This is not a journal.
Not in the strictest sense.
Nor is it a story with characters
that breathe and laugh
and smite down giants.
Nor is it a retrospective
with light shining backward
into alleys of remembrance.
Nor is it a memoir
bringing back to life
that which never died.
Nor is it a textbook
filed to a fine point –
more sharp than shine.
Nor is it a nursery rhyme
where hard stuff softens into
good lessons that go down easier.
This is not a journal.
It is a depository –
for words and their spirits.
For their capacity to hunker down
under the harsh heat of life’s longest hours
and make love until poetry appears.
This might be a poem.
Or, it might be a place where broodings
outwit the failed necessity of effectiveness.
Yes. Let’s call it poetry.
Let’s call it something looser, more lascivious
and lighthearted than expected;
more slow barefoot than mere distance.
For poetry is why we came into the world.
Shy lovers trip on words that ache, and
with limited alphabets, build a song.
She grabbed my hand –
caught, like a tufted
grove of hazy branches –
there were promises unspoken.
The full English –
an edible morning rainbow.
Then, it’s heads down, cell phone
It’s the skin-tight suits
the ‘please watch me not watching you’
as we shoot through this
time tested colon –
speeding train of Tartarus,
emerging once again,
Chuffed, checkered, intermittent
assigns us together in the march,
a soldiery of urban totems.
1980s yoga pants
like validation tattoos – a rite of passage
for all who feed the push, heed
the pull, hunt the posh, herald their
Miles of scarves, stairs, scars, and stares (downward) –
brogues, bulimic beauties, and burkas –
pumps, peacoats, pints, and paces –
faces down, chins up,
clacking heals, turning heads
chasing oil on water –
pooling from the duck’s back.
How much faster can we go
to get to where we always go
but have never seen,
here in jolly ole…?
Is there anything after London?
I love the world as she has loved me –
she to me, a globule; I, to her, infinity.
She unpacks her bags each morning,
with equal fanfare, but no pretense.
She always was a generous friend –
a giver of pleasure,
waitress to my doubt,
bearer of my pain.
And, in her bosom? That longed for, long
home-s t r e t c h of the driver’s road.
Her knowing neck waits for my tears.
She sends reminders for me to
clap the dirt clods from my dusty hands
before I scratch out memories in clouds
or bend my knees to the great silence.
Toast her first, take her elder hand, look deep
inside her intuition – then ravage seems less likely.
“You pinch and toss, diminish and deride,
hoarding stolen jewels for your banality.
But I’ve borne you on my back,
wrapped you in my folded skin,
planted you in places
you’ve known, some not.
You’ve nursed these ancient breasts
into the submission of harmony,
the blessing of acceptance.”
So I come to rest in her scholarly pain.
There is a certain ennui in my small experience
that shows up when I meet her gaze.
And any of my rumpled thoughts or faces
meant as caves and shields
cannot cast shadows longer than the sum of her days.
I smile and we shimmy down the park bench
of years and stories told and lies perfected.
And she smiles because she knows everything
I’ve forgotten or discarded
or chosen to remember poorly.
I’ve bruised her.
She blesses me.
I love the world as she has loved me –
she to me, a mother; I to her, a child.
Why do we measure people’s capacity
To love by how well they love their progeny?
That kind of love is easy. Encoded.
Any lion can be devoted
To its cubs. Any insect, be it prey
Or predator, worships its own DNA.
Like the wolf, elephant, bear, and bees,
We humans are programmed to love what we conceive.
That’s why it’s so shocking when a neighbor
Drives his car into a pond and slaughter–
Drowns his children. And that’s why we curse
The mother who leaves her kids—her hearth—
And never returns. That kind of betrayal
Rattles our souls. That shit is biblical.
So, yes, we should grieve an ocean
When we encounter a caretaker so broken.
But I’m not going to send you a card
For being a decent parent. It ain’t that hard
To love somebody who resembles you.
If you want an ode then join the endless queue
Of people who are good to their next of kin-
Who somehow love people with the same chin
And skin and religion and accent and eyes.
So you love your sibling? Big fucking surprise.
But how much do you love the strange and stranger?
Hey, Caveman, do you see only danger
When you peer into the night? Are you afraid
Of the country that exists outside of your cave?
Hey, Caveman, when are you going to evolve?
Are you still baffled by the way the earth revolves
Around the sun and not the other way around?
Are you terrified by the ever-shifting ground?
Hey, Trump, I know you weren’t loved enough
By your sandpaper father, who roughed and roughed
And roughed the world. I have some empathy
For the boy you were. But, damn, your incivility,
Your volcanic hostility, your lists
Of enemies, your moral apocalypse—
All of it makes you dumb and dangerous.
You are the Antichrist we need to antitrust.
Or maybe you’re only a minor league
Dictator—temporary, small, and weak.
You’ve wounded our country. It might heal.
And yet, I think of what you’ve revealed
About the millions and millions of people
Who worship beneath your tarnished steeple.
