"Poetry is not only dream
and vision; it is the skeleton architecture of our lives. It lays
the foundations for a future of change, a bridge across our fears
of what has never been before." --Audre
Lorde "Let the beauty we love be what we do. There are
hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground." --Rumi
"The opportunity might not be granted me
again, I thought, to create a highly complex structure in which
individual novels (themselves complex in design, made up of 'books')
functioned as chapters or units in an immense design: America as
viewed through the prismatic lens of its most popular genres."
—Joyce Carol Oates, 1985
I said to my soul, be still, and wait without
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the
Come you masters of war
You that build all the guns
You that build the death planes
You that build the big bombs
You that hide behind walls
You that hide behind desks
I just want you to know
I can see through your masks
You that never done nothin'
But build to destroy
You play with my world
Like it's your little toy
You put a gun in my hand
And you hide from my eyes
And you turn and run farther
When the fast bullets fly
Like Judas of old
You lie and deceive
A world war can be won
You want me to believe
But I see through your eyes
And I see through your brain
Like I see through the water
That runs down my drain
You fasten the triggers
For the others to fire
Then you set back and watch
When the death count gets higher
You hide in your mansion
As young people's blood
Flows out of their bodies
And is buried in the mud
You've thrown the worst fear
That can ever be hurled
Fear to bring children
Into the world
For threatening my baby
Unborn and unnamed
You ain't worth the blood
That runs in your veins
How much do I know
To talk out of turn
You might say that I'm young
You might say I'm unlearned
But there's one thing I know
Though I'm younger than you
Even Jesus would never
Forgive what you do
Let me ask you one question
Is your money that good
Will it buy you forgiveness
Do you think that it could
I think you will find
When your death takes its toll
All the money you made
Will never buy back your soul
And I hope that you die
And your death'll come soon
I will follow your casket
In the pale afternoon
And I'll watch while you're lowered
Down to your deathbed
And I'll stand o'er your grave
'Til I'm sure that you're dead
Praise be the drum, the flute and the didgerydoo
the sax, the trumpet, and the oboe too.
Feel the beat of the drum
Babba bum babba bum
feel the rhythm and rum
bidda bum bum bum.
Let it course through your body
‘til you sway and dance
let yourself move
give yourself a chance.
Open your heart to this life you’re living
in this scheme of things
there’s both receiving and giving.
Let gratitude, wonder, song and praise
be your guides throughout all your days.
Praise be the sun, the moon, the stars and you
the babies, doggies, and kitties too.
Praise the mountains and valleys
the flowers and trees
the thunder of the rain and the ocean breeze.
Praise winter, spring, summer and fall
praise mother earth who birthed us all.
All praise to the farmworkers laboring hot in the sun
and those who chronicle the work they’ve done.
Praise be Fannie Lou Hammer and Dorothy Day
whose courage and compassion showed us the way.
Thanks be to Jesus so loving and kind
and hats off to the wisdom of the Buddha mind.
Here’s to Caesar Chavez, Martin, Malcom, and Marx
both Karl and Groucho and bagels and lox.
Here’s to the wheelers and dealers
the healers and feelers
the poets and hipsters
the pranksters and tricksters.
Here’s to the straight shooters and the zoot suiters
the hip hoppers and dope poppers
to kids who color outside the lines
and don’t sit quiet while reciting their lines.
Here’s to the rulemakers and the rulebreakers
to square pegs that don’t fit in round holes
whatsoever their dreams whatsoever their goals.
Praise be to what's down and deep
to what makes you laugh and makes you weep.
Hear the beat of life’s drum
bubba bum bubba bum
feel the rhythm and the rum
bidda bum bum bum.
Here’s to barbecue ribs sliding nice off the bone
and water melon picnics and an ice cream cone.
All praise to the moms from whose womb we all came
no matter our race no matter our game
and to all those dads who work the livelong day
and raise their kids and never wander or stray.
Praise be the ordinary hidden deep in the divine
transforming the everyday into the sublime.
