Trees whipped bare. And all this time they've been pointing and we couldn't see. A war going on and nobody's home. Trees three stories tall. Little orange storms. Leaves drawing the wind. He's five, he's a leaf on the ground. He's running closer to the street. Every time a danger, and every time he stops-order. Unsizeable sky. We wake to storm. No real harm. Limbs little ships on the walkways. What am I doing in the woods again, idling when the war is storming? So thin we are, so young and terrible. Can't see the storm for the wind. Can't see the sin for the single war. Lose a rattle win a door. We have to turn our backs and shield our eyes. Leaves on their own recognizance leave their trees. It wasn't anything we planned. I should not be attached to the way I think it should be. Wind's version of incineration. The plane of water before the water, the line of war before the war, storm clouds before a storm. The wind whips its warnings through our windowsills. Just a storm, just a little disorder, a little panic, little panel of pain. The canopy rusting now on the new ground, a minor calamity. I like to stoop most. Knees ache from so much bending. Updraft. Small draft whistling. No draft yet. Wind in the nests of the whippoorwills of the nightjar family and in my hair. Indoors, electric spark: my little battle with the spigot and the door handle. Wind unhinges the plant heads from their stems. But watch: the satellites turn with our clocks, the television showtimes oblige. Blue screen, blue undertones on the bark. Pointing. I didn't know before that the limbs were pointing to the sky. We put towels on the ledges to bury the wind. Strikethrough, double strikethrough. As you know, for a moment, all is fallen. For a moment, all is upheaved. Then swiftly the snow will revise the chaos away. Surely this is a sign, the birds all gone. Shock and a broken jaw. Wind unleashing what I was just beginning to draw. Now the war is changing intention like a telephone game. Irresolvable, irreversible, burn-out on the television screen. But here, one hundred minimalist trees. Recalcitrant palette, I have to oblige your needs.
kidman on the beach
here white feet foam up consciousness & sobs
ease im company as a firm;
if its grief ok it ceases eventually no need to
find a way the dead caused harm.
its a reprise i cant say
everyone, every family, has its war issues,
its creeping fascism im not here to represent all the
that have barefacedly tossed their worn ethics;
or barely spawned, here
a vampire goes
as long as they dont mean,
the abstractions they identify, in their charmless
its naive uncool even to mention—
all the while
theyre at church, demonising my hopes,
i cant stand paint fumes i use a stick to
leave messages in view of ships,
pathos pointless, as
revolutionary as obeying a
when a vicious zombies president,
welcome to a movie, our movie; as cast & crew
make our two word prayer
Love in the Time of War
(for Wei-ch'in Lin)
that assembly line grinding in my face
reactions of skin
and the Cultural
six years of exhaustive
and the glimpse of wild
shaping the wax
of our desire
his pale existence
in an automotive contingent
laughed in the grass
at the Peach Blossom
touching the gold laments
with a renaissance on our hands
ourselves into the cool wound of the sky
luminous as bullets
solid with sweat
our bare metal humming
afterwards letting the world
bend to us
in a forbidden crescent of prayer
La Bonne Chanson
close up of Paris Hilton
the look of orgasm
rewrite her footnote
now, on E...
only a short clip of that
key in her name on a certain website
in the throws of numeric action
she would live it again
quicker than some demon
she was all there
history watching itself from the screen
National Strategy for Victory
On sunny days in winter
I walk just to see some sky.
I think about my role
like any character tries
to grasp what he’s cast into.
I drift out to different concepts—
nucleotides and how
like galaxies they seem
sexual devices I’ve seen or
the names of famous artists
who drank too much.
Sometimes while I’m walking
I’ll write on a pad and paper
different people I’d like to
talk to like the guy who painted
that hieroglyph hanging
above the perm dryer
in the fourth street salon
or that happy young family
at the downtown coffee shop.
Mostly I say what’s up?
And just see what happens.
He works in the co-op deli
and she’s a nursing student.
