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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)

A Safe Community

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I love to be loved,

as do you— as do

we all. No one wants

to be free: Trekking

off, boldly alone

through mountain forests,

the romantic cliché

tousling one’s hair.

 

I like knowing where I am,

to seem competent

in my children’s eyes,

to be myself inside,

a context provided,

a piece to a puzzle.

 

(July 21, 2018)

Things I would Not Wish on Anyone

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after Lucille Clifton

 

I wish them disdain

I wish them questions

in a new town

that does not speak their language

 

I wish them to lose

their beloved stuffed bear

because the dogs can smell

the Rio Grande

 

Later let them learn humility

as the man’s arrogance

drips condescension

like venom

 

Let them think they don’t belong

Let them be turned away

 

(July 11, 2018)

No One Watches the Train Fall from the Broken Bridge

 

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His problem has nothing to do with the train which travels steadily through the night. Everyone is content, if not happy, on the train, reading opinions they already agree with, drinking champagne, eating delicacies imported from foreign countries. They pretend they do not like the food, but wish they could eat as well at home.  All of the people on the train are facing the same direction, which gives them all a strange comfort.  A few of them look out the windows, but it is too dark to see the trees in the forest. It all follows along so logically, like a math problem in high school where rats scuttle east over well-polished wing-tips at a variable rate of three feet per second. They stop randomly to nibble on discarded bread crumbs dropped with nonchalance by the passengers on the train. Meanwhile the train travels south at a consistent seventy-three miles per hour directly toward the crumbled bridge which once traversed a chasm one thousand feet deep and a mile wide. There is no question at the end that one must answer. However, there is an answer; there is always an answer. No one watches the train fall from the broken bridge. No one hears the explosions as it crashes into the rocks below, or the last cries for help of those who are momentarily still alive.  On a trail nearby the train tracks, a monk moves through the dark as if he has been here before, thinking vaguely of other things. He pauses, peers into the dark, then wanders off along his way. The monk’s tangentially wandering mind is not enough to mark the train’s passing beyond the silence which lingers in the mountains for several hours after the sun has risen again.

 

(July 6, 2018)