Praise be the was you was and the is you is
no matter your story no matter your biz.
Here’s to slave songs and work songs
folk songs and hope songs
to blues and jazz and that gospel shout
bad enough to drive the demons out.
Here’s to the rainbow God sent after the rain
that lightens our load and lessens our pain
Hats off to the left brainers and right brainers
the no-brainers and the mind trainers
to long rambling conversations about God and man
that circle back to where they first began.
Here’s to the heartbreakers and love makers
the peace makers and world shakers
to those that say no
and those that go along with the flow.
Here’s to chanting and wailing
trying and failing
to those who get up after being knocked to the ground
ready to throw down for another round.
Here’s to the doubters and believers
the slouchers and achievers
the youngsters so impatient to change the world
and the elders who remember all the banners they unfurled.
It’s a crazy-quilt story this human life
filled with danger, opportunity, and filled with spice
there’s no getting off
and nowhere to hide
so you might just as well enjoy the ride.
This poem was written in the belly of the beast,
dedicated to those on the margins, those who have the least.
I didn't outsource a single word or rhyme,
as one might expect in this crazy profit-driven time.
No foreign labor was employed,
no third world economy destroyed.
All words constructed here at home,
lest American capital abroad should roam.
There was no Mexican or Haitian exploitation,
'cause I was content to simply use my own imagination.
An American-made poem through and through,
revealing capitalism's cruelty so undeniably true.
Shopping malls, urban sprawl, reality TV,
the pale lifeless culture of American democracy.
People driving Hummers while soldiers die for oil,
cause me to rant and rave and make my blood boil.
The rich getting richer day by day,
while workers labor for declining pay.
Corporations metastasize, enlarging their share,
while workers struggle just to keep their health care.
Homeless people begging in the street,
hungry for a job and something to eat.
Disposable people in a heartless nation,
might someday lead to a tragic conflagration.
Driving while black is a serious crime,
but crooked CEOs never seem to do time.
And what sense does it make to cut funds for family planning,
while railing against abortions and calling for their banning?
People marching worldwide demanding their say,
so we'd best get to steppin' or there's gonna be hell to
The job of corporate media is to ignore and conceal,
but we all know what's going on, we all know what's real.
Our President wears cowboy boots and thinks he's cool,
but this macho wannabe is a dangerous fool.
He's terrified of that jive 9/11 Commission,
fearful they might stumble upon a hint of suspicion.
Now Dick Clarke was angry and laid it out,
causing George Dubya to fuss and shout.
So the Prez told Condi go and testify,
but be damn sure to filibuster, obfuscate and mystify.
But when the Prez sat down to chat with the Commission,
he had Cheney by his side to ensure the truth's omission.
No recordings were allowed, no notes could be taken,
lest the nation's trust in Dubya would be shaken.
Invading Iraq for oil and empire,
any fool could have told you was sure to backfire.
It was neo-con madness of the highest measure,
driven by their lust for power and treasure.
Bush believes he's waging a messianic crusade,
which he thought would be greeted by cheers and a parade.
His reckless Middle East policy foments rage against the
from which I fear long memories will grant us little rest.
These are frightening times and that's for sure,
there's only one remedy, only one cure.
Aint no time for fussing and crying,
'cause we got that sick mother up there lying.
Mini nukes and depleted uranium,
must be something loose in his cranium.
Disposable soldiers and children dying,
can't he hear Mother Earth is crying.
He doesn't give a damn about global warming,
even though the climate it is deforming.
And as for the International Criminal Court,
he was so eager to abort.
"No Child Left Behind" sounded good on paper,
but it was just another clever White House caper.
And instead of allocating money for the AIDS pandemic,
cutting taxes for the rich was simplyacademic.
For Bush salvation comes through Christ alone,
so how explain his love affair with Ariel Sharon?
Their unlikely friendship couldn't be stranger,
but the hatred each has wrought has put the world in danger.
Dubya's lies and hypocrisy know no shame,
but his arrogant religion he's quick to proclaim.
