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.
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,
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.
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.
What must we conclude when the cycle ends?
Is there cause for hope, for optimism,
A balm we can surely find in Gilead?
Or isn’t all just a wink and a nod,
Yet another slave narrative that shows
the futility of our pleas for peace?
As a teen I thought Robert Redford might
Someday be President. I mean, Bobby Seale
Didn’t really stand a chance and Redford
Was at least a man of action. But there
was no great art in his films, well, except
in that spy flick he did with Dunaway –
Who had been my secret crush forever –
Where, under duress, she said, “This is . . . unfair!”
The issue is never
the number of sounds
per line. It’s always been
the silences between
the sounds that either
establish a pattern
or throw you off the trail.
You track the scent.
Everything goes back
to hunting and fishing.
The newest birth defect to emerge from the depths
of our collective DNA has long and intricate roots –
passed down from father to son – from mother
to daughter – like some unique, sacred inheritance,
the beast whose marks we bear. The conquistadors
had their way with the natives they “discovered” –
no slave was safe from the raging hormones
of the master and his sons – the ladies of the house
turned their heads and hoped it would be contained –
now it’s an epidemic. A syphilis. Killing us slowly.
October 16, 2017