Lakefront Dusk, Late August

Fat boys with the breasts
of pubescent girls
take off their shirts
do cannonballs off the dock.

Toddler soils his pants
squeals on the beachfront.
Auntie strips him down
washes him in the lake.

Devil’s darning needles
stitch the fading sky with
random dancing patterns
of appetite and death.

Evil, mean and average

“When the highest and strongest drives, breaking passionately out, carry the individual far above and beyond the average and lowlands of the herd conscience, the self-confidence of the community goes to pieces, its faith in itself, its spine as it were, is broken: consequently it is precisely these drives which are most branded and calumniated.  Lofty spiritual independence, the will to stand alone, great intelligence even, are felt to be dangerous; everything that raises the individual above the herd and makes his neighbour quail is henceforth called evil; the fair, modest, obedient, self-effacing disposition, the mean and average in desires, acquires moral names and honours.” – Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil (trans. Hollingdale; emphasis in original)

Peace

I’m Kelly.  It’s an Irish name.
I’m black Irish.  I’m not from
here.  I’m from farther south,
from that part of town where
five people were shot in front
of the church last night.  On the steps
of the church, they were just
standing there.  Not hurting anyone.
You don’t have a gun, do you?
I don’t, either.  People with guns
need to take lessons so they shoot
who they’re aiming at and not just
anyone.  (I won’t mention it, but
I want to thank you for not saying
anything about how you can smell
the liquor on my breath.  And the
sun’s just barely up.)

I come here and I sit and I look
at the lake and the sky
and the sun and it’s my peace.
It’s how I get my peace.
Are you a therapist?  It’s going
to be hot today.  My sister
tells me bring a bottle of water
with me when I go out.  Ice-cold
water, a bottle.  I’m very
religious.  I have to start
my day soon.  Go home and shower
and get dressed.  Clean clothes.
I like the lake.  The sky and
the sun.  Bright yellow sun.

Just another beast of burden

“‘Thou shalt obey someone and for a long time: otherwise thou shalt perish and lose all respect for thyself’—this seems to me to be nature’s imperative, which is, to be sure, neither ‘categorical’ as old Kant demanded it should be (hence the ‘otherwise’—), nor addressed to the individual (what do individuals matter to nature!), but to peoples, races, ages, classes, and above all to the entire animal ‘man’, to mankind.” – Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil (trans. Hollingdale; emphasis in original)

Having Enough

He told his wife,
When I scratch my face
I am scratching my face,
not making secret baseball signs.

When I say I’m going to clean the couch,
it’s not because I think
you “did something dirty” on it or to it
(no one says you did), it’s because
the generous people who gave it
to us—religious friends of
your sister’s—gave it to us because
their cats had ruined it by pissing
on it and it stinks.  And I am
tired of the stink.

When I set up my stereo it’s to hear
my favorite music, not to spy on whatever
you are not doing—you are not doing
anything but staring out the window—
and certainly not to broadcast sounds
of screaming children.  The screaming
children live right next door
and need no amplification by me.

There are other things
he might have told his wife,
but after he had told her these things,
he had had enough.

Barely Otherwise

Evanston is a town that sits
on the left shoulder of Chicago, facing up
(right shoulder if you’re facing down).
It is protected by an asphalt moat patrolled
by civilian traffic, a vast cemetary where
fog twists around large monuments to people
barely otherwise remembered, and a train track
fatally electrified and lined by deciduous jungle.

Once the visitor passes the city’s defenses
he (or she if she’s a she) finds himself
in a pretty little city almost as pretty
but not as fragile as the words “pretty
little city,” complete with tall trees,
three-story buildings, squirrels, rabbits,
university professors and students, joggers,
dog-walkers, cyclists, all sweating, some
discussing topics of interest.  The cars are
all relatively new and not ostentatious,
though the same cannot be said
for the houses.  Construction is underway
in front of shops whose windows hold signs
reading, “We are still open.”  Sunday mornings
find the pretty little city very quiet.

