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Pompeii

Always nearby, Fear hangs back

floating like the hint of smoke

on the horizon. The city lies

in that direction. Home lies

in that direction. We are not

going back again. Still, it comes.

Its tongue insinuates the air; soft

words clot our ears with ice.

This is the time which we live in:

slow lumbering ideas, empty and angry,

tumble through the streets like rocks

tossed by giants from mountain tops.

No one notices the viscous fire

burning the flesh from our bones.

(September 4, 2019)

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Beneath an Unrelenting Sun

“knowing less than drugged beasts”

–Ezra Pound, Canto XLVII

As we cower

beneath an array of bullets,

there is no forgiveness

for not knowing

the shades within shades

of evil. Yet, in this land

without shade, neither knowing

nothing, nor how to sail, nor

to have a sea to set forth upon,

even if a boat were here

in this desolate land

of sated men, and drugged beasts:

knowing nothing is cherished

as a privileged pleasure;

and so, I raise my voice

without delay, and sing

as if I could sow with my voice

in the cracked earth

some salvation from the sun.

(August 8, 2019)

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Before Completion

from “Rendition of Change,” a work in progress

The old tortoise-shell cat slips

cautiously through the grass

as the storm approaches.

This-too-shall-pass provides

small comfort in the moment’s

chaos and fear. Lightning strikes

often and nearby. As rain

starts to fall, the cat watches,

motionless, from the stair.

(July 3, 2019)

Enough

Last year on Valentine’s day, my students were working on three of the stories which are alluded to in T. S. Eliot’s the Wasteland. On the way home that day, I listened to NPR’s reporting of the shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where seventeen people were killed, and another seventeen injured. Since the Columbine High School, Every time there is another school shooting, I think about the students I teach everyday: the joy, trust, hope, and curiosity they bring with them into the world. As news of another killing happens, I cannot avoid thinking about them bleeding out on the floor of my classroom. I am horrified at the “solutions” offered by our political leaders: arm the teachers, “harden” the schools, conduct live shooter drills as casually as fire drills. Last year, I responded personally, the way I respond to most of what troubles me by writing into the horror. A few weeks later Shantih Journal ( https://shantihjournal.org/issue-2-2/) put out a call for writing about social justice after the March for Our Lives protest in Washington. I sent them the poem I wrote the day of the shootings, which they graciously published. I would like to think that there has been a change in people’s political will to do something that will end the slaughter of our children, but I fear we are too mired in sclerotic thinking to change. Here is the poem I wrote:

Today’s Lesson

“These fragments I have shored against my ruins”

                                    –T. S. Eliot

my students work over the abstract

idea of redemption in three stories

as a preparation for the wasteland

which we will read for the next class

one thousand miles away students

hide as their classmates are killed

and we are told there is nothing

nothing we can do except pray

prayers are useless balms for the dead

and pale recompense for the living

who must clean blood from the walls

and mix memory into the earth

devoid of hope near an open door

we are in a hell we have created

(February 14, 2018)

Gretel Lost in the World

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no dragons burn and pillage

even when lost in metaphorical

forests. the children’s screams

in the candy houses next door

are real enough not to be just

symbols in a jungian melodrama

analyzed casually over a cup of tea.

there are no stories to hide within.

the steel-eyed king and queen

handing down impartial justice

never existed anymore than the gods

who were used to justify raw power.

Whereas the black-helmed men

with polished shields and truncheons

still freely move down city streets

searching for someone else to kill.

(October 12, 2018)