Poems from the crucible, pt. 5

(Not really a poem. I guess I just think in stanzas these days!)

A not nearly modest enough proposal

Since the whole world is agitated,
What’s stopping a group
of non-partisan patriots
from putting together
a petition to the United Nations
to put the cabash on all these
extrajudicial killings
by renegade policemen
in the US? In the aggregate
it is a human rights violation
and as such, a violation
of international UN norms.

Or am I listening to too many
Malcolm X speeches, too tired
Of being tired of all the crap?
All the marching and rioting
And looting is not gonna stop it.
And we know BLM is only
an appendage of Democratic Party
fundraising and election year
vote generation. Let’s do something
Serious about stopping the madness.

Anybody up for an adult conversation?

Poems from the crucible, pt. 4

If #CHAZ were black protesters
and not white anarchists,
they might end up like MOVE,
hunted and penned and
bombed and blown to smithereens.
Nothing left but a clean-up job
for highly skilled city janitors.

But Seattle ain’t like Philadelphia.
Not a church in Revelations.
Not the City of Brotherly Love.
It was named for an Indian chief
who predicted, “The white man will
never be alone. Let him be just,
and deal kindly with my people.
For the dead are not powerless.”
An ominous warning, indeed.

And 2020 ain’t 1985. The internet
sends a picture around the world.
Instantaneously a meme is formed,
a virus for the fertile mind. It could be
a trap, this massive sit-in that displaces
others who used to hang out there,
an occupation by a next generation
of settlers, an expression of their
new found manifest destiny. Quicksand.
Chief Seattle still whispers to us.

Instagram photos

For M. Milonaki

I thumbed through your
Instagram photos today,
all the way to the bottom,
and reminded myself
how lucky I am to count
you among my circle of friends.

It almost sounds like stalking
but I assure you it is not.
More like a respectful appreciation,
a casual stroll thru a special gallery.

The poetry will end one day,
like everything else. Memento mori.
But true affection endures forever,
if only just a fading memory.

Poems from the crucible, pt. 3

What’s worse?
Kneeling to a false god?
Or wearing kente while kneeling?
Betcha it was fake, knockoff kente.
Betcha it came from China.

And yes, we all know what happens next.
Bad cop gets light or no sentence
(because with all the drugs
they couldn’t figure out conclusively
the actual cause of death).

This event, true to form,
sets off a second round
of riots and looting,
misnamed peaceful protests,
in cities and urban areas
where black folk live and shop,
lowering property values.

And then what?
We’ve seen this film before.
Gentrification when the ashes cool
while the

Poems from the crucible, pt.2

“black lives matter”
Is technically a tautology:
An assertion that is true
In any possible interpretation.

As such, it needn’t be spoken:
Everybody understands it to be.
But we hear it all over the place
And we see it on posters
& on walls & in windows – even
On a street (but that won’t last too long).

Growing up we used to say
“Black is beautiful” – more
An identity than a tautology,
At least mathematically speaking –
More to affirm than to assert –
More cultural than political –
More feel good than mindfuck.

“To be or not to be”
Is a line from Shakespeare,
and “To be rather than to seem”
Is a line from Cicero adopted
By North Carolina as a state motto.
But “I will fuck you up if you
Block my path,” is unambiguous
And requires no interpretation.

a facebook status I posted that i thought was pretty poetic

Slavery in the United States
is not mythological.
It is not the expropriation
of an ancient biblical bedtime story.
Slavery was brutal and inhumane
and it etched itself into the American psyche
in ways we have not even discovered,
much less acknowledged.
Yet, it is a unifying event as it weaves
together into perpetuity
the lives and fortunes of the descendants
of both the formerly enslaved
and the former slave holders.
Didn’t they know this would happen?

“We must all learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.” – MLK

Poems from the crucible*, pt. 1

I read an African proverb
that a child not embraced
by its village will burn that village down
to feel its warmth.

The mayor lifted the curfew
to appease the rioters – but God
in his wisdom sent a thunderstorm
that made them scurry like cockroaches
when the lights come on.

Another storm is brewing.

If a monument is a lightning rod
and a lightning bolt hits the tip top
does free electricity go into the ground?

Some say abolish the police –
But then who’s Karen gonna call?

Some of us are awake and
Some of us remember you.
So if you wanna tip-toe back here
Don’t come half-stepping – You’d
Better bring your best game.

* A crucible is a ceramic or metal container in which metals or other substances may be melted or subjected to very high temperatures. While crucibles historically were usually made from clay, they can be made from any material that withstands temperatures high enough to melt or otherwise alter its contents.

from the archives – letter to Walt Whitman

Dear Walt:

I seem to recall we met,​ ​in the future, in the past, or in a dream –
maybe in engine room lower level,
repairing a valve or calibrating a gauge
on an obscure hydraulic line;
or maybe on the bridge,
transiting the Strait of Gibraltar,
or the Strait of Bonifacio,
or the Strait of Messina;
or maybe having a smoke on the fantail
while the ship rounds the Cape of Good Hope,
or the Cape Horn, or Ras Kasar.

The physical place is less important
than the metaphysical space we share:
lonely, tired, perplexed, distressed,
missing loved ones –
lonely, tired, perplexed, distressed,
surrounded by loved ones –
seeking refuge from war’s alarm,
whether fighting on distant battlefields,
or negotiating in hostile boardrooms,
far or near, seeking refuge from war
and the rumors of war, seeking peace.

We share the womb of America –
twin biracial souls within the same mother,
bouncing around in an aqueous environment.
Scandalized, scapegoated and heart-broken,
we forge forward together on this mystic trek,
guided by an unseen star in the Northern sky,
inspired by love, and hope, and steadfast faith.