It’s just a flesh wound

“It has never been faith but always freedom from faith, that half-stoical and smiling unconcern with the seriousness of faith, that has enraged slaves in their masters and against their masters.  ‘Enlightenment’ enrages: for the slave wants the unconditional, he understands in the domain of morality too only the tyrannical, he loves as he hates, without nuance, into the depths of him, to the point of pain, to the point of sickness—the great hidden suffering he feels is enraged at the noble taste which seems to deny suffering.” – Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil (trans. Hollingdale; emphasis in original)

Rogers Park

There’s a party in the alleyway every night.
It’s August, it’s hot, what’re you going to do?
Sit in your stuffy apartment, puny wall-unit
wheezing a lie of cool, refreshing air?
Watch some fast-food brain shit on the box?
Drink thin beer from cheap cans, scream at the wife
who screams at the boy while the baby
screams at everyone?  Fuck that.  Get your ass
downstairs and out back to the alleyway.  Bring your
30-pack of cheap beer and share it around.
Bring the wife and the boy and the baby,
the neighbors are grilling burgers and dogs
and the cars are idling, their doors open
and their sound systems thumping loud.

Deceiving first themselves

“What makes one regard philosophers half mistrustfully and half mockingly is not that one again and again detects how innocent they are—how often and how easily they fall into error and go astray, in short their childishness and childlikeness—but that they display altogether insufficient honesty, while making a mighty and virtuous noise as soon as the problem of truthfulness is even remotely touched on.  They pose as having discovered and attained their real opinions through the self-evolution of a cold, pure, divinely unperturbed dialectic (in contrast to the mystics of every rank, who are more honest and more stupid than they—these speak of ‘inspiration’): while what happens at bottom is that a prejudice, a notion, an ‘inspiration’, generally a desire of the heart sifted and made abstract, is defended by them with reasons sought after the event—they are one and all advocates who do not want to be regarded as such, and for the most part no better than cunning pleaders for their prejudices, which they baptize ‘truths’—and very far from possessing the courage of the conscience which admits this fact to itself, very far from possessing the good taste of the courage which publishes this fact, whether to warn a foe or a friend or out of high spirits and in order to mock itself.” – Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil (trans. Hollingdale; emphasis in original)

What It Means

You didn’t ask—no one has asked
but this is why I’m afraid of black people:

I’m afraid of black people
because television shows, movies,
newspapers, magazines, and popular songs
have taught me that black people
hate me and want to hurt me
because I’m white and because being white
makes me guilty both of injustices
being committed now and injustices
that hang from our nation’s history
like a stinking dead albatross around
a maddened, decrepit mariner’s neck.

And I’m afraid because
I cannot understand
what it means to be an American
and be black.

Scoured

The weeping man lied to God.
He—the weeping man, not God
(who may well be a she,
or an it, or all three, plus…)—
he is in the basement laundry room
pulling the clean, wet clothes
from the washer to put them
into the dryer, where they will
spin around for sixty minutes
and he is weeping, doesn’t matter
what he lied about.

At least it’s consistent

“Does this present not belong to the mob?  The mob, however, does not know what is great or small, what is straight and honest: it is innocently crooked, it always lies.” – Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra (trans. Hollingdale)

Block Party

Five dollars’ admission.
All the neighbors (who can pay) are there.
Canvas folding chairs (bring your own)
line the curbside along green parkways.
Dogs crap in those parkways.

The new kids on the block
are in attendance.  They are middle-aged
and are me and my wife.
We are shy but determined,
frightened of people but resolved
to make our new beginnings here.

We set our canvas chairs
on the parkway behind some of our neighbors.
Introductions are made.  We are all middle-aged
(the younger ones and their children
are down the street, closer to
the inflatable fun castle and the quoits).