Those folks admire your lack of compassion.
They think it’s honest and wonderfully old-fashioned.
They call you traditional and Christian.
LOL! You’ve given them permission
To be callous. They have been rewarded
For being heavily armed and heavily guarded.
You’ve convinced them that their deadly sins
(Envy, wrath, greed) have transformed into wins.
Of course, I’m also fragile and finite and flawed.
I have yet to fully atone for the pain I’ve caused.
I’m an atheist who believes in grace if not in God.
I’m a humanist who thinks that we’re all not
Humane enough. I think of someone who loves me—
A friend I love back—and how he didn’t believe
How much I grieved the death of Prince and his paisley.
My friend doubted that anyone could grieve so deeply.
The death of any stranger, especially a star.
“It doesn’t feel real,” he said. If I could play guitar
And sing, I would have turned purple and roared
One hundred Prince songs—every lick and chord—
But I think my friend would have still doubted me.
And now, in the context of this poem, I can see
That my friend’s love was the kind that only burns
In expectation of a fire in return.
He’s no longer my friend. I mourn that loss.
But, in the Trump aftermath, I’ve measured the costs
And benefits of loving those who don’t love
Strangers. After all, I’m often the odd one—
The strangest stranger—in any field or room.
“He was weird” will be carved into my tomb.
But it’s wrong to measure my family and friends
By where their love for me begins or ends.
It’s too easy to keep a domestic score.
This world demands more love than that. More.
So let me ask demanding questions: Will you be
Eyes for the blind? Will you become the feet
For the wounded? Will you protect the poor?
Will you welcome the lost to your shore?
Will you battle the blood-thieves
And rescue the powerless from their teeth?
Who will you be? Who will I become
As we gather in this terrible kingdom?
My friends, I’m not quite sure what I should do.
I’m as angry and afraid and disillusioned as you.
But I do know this: I will resist hate. I will resist.
I will stand and sing my love. I will use my fist
To drum and drum my love. I will write and read poems
That offer the warmth and shelter of any good home.
I will sing for people who might not sing for me.
I will sing for people who are not my family.
I will sing honor songs for the unfamilar and new.
I will visit a different church and pray in a different pew.
I will silently sit and carefully listen to new stories
About other people’s tragedies and glories.
I will not assume my pain and joy are better.
I will not claim my people invented gravity or weather.
And, oh, I know I will still feel my rage and rage and rage
But I won’t act like I’m the only person onstage.
I am one more citizen marching against hatred.
Alone, we are defenseless. Collected, we are sacred.
We will march by the millions. We will tremble and grieve.
We will praise and weep and laugh. We will believe.
We will be courageous with our love. We will risk danger
As we sing and sing and sing to welcome strangers.
©2017, Sherman Alexie
Like under-inflated tires meant for better roads,
the sheen wears off until tracks become ruts
and steering makes no sense.
Now they wonder out loud if pitch and yaw can match
the swoop and dive of former days.
And they ask themselves the only questions
worthy of easier breathing and potato salad,
fresher still than the arrival of these moments –
unbearably skint of certainty,
but crouching in the dew of possibility.
This is no John Steinbeck novel they chuckle uneasily.
But it sure bears a resemblance to those sullen characters
pulled from page to thought, from thought to talk
and back again.
And even Oklahoma dust tastes good in a mouth
full of hope, conversations pointed in.
So, like throats yearning for rain,
they steer the bow of an old truck into new wind.
An uneasy road curls herself, snakelike,
hiding just underneath – not so much friend
Unlikely companions, no longer in remission,
make plans on the yawning road before them.
Somewhere down among the sheets,
between the spaces in loose gravel from nighttime sweats
lies the answer to an unasked question.
Somewhere underneath the skin of things
is poised another wrinkle, adding suggestions
to the game of chances only played by winners in drag
or posers lost in long hallways.
Somewhere up among the heights of nether
is held packages of days, a fistful of years
soon to be released upon the cold, dark land.
Somewhere you awaken from the same nightmare
everyone has, standing before a crowd
leaning forward to listen, and you with pants at your ankles,
a mouth full of sand.
But the nightmare is real, you are not.
And it’s the speech you can’t remember,
adding salt to the wound,
grease to the pole,
fire to a barrel bottom.
What of it? he said.
What of it? he says.
What if there were the solemn chance of a reprise
to a time, long forgotten but fresh-remembered?
A chorus to a bad song?
A bad song on repeat?
Old onions on ice cream?
Frozen water in the pipes
when all you need is a drink?
Surely there can be one straw long enough
to snatch from the fist?
Or are they there just to tease you for
the risk of un-lived truth?
Relief that the ground will still catch you?
Under-thought high dives into a dry pool?
Over-thought reasons for the same?
Somewhere, around the perimeter, is a chorus-line
taunting from a finish-line you did not paint
in a race you never trained for.
Somewhere, you’ve stopped running to find it.
Somewhere has found you.