The River

This poem was originally featured on the blog In Our Words.

I.

Scripture says

what has been will be again,

what has been done will be done again;

there is nothing new under the sun.

Are we the listless passengers of Charon,

passing time and passing away

languishing in our cruel stream of

undying wraiths drowned in fetid violence,

disfigured souls mired in a swamp of torment,

unable to escape the muck we have made?

Or are we adrift on Heraclitus’s river

fixed in flux

facing brutal new worlds alone,

turning a bend on a strange bed of reeds

to discover that we

don’t know where we are

or where we’ve been

or where we’re going?

Why is this pain happening anew?

Why does this pain keep happening?

II.

A young man reached out his liver-spotted hands

to midwife a murder

from a birthing canal that overflowed

with dried blood and stale water

like a river into the sea,

nitrates and dioxin swoosh and swirl

past deltas of change

and tumble into the frothy tumult,

yet the sea, foamy with foment, is never full.

His withered young face bore

raw wrinkles with age;

taught skin, fresh flesh, stretched

over the dry bones of Dorian Grey

in cracked oil on pliant canvas.

Stuck adrift in this stagnant river

flushed with fresh water

and green from algae plumes,

this man is the same as a boy.

Now, past an end of a world,

the boy within me is broken hearted,

but today I am a man;

I am too strong to keep from crying.

III.

The supersonic impact of a lone gunman

whirling through time

corkscrewing through space

with no narrative, no reason,

tearing through the flesh of fact

and sending a shockwave that

stops our heart,

numbs our festering wounds with

the anesthesia of amnesia.

This maniacal balm is our American anodyne of

narcotics, hypnotics, and opiates

to soothe pain,

lessen sensitivity,

and deaden thought.

This is not the time to reflect on our past,

Doctor’s orders.

Nerve endings shredded; synapses stopped short;

white hot metal pumped into the body politic

to distract us from the ongoing onslaught of

private pain in public spectacle.

Every killer makes his pain another’s problem.

Only those mired

in the favor of their birthright

can conclude

their private pain is the entire world’s problem.

IV.

When King James was learning to crawl

and known as Jim Crow,

and the supple breeze blew through poplar and cotton,

poplar filled men’s nostrils and

cotton filled men’s wallets;

the southern wind cut through the calico and thistles

which cut through white men’s hearts and

bleach-blackened white men’s souls.

From stage coaches to station wagons

and Choctaw horses to Chevy pickups,

black folk paid dearly for the hurt of white folk.

How many nations were birthed,

and mockingbirds killed,

and Mississippi’s burned

in the engraving of white hot anguish

on ensnarled black flesh

through the calligraphy of the whip,

that blood tipped quill that seared onto skin

the dreams and aspirations of white folk

to own faces?  To own spaces?

To become a leviathan of the huddled masses

of their slaves?

White men used to hang little slave boys for fun.

Scripture says there is nothing new under the sun.

V.

When AIDS was coming out

and known as gay plague,

and salty air splashed on wharves and backs

of men at work and

men at play,

hate filled men’s hearts and

fear filled men’s wallets;

coins clanged in collection plates and

checks cashed in coffers

for men who played Delphi and screamed

DON’T LET THEM DO THIS TO YOU!

From disco to dubstep

and Props 6 to 8,

queer folk paid dearly for the hurt of straight folk.

How many lovers were lost,

and children abandoned,

and skeletons made

in the infecting of fear through

black blotch body painting,

that bruising paintbrush that dyes gay skin

with the fears and hallucinations of straight folk

to obscure faces?  To avoid places?

To blot out the blight on their shining city on a hill

of their queer neighbors?

Straight men used to beat little gay boys for fun.

Scripture says there is nothing new under the sun.

VI.

When the world’s oldest profession celebrated six thousand years

and was known as free choice,

and condoms broke like promises

and hearts

and dreams,

blood filled men’s dicks and

pussy filled men’s wallets;

twenties rained on asses and

pimps reigned on assets,

merchant kings of flesh who

profited from the improprieties of propertease.

From gods’ temples to gentlemen’s clubs

and brothels to Bangkok,

women folk paid dearly for the hurt of men folk.

How many bodies were broken,

and wills unspoken,

and eyes glossed over

in the penetration of power through

the chipping away at consent,

that caustic chisel that cuts women’s skin

with the natural needs of men folk

to win faces?  To win places?

To surpass their fellow men in the competition to

own their most intimate of partners?

Men used to rape and kill sex workers for fun.

Scripture says there is nothing new under the sun.

VII.

What then for us,

the modern huddled masses,

clinging to debris of our lives blown away,

after another volatile face chose a public space

to make his voice heard,

make his presence known,

make his pain felt?

Can we ever escape our eternal visit

to the emergency room?

We may soon deplete our American anodyne of

narcotics, hypnotics, and opiates

to soothe pain,

lessen sensitivity,

and deaden thought.

Is it not now time to reflect on our past?

Every killer makes his pain another’s problem.

Only those mired

in the favor of their birthright

can conclude

their private pain is the entire world’s problem.

VIII.

If you own the economy, the mall is your space.

If you own the culture, the theater is your space.

If you own knowledge, the school is your space.

If you own God, then the church is your space.

Thanks to our American anodyne

we don’t have to think about these things.

Our gun lust can only answer how this pain happens.

We may never know why this pain happens.

Only the inheritance of the owning class can answer

where this pain happens,

who this pain happens to,

and how many suffer.

IX.

Why is this pain happening anew?

Why does this pain keep happening?

In the collapse of time,

in this eternal frozen flow,

Scripture asks

is there anything of which one can say

“Look!  This is something new?”

Or was it here already, long ago;

was it here before our time?

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2 responses to “The River

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