There is a line of buffet tables and a
griller grilling meats (burgers, dogs) on a charcoal grill.
Canned and bottled beverages (non-alcoholic)
in an ice-and-water-filled tub.
A P.A. system, a host, a raffle (my wife
wins a bottle of wine), pre-recorded music
(late 60s to early 70s, the pinnacle
of post-war American culchuh).
The music is too loud.  Conversation
is difficult.  Later there’s a singer
backed by two electrified guitarists.
Early on, I stepped in dog shit.
Three times went down the street
to try and scrape it off my shoe.
Even a little bit of that stuff stinks,
and there was no hiding that this
new kid needed to learn
at least one new thing.

Hang him by his nuts, see what he does

“Man is the cruellest animal.  More than anything on earth he enjoys tragedies, bullfights, and crucifixions; and when he invented Hell for himself, behold, it was his heaven on earth.” – Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra (trans. Hollingdale)

Refugee

She doesn’t have
her great-grandmother’s childhood book
of stories and verse

her grandmother’s cast-iron skillet
her grandfather’s favorite glazed blue bowl

or even her mother’s hand-knit afghan
collection of imperial stamps and coins
rocks from the Garden of the Gods.

Her father collaborated with the enemy
fled with her mother and older brother
he was a baby
the battle was behind them
to either side in the middle distance
it sparked and spat.
The baby, her older brother (let there be
no confusion) died in the swamp.
Another child came, a sister
born in a refugee camp.

She blames herself for all of this
she knows it’s not her fault
she knows there’s nothing
she could have done, it was all
before her.  She sits in her house,
it is quiet now,
just another day to journey
from sleep to sleep.

The freedom of deliberate reading

“Books and reading, I believe, have to be understood and taught as a distinctive, embodied meditative tradition; as a rhetorically constructed deliberative verbal ordering of the world; and as a social practice through which the liberal ideal of a mutual human accountability was formulated and partially enacted. Reading as an embodied rhetorical verbal interchange and as a deliberative tradition has to be cultivated apart from the passive cognitive reception of administered entertainments and the sensationalist, discontinuous, permanent immediacy of consumer culture. The presence created by reading within book culture’s tradition of literacy must be distinguished from the immediacy created by reading that is controlled by the contemporary cyber-logic of the electronic image. The presence of reading must be distinguished formally from the immediacy of the electronic image. Print literacy as an embodied rhetorical form of cognitive and deliberative agency has to be enacted apart from a consumerist reception of information, opinion, sensation, and stimulation.” — Peter Dimock, “The Presence of Reading, Part II”

Branches

Boys gone wilding in the night
have torn these branches down.
Beat each other bloody with the splintered ends.
Beat their girls, their lovers and their children.
Broken bones, bruises, contusions, lacerations, punctures,
abrasions.  Branches litter the breakwater.
Leaves surf the waves.  The lake is churning
this morning, waters muddy.

Castles

The north wind is a hand
it pushes at the Great Lakes freighter
moving along the horizon

The freighter pushes back
its bridge and forecastle all that can be seen
from the beach where the hand
pushes waves up the sand
washing away the castles the children built

Gulls stretch their arms and stand aloft
the breeze is stiff, they contemplate breakfast
the sun rises so far away
it makes distance meaningless.
The Great Lakes freighter slowly moves north.

Down the Breakwater

The lake is never still.
It can calm to the point where
it’s glassy over the shallows, and the waves
barely ripple onto the beach, their sloshing
easily inaudible when an airliner
flies over on its approach to O’Hare.

The sky is overcast, the clouds a low, quiet jumble
in blue and gray and even white.  The elevated train
clacks by a few blocks back of the lake.
The finches are fat and hop about the beach.
Down the breakwater, a man in a bright orange
jacket faces the lake and speaks with some fierceness.
He may be rehearsing or he may be having a breakdown
or he may have already had it and be hopelessly lost.
Another jet flies over, another train passes by,
three more finches land on the beach.

