply.
You wouldn’t see them grow — 
in Kansas and Missoura,
Texas and ‘Bama, Ken-Tuck-y,
right beneath your woke-ness
and your museum arrogance and your
holier-than-thou Lululemon mindfulness.

Yeah, see?  You’re kinda 
responsible.

They knew they were safe.
They knew you wouldn’t think it,
then wouldn’t believe it — 
“Love is Love,” right? — 
“We’re all in this together,” right? — 
as Proud Sons and their Daughters
trained for war right under your
upturned noses,
groomed generals in broad daylight,
bought Armani camo, nice blue suits
(they already had the bullets
and the guns left over from
squirrel practice) —  
red necks covered by executive collars,
red ties to hide the splatter.

They left their hayseeds at home this time.

You were ready for zombies, sunken-eyed
okies whose farms were ripped away by BigBanks,
grandpas with four teeth chattering
all the way to the West Coast
(or something like that).
Oh, they had your number!
Talk about stealth!
Their fabric was fine, the
Stanford and Yale and Harvard degrees 
genuine — plus “Wow! He lifts weights, he’s so sexy!” 
(See my companion lecture on MetroSexual Roles 
in the Conservative Cause.)

“Consensus?” you pleaded.
“Let’s talk,” you bleated 
because — let’s face it — you’re afraid to fight 
with anything other than words;
and refusing to believe evil exists
and is usually HOT and BEAUTIFUL,
you left the Gate to the Sanctuary unguarded,
let WhiteNation and WomansPlace
shit
defile
ravage the Holy of Holies, 
our Temple,
us.

Maybe if they had worn
identifying armbands?

I know what you’re thinking
because that’s what you do —
I hear your “protest”:  
“Wouldn’t we be just like them
if we used our fists instead of words?”
“If we don’t move beyond labels?”
“Help them heal?”

That’s why they’ll win,
StupidBuford and LazyEyeLorraine,
because they listened to a real Grandma
who said:  

“Don’t leave your head so open your brains fall out.”

You thought she was old —
she only had one dress — 
you never saw her on Facebook —
Insta? — 

and then,
and then:

after Tucker and Rush and Hannity Ltd.
after Laura and Huckabee and Kayleigh visited;
giving guns to teenage saps
doning MAGA hunting caps
(so they’d know who not to cap);
after speeching D+ mobs,
after fisting fascist slobs — 

(did you get the little Eliot homage?) —

cops bleeding out on marble 
blinded
betrayed — 
the hunt was on!

Smoke-out the out-raged enemy 
like rabbits or Funny Cousin Earl, who
voted for Carter and was then dead
on his river-raft, thinking he was family;
target those limp-wristed Dem-o-crats
whose Cities call to Our Young
as Jezebel tempted Jesus
(it’s in the Bible);
forget, TexasTed, that
HE CALLED YOUR WIFE UGLY — 
AND YOU LET HIM;
we’ve got to corner all codlers, socialists and fags,
show them MTG would win a pig-fight,
make that Puerto Rican loudmouth BITCH 
run the Gov’ment Maze to her death,
execute California, hang the un-Hung
Next-in-Line — 

am I being dramatic?

Because what they want, 
what LittleHornedMan masked
with this “false-flag not-coup” — right? —
is to come:

your ideas, shred like your well-intentioned intestines, 
disemboweled from well-toned tummies,
blood sausage for rabid-stupid hungry children — 
your ideas, your precious and diverse ideas 
that helped BobJoe survive his nail-to-the-head
accident and paid for his black-hating diabetic
momma’s nursing home, 
high-falutin' ideas like Medicare and Social Security and 
vaccines (CONSPIRACY!  CONSPIRACY! ) — 
equality — 
dead with you.

*

Liberals, people who can think
and probably don’t want to die
(martyrdom being highly overrated),
listen to Grandma, please:

“If it walks like a duck and quacks,
it’s dinner.”

There are no town-folk.
There are no Christians.
There are no rights.

There are armies. 

This is America.

And their soldiers will sip sherry
right before carving out
your heart.

(Yes, this will be on the test.)

*

Trump’s Audience and the RNC

One thing I think is true: nobody spends money on putting a message out into the world unless there is an audience to hear it. (Except for poetry writers, and even we want someone to read our words.)

So Trump’s convention is not spitting into the wind. It has purpose. And its purpose is connected to an intended audience.

Another thing I think is true:  People with nothing to lose are the most dangerous people in the room (or in a nation).  People who have nothing can’t have anything taken away from them.  You can’t hold anything over their heads — which might feel like freedom, but it produces something else:  anarchy.  

This is where my thoughts converge.

Trump knows his audience. It is a clan that has nothing to lose, nothing to hold up as their own, so they don’t mind napalming civilization.  Many Americans not in Trump’s camp don’t want anarchy because we’ve worked hard to make something of ourselves and don’t want that blown up.  We have houses and bank accounts and loved ones we care about.  It’s why I can support Black Lives Matter and hate looting.  I have something to lose, something I don’t want to see destroyed. 

Not Trump’s militia — and he knows this.  Trumpers don’t care if the nation catches fire because they don’t have anything that can burn.  Nothing important to them. They want the fire. It’s Holy Fire anyway, right?  God coming to strip away…everything they don’t have. 

What I think what we’re seeing in the Republican National Convention (for those watching, that is) is the activation of people who have nothing to lose.  I think the Republican party has found a way to speak to failed, small men and women in a way that makes their failure and their smallness the fault of others, and then encourages them to actively hate anyone who might challenge that perspective.  Or say, “Hey man, it’s not the democrat’s fault.  It’s yours.” 

If I didn’t care about the effects of Trump’s rhetoric, I’d say his course of action is brilliant. I’d say he’s filled a void in the lives of people defined by emptiness. It’s stupid to think the RNC’s message isn’t effective; it’s being heard by a very important audience, loud and clear — those who want to  think they have honor even as they blame everyone for their lives.  It’s saying out loud what they’ve longed to hear.

I think it will work.  The problem, of course, will be that once those who have nothing to lose have been activated (Trump’s audience), it will be impossible to govern them (napalm is hard to direct).  They will, eventually, go after their makers; it’s in their nature. It’s why dogs that kill have to be put down — once they’ve tasted blood, and all that. The only question to me is how much will have to be destroyed before they turn on themselves.

(Originally published in The Washington Post)