From the archives – poems from previous Memorial Days

From 2014

A friend from overseas asked me in a card:
“Ray, what’s it like to live in a country
constantly, always and forever at war?”
I didn’t have an answer so I rolled three dice.
Drama masks; a ladder; catching butterflies.
The masks are for deception when they speak,
all actors on a temporary stage.
The ladder: an escape; a rescue;
a fortuitous disassociation.
Catching butterflies: they will try to lure
you back. Stay on your track, ignore their call.
So what’s it like? Constant bombardment, spin,
propaganda, fake stories, subliminal appeals.
Don’t think about the guy behind the curtain.


From 2016

I wandered through a shopping mall looking
for a telephone, a land phone with two lines:
dying technology, I would soon find out.
The mall, normally full of shoppers, was empty,
quiet, flat. Where were all the shoppers?
A few old men sat at tables in the food court,
rustling through papers with young couples,
and big, tatooed men passed through, I could tell
they were ex-soldiers by their swagger, by the glaze
of combat still in their eyes. Looking for jobs.
No jobs today, everywhere, stores are closing.
In Baghdad, the Marines used to say, “America
is not at war, the Marines are at war.
America is at the Mall.” Not no more.


From 2017

I’m selling my flat on Facebook Street.
Maybe I’ll rent it out – rents keep rising.
Too many bugs in the place, laying eggs
in every crack and crevice. I tried Raid
to smoke them out – they just laughed and scurried
about. Let’s not even discuss the rats
down in the basement, walking on tip-toes
at night, eating pages from my old books.

Yes, I’m selling – maybe the Orkin man
can clean it out, make it habitable.
Again. Maybe the next guy can rent it
out, clean the smell of smoke off the walls,
the stains of piss and ashes I found
under the carpet on the parquet floor.


From 2018

The Deep State is dead. Long live
the Deep State. May she be forever — free.
A system of machines interlocked,
with pipes and valves and pumps
and technologists, watch-standers
who check and wipe the lubrication
when it leaks and monitor differential
flow across redundant components.

There are no kings or queens aboard
this ship of state. No pathetic henchmen
running errands for brighter tomorrows.
Meanwhile, in the home of the brave
the machinery runs without a hiccup,
though hiccups are sometimes made
to appear, an entertainment for casual
observers and pedestrian audiences.

All the vampires have been executed
by patriots exercising their 2nd amendment
rights. Vampire blood soaks the ground
on which we stand, serving as fertilizer
in place of the cow manure we once used.
Spirit cooking and trafficking of children
are outlawed in the new IGY, clowns
splintered and boogeymen deflated.

No memorial monuments will be added
on the mall, no new wars to remember
when the sons and daughters of patriots
finally say no to the world’s money lenders
who were so certain she would win –
because only the Deep State wins.
Life goes on in the villages and towns
while mirrors in the cities crack and fall.

Dear Mrs. Betty Davis

Dear Mrs. Betty Davis:
I watched the documentary film
“They Say I’m Different”
About your life on AmazonPrime
This holiday weekend afternoon.

You were a few years ahead of me
In your prime – I never saw you perform
On the stage – so I’m glad for the film.

But we have a geographical connection.
I bet our grandparents know each other.
Our paths may have crossed at your
Grandma’s farm in Reidsville, or across
The Dan River in Leaksville, or in Durham,
or in my hometown, Greensboro –

It sounds like you’ve found your peace.
That, above all, makes my soul sing.
I’m so proud you resisted the forces
And chose instead to only be yourself.

Your life, your choices are a model
For all of us coming along behind you.
What better, sweeter, purer legacy
Could there be?

from the archives – a note to the file and a Claude McKay poem at the end of Ramadan

October 1, 2007

All: it is Ramadhan, and here in Cairo, the spirit of the month is all-enveloping, omnipresent, and pervasive. Walking through Zamalek after sunset last night, I could see it, I could feel it, I could smell it, I could hear it, I could taste the fast, the month, and the palpable, purgative, restorative effect it has on the community and the society.

So, enough for the travelogue. But I do want to share a poem, written by one of the Harlem Renaissance greats, Claude McKay, about his reminiscences of Ramadhan in Morocco (he is clearly talking about somebody he was in love with, not just the place, but I’ll leave it to you, dear readers of My Wall, to interpret). Hope it all fits . . .

from the archives – poems for the family reunion

Granddaddy raised tobacco in red clay
his whole life long – row by row –
until he got too old to continue –

life must have been tough –
year end, year out, hoping
for good weather and fair prices.

Grandma cleaned the white folks house,
did their laundry, raised their children.
That couldn’t have been much fun either –
she had her own children at home

to care for. Pop had long red hair
as a child, he told me, and thought
it was a celebration when the house
burned down one cold winter morning.

From the archives: D1G

Thoughts about judgment day (D1G)

(This poem is from 1980. I was working at a nuclear power plant in New York state. I was not too happy with my professional life, and my love life was tottering. No place for a 24 year old to be, but that’s another story. I wrote the first draft on the back of one of those industrial strength brown paper towels, folded in half. I escaped from that place by the skin of my teeth, finding greener pastures in nearby Connecticut. My love life improved, but the poetry I wrote there by the sea was not half as good. DIG stood for D, destroyers (navy ships that would hold the reactor plant), 1, the first of its type (and hence the oldest and most contaminated), and G stood for General Electric, aka god and master.)

the hour actively approaches
while we, its victims, sit and wait,
with folded arms, trying to appear
comfortable and carefree,
and mutually exclusive.

days pass quickly, and nights,
like the blink of an eye . . .
nay, the pupil’s dilation . . .
time races to its destination
while we, in our lethargy,
approximate suspended animation.

there is no conclusion,
only the vain pleadings
for a fresh new start,
another sequel,
a couple more opportunities.

The rope by which we hang
is long, connecting us, tethering
us to our past and our future,
but its knot is sure.

June 1980

Audio from the archives

memento mori

One day we’ll all lie down
In a narrow box. For a time
Our neglected hair and nails
Will continue to grow.
But our eyes won’t move
And our ears will no longer
Hear the ennobling sound of music.

Our fingertips will forget
The caring touch of our beloved.
When that time comes for me
Don’t put no shoes or socks
On my feet – there’ll be no reason
to walk any more – but my toes need
freedom to wiggle if they want.