AT ONE

You need not apologize, for we
do not expect it, and would
not accept it as freely given.

It is not that you have not
done so much it warrants,
for that list is long and replete
with all manner of sins.

It is simply that we are not
in a mood to accept an apology,
denied so long, for hollow words
have no real meaning to us now.

And our mood will not change
until you atone for those sins,
for atonement is more than sorry,
it is the work of undoing

and you have so very much
to undo.

WAR

I have yet to wander the medieval battlefields
of Europe and it increasingly seems I never will.
I have visited my share of castles in Ireland and Scotland,
but the acoustics there are not good, and I did not
hear the anguished cry of soldiers falling in battle,

I have seen rivers, quiet now, where the blood
of the vanquished must have flowed in this war
and that, for Europe is a place of wars,
the perpetual gameboard for the greedy
and those who imagine themselves emperors.

I come from a distant place, where three wars
on its soil was deemed sufficient, but who will
freely give others the wars they have grown
altogether too used to fighting, and we gladly
offer up our sons to aid in the combat so long
as we only receive their bodies in the dark of night.

And perhaps that is our failing, for we know
war well, but we keep ourselves clean, and marvel
at the destruction we will never know first hand.

ELEMENTARY

Each morning we stood
as the Principal intoned
the Pledge of Allegiance
over the tinny PA system.
One morning as we rose,
hands over hearts,
we noticed someone
had put up the Canadian flag
in the holder over the door.
The Principal threatened
to call all of our parents
unless the guilty party
came forward, and we
struggled vainly
to swallow our giggles.
No one came forward
and they found
the Stars and Stripes
stuck in a large mixing bowl
in the kitchen.
The Principal scheduled an assembly
to remind us of our need
to honor the flag and the country,
because it stood for all that was good,
for all that we had
and that everyone else wanted,
but we were under our desks
in the painful tuck position
we would assume if they
ever dropped the bomb.
They didn’t tell us that
if we were close enough to ground zero
the position would let us
leave a neater shadow on the floor.
Some days we sang
My Country ‘Tis of Thee
all except for Larry
who preferred God Save the Queen
until the Principal told him
it was sacrilege, since
we created it and the Brits stole it.
Years later, outside the Federal Building
the Principal, now retired and girding
for battle with Social Security, saw me,
protest sign in hand, flag sewn
across the seat of my jeans.
He stared, then looked away
ashamed at still another failure,
not like his two sons who lay
in eternal repose in the Federal cemetery
on the Island of Oahu.

First published in The Right to Depart, Plain View Press, (2008)

WE WERE SPECIAL

We were a special generation,
that’s what they told us, and although
we had no real idea who they were,
we drank the Kool-Aid and believed them.

We got liberal educations, were
smarter than our parents,
and went off to the wars that they
started for us, did enough drugs
to numb the pain of our existence,
and became first class working drones.

Our children are grown now, and they
have been told that they
are a special generation and although
they were skeptical, we convinced them.

Some got liberal educations, most
couldn’t afford that thought,
so we found wars for them to fight,
and drugs to kill the pain of lives
that were and would be nothing special,

and we wondered what they
would someday tell their children.

INSIDE, UNSEEING

I’ve been trying to discover how
it is that those inside the beltway
elected to office, or working
for those who were elected,
have all sense of irony (and
in some cases. civility) erased.

How else to explain that for many
there can be no climate change
while the nation they serve
is bearing its cost, climatologically
and in discourse and diversity,
and still they won’t see that
baked Alaska is no longer just
a dessert at a Party or PAC dinner.

Or to be blind to the fact that
their parents or grandparents
once stared up at the Lady
in the Harbor, that they were
the tired and the poor yearning
for the freedom they would now
so easily deny others, that they
and theirs were the invading mob,
nonetheless welcomed in the
promise of an ever greater land.

Perhaps it is best I never learn
for in this world a finely honed
sense of irony may be our last,
best hope for salvaging our sanity.

DEFINE-ITELY

It takes only moments for someone
to ask for a definition of poetry.

That task is at once terribly
simple and equally impossible,

a poem is many things
but not now or ever:

a paean to a self-aggrandizing
leader without soul
or sense of direction,
moral and literal;

a rant on how
all are conspiring
against you despite
your stable genius;

a Jeremiad decrying
facts contrary
to what you wish
them to be;

any attempt you
make or condone
to rewrite
“The New Colossus.”

BANDAGE

She wants to know if it is even possible
to make a bandage large enough
to bind the wounds we have inflicted
on a planet which we were told
was ours over which we were
to exercise our wise dominion.

She says it isn’t fair that she will be
left to try to clean up the mess
that we have made for it was our
world too, though she adds, we were
not very good at sharing with others.

I want to apologize and tell her
that she is right, that we adults
have failed her generation but
I know she won’t believe me, for
we could have stopped this, but we

always looked out for ourselves
always wanted just a bit more
always were too busy to notice
assumed the others would handle it
said there was nothing we could do.

We hope one day you will
forgive us although we have done
nothing to merit any absolution.

First appeared in The Poet: A New World, Autumn 2020

JE SAIS QUOI

I admit I am an odd duck, odder for not being a duck at all. But the expression has a certain je ne sais quoi to it, as does that expression and I am all about language. All that is a long round about way of acknowledging that I have always wanted to use the word antiphonal in my writing. I’m not terribly religious, and what faith I had has long been shaken by a world gone mad. Or at least a country gone mad. And even when I had some faith, I subscribed to the syllogism that religions music was to music, as military food was to food. We won’t even mention military music, that is an abject oxymoron.

SHELVED

They speak of me, never to me,
with terms like breakage, as though
life, mine at least, is a glass bottle
on a shelf with so many others,
and a certain percentage are pre-
assumed to break and be discarded
and no one will bat an eyelash.

To them I am nameless, one of many,
stock in trade, with no provenance,
or at least none they would grant me,
and they question my origins, as though
I may not be worthy enough to even
be considered as future breakage.

I want to remind them that they
invited me here, invited so many others,
that we are here because it was one
place we were going to be allowed,
but they have grown deaf, and blind,
and I must wait until they, too, soon,
are swept from the shelf and
placed in clearance, then discarded.

RETURN OF SCIENCE

During the Presidential debate the other night the inevitable question was eventually asked. I have to say the answers were much as expected, exactly as scripted, and while “correct,” each candidate missed a golden opportunity. “On January 21, what will be the first thing you will do as President?” Most of the world’s problems made the list, immigration, climate change, wealth inequality, you get the picture. It was never mind that almost none of the things listed could be solved by an executive order, their hearts were in the right place. But no one hit the real mark. Ask me and the answer’s simple. My first act as President is to appoint the official White House herpetologist. It is a two for one appointment, after all. I get someone who can help me deal with Congress, members of both the Senate and House. But better still, when it hits the fan, and we all know it will, repeatedly, I have an expert who can explain that yet again, it is all the snake’s fault. That one has worked since Adam, and even the evangelicals and Catholics must agree on that one.