Talk of the rapture and Armageddon,
scares me witless 'cause I know where we're headin'.
He talks with the assurance of God in heaven,
but what about his role in 9/11?
He trashed our Bill of Rights and our Constitution,
so we'd best get down and figure a solution.
Compassionate conservatism--a bold-faced lie,
so what if the poor have to grovel, starve and die.
Talking democracy while stealing an election,
we need a new president and a new direction.
What does it take to stop the madness
Can't you see that I am not collateral damage?
You have emptied words of their meaning.
You have murdered language,
corrupted its use.
You have destroyed the fragile bridge
that helps us feel the pain of one another.
In your arsenal of weapons of mass
words are the most insidious weapon of all.
You use words to mystify.
You would have the world believe there can be war without death,
with no shattered limbs or scattered families,
with no burnt flesh
or viscera protruding rudely from gaping holes,
or terrified children piercing the night air with their screams
as mothers helplessly cradle their trembling bodies.
If you dared come out from behind
from behind that thin tissue of lies you have erected
that hides my humanity from you and your cruelty from yourself,
if you dared meet me out beyond that place
where there is no "other",
where flesh is one flesh and blood is one blood,
where all mothers worry about their children
and fathers wish for them a secure and happy life...
perhaps then things could be different.
I am swarthy, my skin baked dark
by the desert sun.
The lilting music that sways my body is exotic to your ears.
Imprisoned in the comfortable security of your sanitized life,
I seem foreign, dangerous, murderous;
unpredictable, unruly, uncivilized.
But I am not Saddam Hussein.
And I am not collateral damage.
I am a dewy newborn,
a loving mother,
a struggling father,
a doting grandparent.
Like you I laugh and cry and dream and love and hate.
In a fiery orgy of high-tech slaughter,
You drop bombs and fire missiles
from the smug safety of your death machines.
We die and our mutilated bodies litter the landscape
while you sleep soundly,
unperturbed by the carnage,
unmindful you have reduced the cradle of civilization
to a heap of rubble and ash.
We are caught in a vice not of our
We live under the boot of a ruthless dictator
who dwells in opulence in his shameless palaces.
Yet it is we who suffer the cruel fate of the heartless sanctions
imposed on us by an indifferent world for his reckless crimes.
Disease and hunger stalk our once proud land.
Poverty has reduced teachers to beggars.
Depleted uranium lies in wait,
a silent predator spreading cancer and grotesque deformities.
And now, resigned yet defiant,
we once again await the thunder of your missiles.
Where can we hide from the bloodlust of our arrogant warmonger?
Smug and bedecked in self-righteousness,
he mocks us with his sneering smile
and his promises to liberate us from our cruel lives,
as if we are too dull-witted to pierce his lies and hypocrisy
and not notice his ravenous appetite
for the damnable treasure that lies beneath our sands
and his desire to stand astride the world in imperial majesty.
I'd rather your care than your horrifying bombs,
your food than your screaching missiles,
your medicine than your rumbling tanks.
But more than that I yearn for your respect.
For I am not Saddam Hussein.
And I am not collateral damage.
You incinerated me at Amariyah.
You slaughtered me in the desert and buried me alive.
You incited me to revolt and betrayed me.
Yet I do not hate you.
I pity you your blindness,
the womb from which your brutishness comes.
All I ask is that you see me.
That you risk stepping from behind the wall that separates us
and meet me in that place beyond what you think is possible.
That you look deeply into my eyes.
For I am not Saddam Hussein.
And Iam not collateral damage.
I am arms and legs and a beating heart.
I am a living breathing soul.
I am just like you --no more, but certainly no less.