April 17, 2013

From the archives – in commemoration of today’s successful NASA SpaceX launch

Sonnet #16

Today I watched the shuttle launched towards space.
A tail of fire plowed the southern morning sky
Until it disappeared. I thought about
The people there, behind the scenes, who made,
It all occur. There’s someone there whose life
Is less than free from care, a lonely heart,
Dis-eased, distressed, beset by worries, woes,
Who, overcoming all, finds sweet the reaching
Of the goal. There’re happy ones who feel the tinge
Of sadness at the thought of those who’ve missed
By fate the thrill of launch complete, the charm,
The pure romance of making dreams come true.
The shuttle jets toward heaven, far away
From troubles, closer still to hopes ideal.

Mayport, FL April 1990

from the archives – Poems to Towanna

I heard from an old, dear friend some time ago who was waging a battle with cancer. She spoke to me about her children, all adults now, and the importance to her that they see her fight this battle with all her might. 30+ years ago I sent her these poems and would like to pull them up from the archives to share with you all as I wish her courage, faith and strength in her struggle.

To Towanna

A peculiar beauty,
A gentle glow,
A kindness
and a caring –

an attractiveness,
a radiance,
a heart that tends
toward sharing –

a pleasant smile,
a friendliness,
though hardships
You are bearing –

a tender kiss,
a warm caress,
Your love makes
life endearing.

Ballston Spa, NY July 1980


To Towanna – Sonnet #21

Remember years ago when we first met?
You selling books, me browsing, reading books
At Brandon’s store? We were so young, and life
So unrevealed, so full of promises
And boundless hopes and dreams, and guarantees
And opportunities. You went away.
I stayed and made mistakes. We met again,
You east, me west, you school, me ships and seas.
Confused, we erred and severed friendship’s bond,
And all seemed lost between us save a thread,
A laser beam of hope that, over time,
Compressed, distilled and purified, survived
Until today. We meet again. What fate
Awaits is ours to plan, to recommend.

Jacksonville, FL July 1990

Poems from the crucible, pt. nought – 14 lines for a rainy Thursday morning

“I once studied viruses like this one. They are immensely complex and
according to some, not even living.”
My friend Myra, a poet

I woke up to rioting and looting
in Minneapolis, faux apologies
in New York, unsolved, unanswered
questions in Brunswick, GA,
and dementia in Dover, Delaware.

What the actual fuck? Pardon my French.

This virus might not be a living thing
But it is wrecking havoc in all our lives.
Then there are rumors about a veto
And an executive order that’s gonna stir
Some feathers in the head of the beast.

And somebody wrote on Twitter,
“Ain’t no shame in their game.”
I see shame all over the place.

From the archives – Remembering Bob Kaufman

This memorial to Bob Kaufman became one of my favorite poems of the pandemic period. Writing a memorial was one of the prompts from NaPoWriMo 2020. I never met Bob Kaufman. I only knew him through his poetry.

All the letters I never sent

All the letters I never sent,
poems I wrote but only shared
with special friends (those
who dug the cut of my jib).
I warehouse them (most but not all)
like museum extras, far from the eyes,
and outside the reach of saints.

All the morning walks I stopped
taking after my fall,
from fear, misplaced perhaps,
that I might fall again and get stuck
somewhere off a beaten path
where no one could hear
my pleas and groans.

All the lies I never told
because I never felt the need
to misrepresent, to be
anybody or anything other
than my own true self.

I still fall in love too easily,
so I’m told – but there’s always
a link, a connection
worth tracing, a node
in a complex network
where we can meet.

And yes, I still get seasick –
the surface is no place
for lovers to hang out.
Once we reach
the dive point and submerge
the ride gets smoother.

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 sounds 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.


confined to quarters – a sonnet and a farewell to Wilson’s ten-play cycle

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!”

wild game

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.

From the archives – Rape Culture

Rape Culture

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

to my reluctant Muse

I want to write a poem
If I were to run away from all this
Or maybe a play about a bakery
All this stuff, all these obligations
Where I once worked, once discovered
All my books and papers
Resources stored and stacked deeply
And never look back
In my essence, my spiritual DNA
Will there be space for me still
Inherited over the miles and years
In your heart, room for me
Where you are? Beauty, like truth,
is in the eye of the beholder, not the beheld.


#NaPoWriMo2020 Day #30


I straddle multiple dualities:
Settler and native, assimilated
And separate, conqueror and conquered.
Crossing lines is my favorite pastime,
Assuming opposing identities,
Walking a mile in my enemy’s shoes.

Still, there are certain things I will not do:
I’ll never hurt a child, or kick a man
Who’s already down, or ignore a plea
For help from anyone. A warrior
To my bones, if you cross me I will pause
And think before I act: it’s likely I
won’t turn the other cheek. I’ll telegraph
my ev’ry move, give you the choice to strike.

#NaPoWriMo2020 Day #27

To Filomena

my wife is watching

My wife says she can tell
When I’m writing poetry.
She says she sees me moving
In and out of space and time
And she wonders where it is I go.

I tell her I cross a mighty river
Again and again. One that separates
The temples of life’s renewal,
On the west coast facing east,
catching the first rays of sunrise –
From the tombs that guard the past,
On the east coast facing west,
basking in sunset’s glow.

Both a library and an archive,
A moving feast inside my mind.
Crossing back and forth between
Those two worlds creates an energy
source and a drug for my addiction.

She does that thing where she
Points two fingers at her eyes
And then at me. She’s watching.