Chronos devours his young

“If in fact the core of our supposedly rational society is a great vacuum, if its present arrangement precludes any contestation to the Thanatos-fueled expansion of capital, then the seizure of power by the working class becomes a necessity for the continuing survival of the species. If the myths we have ceased to believe in are being replaced by those more absurd still and equally fated to unbelief, perhaps the challenge becomes crafting better myths; more convincing myths, myths grounded in the material reality of daily life, of daily work and life in common; myths which smash the artificial divisions between us, myths which know that the past cannot be recaptured but that the future remains unwritten. Or, to invoke a word blasphemous to the relativistic mythology of our time, do we have the courage to offer the truth? Facing the imminent threat of ecological ruin and unprecedented human suffering which capitalist states are powerless to reverse, the stakes of the proletariat’s historical mission become even higher than its 19th century prophets could imagine.” — Jarrod Shanahan, “I Want to Believe”

Gallipoli

We hit the beach under heavy fire.
The first wave reached the seawall
and they were all killed.  Their bodies
fell back on the second wave, and the following waves,
and all the soldiers in all the waves
were shot down.  They fell back on those of us behind
so fast, we were being buried in corpses.
We couldn’t breathe, we couldn’t move.

Sometimes it’s the NSA

“The appeal of conspiracy  theories is simple. Whether its Lizard People, Ancient Aliens, Freemasons, Occupy’s ‘1%,’ or the poor maligned Rothschilds, the conspiratorial mind clings to the comforting notion of a world controlled by a rational agent capable of exerting its will to guide human events. Somebody is driving this thing … anybody. To the conspiratorial mind we are not alone with ourselves, left to our own devices, which can be the most terrifying prospect of all. The conspiracy fills the seeming vacuum at the center of society, the paralyzing abyss beneath our flimsy facades of order, with a reassuring rational kernel. Beneath the purported chaos of a modern world seemingly driven inexorably toward its own destruction, a secret logic hums away, unseen, yet steering with the circumspection of a protective father. In this way the conspiracy theory is a secularized monotheism which replaces  our dearly departed God with an equally shadowy intelligence serving the same omniscient function. Sometimes it even lives in outer space and knows what we’re thinking.” — Jarrod Shanahan, “I Want to Believe” (ellipsis in original)

Today’s Biggest Winner

The people near the station have a game
they play it when the day is light
the sun high and sky clear.

The train is coming and the players—
not all the people play—the players
gather by the tracks.  The object
of the game has to do with
the train hitting the players.
It’s simple and it’s complicated.
If you get hit and killed, horribly mangled,
you win, but obviously don’t get to play again,
so you’re not a big winner.  If you get
hit and injured and survive—for instance,
your arm is broken in three or more
places—you are a lesser winner.
The lowest winners are the players
who jump off the tracks in time and only
get sprayed and spattered with blood.  The biggest winners
are the ones—and there’s never more
than one or two per train—who jump
up from the tracks onto the station platform
and are drenched with the blood of those slain
and who turn and look at the spectators
and have phony looks of surprise on their
faces, their eyes wide open and blood
running down and half-smiles playing.

We spectators gather in the cool darkness
at the back of the station and we look out
at the platform while we smoke illicit
cigarettes.  I, for one—and I tell the others this—
have had enough of bloody trains and body parts.
The noon train pulls into the station and stops
just beyond the platform.  Behind it, the biggest
winner stands on the platform and pretends
to be surprised.

I canna’ give ‘er no more power, Captain!

“The irony of the increasing rationalization of society toward some mythic equilibrium is the intensification of paroxysm, of violent crisis, of catastrophe on a heightening scale which it has ensured. The crises inherent in the capitalist cycle now grip the entire planet, leaving destitution in the wake of periodic booms, leaving entire regions to starve, evacuating capital from entire cities and letting them rot while the local ruling class throws up their hands. In the major developed countries, the transition from hulking welfare state apparatuses to militarized police forces maintaining order indicates the increasingly reactionary tendency of states, faced with simply containing the results of a disordered market by brute force, rather than even pretending to curb the causes of destitution and hopelessness among the poor.” — Jarrod Shanahan, “I Want to Believe”