I guess the painter moved
to North Carolina
where the light off the water
and high in the pines is better
for the important work
for all the great generals
a general need not praise his sword
mountains shake for him
who can compete with his words unsaid
the poem he’d write
that brush which ink has never yet touched
his glint lies scabbarded
hand on hilt
thus heaven and the earth are turned
thus steadied are the hearts of men
a general need not praise his sword
nor need he praise war
War-Fed and Over-Sexed
To what extent can one enjoy one’s personal life during this time of war? As Peter Gizzi said to me recently about the post-September 11th feeling of some of his pre-September 11th poems in Some Values of Landscape and Weather, "There’s always been a war going on." Many of us just choose to forget this. The United States’ economy and security are deeply enmeshed with warfare (nearly 50% of the 2,251 billion dollar 2007 budget goes toward military if one includes military-related veterans benefits and war-related interest on the deficit), and as the following list points out, there has never been a time in my thirty-five years as a citizen of this empire that has been completely free of US involvement in some war or military action:
Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos
1976-1992: Angola (via CIA)
1980-1989: Iran, Libya, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Lebanon, Honduras, Granada, Philippines, Panama
1990: Gulf War/Iraq
1991-2001: Somalia, Bosnia, Croatia, Haiti, Serbia, Zaire, Liberia
So, if I’ve been able to enjoy anything during my thirty-five years of existence, and I have, it seems I do have an ability to shut out the reality of my country’s actions overseas and focus on something pleasurable. Most days, I choose to worry some and I choose to enjoy some, sometimes at the same time. To not worry and take no action would be to lead a blind and callous existence to the rest of the world; to worry and take action all the time would lead to a wholly political or revolutionary existence, neither of which I’m ready for.
I spend a lot of time enjoying writing and reading, and these pursuits sometimes seem removed from wartime concerns. Or are they? The answer to this question partially depends upon one’s aesthetic—i.e. should art be an escape from “reality” or a reflection of it—but if, as a poet, one is an honest observer of society or even one’s own mind, the issue of warfare should come up often. The extent and means largely depend on the poet, and contemporary poets have amply responded to the current war in both obvious and more oblique ways. The question of how much focus the war should receive in one’s work finally seems a balancing act between the feminist motto “the personal is political” and Denise Levertov’s "you can’t make a good poem out of 'ought to.'" In relation to the former, there is no way one’s poetry cannot reflect the politics around them. Even an attempt to completely avoid the political—the work of current Poet Laureate Ted Kooser comes to mind—reveals an enormous amount about one’s politics. However, in relation to the latter, completely one-sided polemics, dogmatism and agitprop seldom serve the more necessarily ambivalent need of poetry—the need to reflect the complexity of the world on its own terms. As Garcia Lorca painfully reflects, “A workman falls from a roof and dies and no longer eats lunch / Then I’m to introduce the trope, the metaphor?"
Our human ability to enjoy sex and sexual images during wartime reflects this “complexity of the world on its own terms,” and I don’t think it anymore inherently crass than enjoying any other pleasure during wartime in our empire of excess—probably much less crass than driving a Hummer because it was a good tax write-off. Sex and sexual images are, for the most part, more attractive than warfare to me. They provide an escape from the terror of what our country is doing to its citizens and the citizens of other countries by making endless war around the world. In this escapist capacity, perhaps it would be wrong to enjoy them too much during wartime, as it probably would be during any other time.
Interestingly, images of sex and war often seem intimately linked. Some images from S/M websites look more than a bit like photos from Abu Ghraib, and while I realize the issues of intention and consent radically differ between the two, both hardcore pornography and hardcore images of war are censored and deemed unacceptable by society at large. I’d say that an honest society would permit more open consumption of both. If we deem it okay to enjoy visceral images of the human body in our pursuit of pleasure or sales, we should also feel free to pursue the most visceral images of war in pursuit of political enlightenment, protest and revolt.
More than twenty-five years ago, Francis Ford Coppala brilliantly portrayed the American relationship between war, sex, and fantasy in the unedited version of Apocalypse Now, recently released as Apocalypse Now Redux. In one scene, Captain Willard and crew stop for supplies at a small military outpost in the midst of a downpour while going up river to search for Colonel Kurtz. In the original release, the scene is fairly short and focuses on the dismal conditions and lack of order in the outpost. In the Redux version, the crew discovers that a group of Playmates have been stranded there and manage to convince the outpost command to let them have an audience. The result is not sexual bliss but a struggle to negotiate mud inside a tent and to remedy the wrong hair color (one of the men asks a Playmate to don a wig so she will look more like the photo he is remembering, which might not even be of her) to make these women fit Playboy-fueled fantasies in the midst of an unreal, horrific war. There is no better commentary on the American industries of war and sex, a hauntingly prescient commentary on our current need to get the Iraqis to wear their bloody wig of democracy just right, and to show a bit more shoulder, before we’re out of there and looking for our next auto-erotic military fantasy.