Poems of personal protest

 

 

One

 

He fights the 6-day war

over and over again in his head,

seventeen in `67,

the concussion bombs still

echoing in his ears,

propaganda slogans,

his mother groaning out

from under the rubble

as if giving birth,

never a name to the bomb

that struck or a side to blame

the years, however, labeling

it "Jew" without evidence

the homeland issue curling up

each night in the bed with him,

a lover from whom he finds

no satisfaction, just the

constant wanting of justice,

married to the prearranged wife

he never chose after two full

years American,

after twenty years of his mother's

eyes screaming hate!



Two

 

†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† July 13, 1990

We are trapped in a pattern of traffic,

of trucks that shake the walls

and planes the air

 

The hazy weather locking their sound

in close as I sit upon the step

waiting for you.

 

They are the bars of our prison

the clinking of civilization

around us with no key out.

 

Even with eyes closed, they rattle

their chains, calling us to our prison

master's gaze when we think too freely

 

 

Three

 

He sat counting

child-support payment stubs

Eighteen years of back

stabbing pain,

mementos of ill-use,

tickets of poverty,

remembrances of pennies

pressed from his empty pocket

paying for a stranger's child,

and a shiftless, shirtless,

shady ex-wife, changing

homes and lovers with her underwear,

the madonna and her babe,

lost between Nazareth and Bethlehem

with only this thin paper chain

keeping them connected,

from which me might construct his cross,

and hang himself upon it.

 

 

four

 

The dessert's not a place for children,

the man said, at the last gas station for sixty miles,

watching us parade up,

knapsacks and bedrolls and hair to our knees,

the open dessert stretching out

on either side like a ruffled wool blanket,

stained with puffs of green, hiding coyotes and sometimes wolves,

our eyes so big we could have swallowed it all,

as if we had any more choice at crossing it

than Moses did the Red Sea,

the man shouting questions after us

as to whom he should notify

when we didn't come back...

 

 

Five

 

It wasn't Washington,

but Johnson, who slept here,

a civil war of conscience

battling inside his head

to chants at his window

about children he's killed

my uncle, brother, sister's husband

flying home in body bags,

the lying man thinking

he might sleep better

with claymore mines--

or the endless voice

of echoing mortars

Dying before the end of it,

as if he knew it would never end,

the stumped, broken limbs

cluttering the white house lawn

twenty years later

the 1970 photograph

showing him with

long hair and swollen eyes

his great society buried

in Arlington like a hero,

his New York City bed preserved,

and bronzed like a baby's shoe.

 

 

Six

 

These days, his face is broken,

a chunk of china with missing teeth and calloused hands,

sergeant screaming inside his head,

twenty years after Nam, Tet and Tao,

set in a jagged ying-yang tarnished with agent orange,

driving drunk dirt roads in Jersey

where the cops won't stop him

and he won't be mistaken for a hero.

 

 

Seven

 

It was a tan Summer

of sand dunes and uniforms

of sweating men

with dreams packed in

duffle bags,

orders waiting for

Vietnam, ten companies

of future dead

marching from Ft. Dix N.J.

rifles like tooth picks

askew on their arms,

Man's first step on the moon,

swimming the Chappaquiddick sea,

and me, the terrorized child

marching beside them

waiting for a chance

to grow.

 

 

Eight

 

I'm sick of lawn chairs and marigolds

and sweet patio parties on penthouse ledges,

As if the City was a place for such things,

 

And not the reality fourteen floors below,

the humbled bureaucrat working up the ladder

as if he leads any where near the top

 

The back bent Chaucers leaving their mark

in deeds and their restrictions,

writing poetry secretly among library stacks,

 

Staring up at the lawn chairs like a corpse,

even the envy drained from his face,

suit & tie middle class simplicity. That's life!

 

Fogged windows, crying children, broken homes,

the latch keys dangling from wayward necks,

not millstone or albatross but way of life,

 

A marigold, winking sunlight down from the heights,

a tiny king kong swiping at flies, and humble

faced beggars bearing the account books.

 

 

Nine

 

†"The water stays warm for months,"

the Atlantic City beach bum said,

explaining how he could swim

stone-naked in the surf at night,

his clam shell parables

written in the sand on the seaward side of the boardwalk,

more significant than Trump's towering casino,

more frightening, too,

pale truths washing away

with the rising tide as the old man swims.

 

 

Ten

 

War lust licks our boots

sariabo mud thick with blood,

madcap world war two films

reeling out day after day in our heads,

not nazis this time or communists,

just us, marching to gunfire music

and starvation and rapeó

the beast let loose in our chests.

I want to die a hero, my friend says,

†I want to... and is dead.

 

 

Eleven

 

City hall stuffed with resolutions

like an old man's mattress,

money found in its rusted springs,

puffy-faced white-haired politicians

producing tid-bits of truth from its ruin,

voting yes on honesty

while stabbing each other in the back,

poor Paterson dying as they grow fat.

 

 

Twelve

 

Slave masters

haunt franchises

like wolves

 

Teeth bloodied

on teenage fools

 

pasturing

big eyes

flocking through the doors

looking for dreams

of equal opportunity

 

in poor pay checks

and bad blood.

 

 

Email to Al Sullivan

 


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