Suddenly I thought of you
as a child in that house, the unlit rooms
and the hot fireplace with the man in front of it,
silent. You moved through the heavy air
in your physical beauty, a boy of seven,
helpless, smart, there were things the man
did near you, and he was your father,
the mold by which you were made. Down in the
cellar, the barrels of sweet apples,
picked at their peak from the tree, rotted and
rotted, and past the cellar door
the creek ran and ran, and something was
not given to you, or something was
taken from you that you were born with, so that
even at 30 and 40 you set the
oily medicine to your lips
every night, the poison to help you
drop down unconscious. I always thought the
point was what you did to us
as a grown man, but then I remembered that
child being formed in front of the fire, the
tiny bones inside his soul
twisted in greenstick fractures, the small
tendons that hold the heart in place
snapped. And what they did to you
you did not do to me. When I love you now,
I like to think I am giving my love
Directly to that boy in the fiery room,
As if it could reach him in time.
The Guest House
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they're a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.
(America never was America to me.)
Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed--
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.
(It never was America to me.)
O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.
(There's never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this "homeland of the free.")
Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?
I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery's scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek--
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.
I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one's own greed!
I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean--
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today--O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.
Yet I'm the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That's made America the land it has become.
O, I'm the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home--
For I'm the one who left dark Ireland's shore,
And Poland's plain, and England's grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa's strand I came
To build a "homeland of the free."
Who said the free? Not me?
Surely not me? The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we've dreamed
And all the songs we've sung
And all the hopes we've held
And all the flags we've hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay--
Except the dream that's almost dead today.
O, let America be America again--
The land that never has been yet--
And yet must be--the land where every man is free.
The land that's mine--the poor man's, Indian's, Negro's,
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.
Sure, call me any ugly name you choose--
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people's lives,
We must take back our land again,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath--
America will be!
Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain--
All, all the stretch of these great green states--
And make America again!
From The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes,
published by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.
Copyright (c) 1994 the Estate of Langston Hughes.
Mark Twain's "The War Prayer" in a nutshell
Our country was at war, flags were flying and patriotism was at
a fever pitch. Pastors were preaching devotion to flag and country
and those voicing disapproval or casting doubts were called traitors
At one particular service an old man with long white hair and a
robe entered the church and moved up the aisle. As the minister
was asking God to help the soldiers crush the enemy and bring our
country honor and glory, the stranger climbed the stairs, touched
the pastor's arm and motioned for him to step aside.
He then began to speak, saying he had a message from God. He wanted
everyone to know that God heard their prayer and was willing to
grant it if they were willing to listen to the unspoken part of
their prayer. When they prayed for victory they were also praying
for the unmentioned results that would follow it. He went on to
say that this is what they were also praying for:
-The enemy would be torn to shreds with our shells
-Their fields would be covered with their dead
-Our guns' sounds would drown out the cries of their wounded
-Their homes would be destroyed by fire
-Their innocent widows would have their hearts broken
-The women and children would be homeless
-People's lives would be destroyed
-Refugees would have no food, no clothing and nowhere to go
Then he told them that if they still wanted their "victory"
God was waiting for their answer. The congregation decided that
the stranger was a "lunatic" because he made no sense
and the service ended.
A voice from the dark called out,
"The poets must give us
imagination of peace, to oust the intense, familiar
imagination of disaster. Peace, not only
the absence of war."
But peace, like a poem,
is not there ahead of itself,
can't be imagined before it is made,
can't be known except
in the words of its making,
grammar of justice,
syntax of mutual aid.
A feeling towards it,
dimly sensing a rhythm, is all we have
until we begin to utter its metaphors,
learning them as we speak.
A line of peace might appear
if we restructured the sentence our lives are making,
revoked its reaffirmation of profit and power,
questioned our needs, allowed
long pauses. . . .
A cadence of peace might balance its weight
on that different fulcrum; peace, a presence,
an energy field more intense than war,
might pulse then,
stanza by stanza into the world,
each act of living
one of its words, each word
a vibration of light--facets
of the forming crystal.
by Judith Hill
Wage peace with your breath.
Breathe in firemen and rubble,
breathe out whole buildings and flocks of red wing blackbirds.
Breathe in terrorists
and breathe out sleeping children and freshly mown fields.
Breathe in confusion
and breathe out maple trees.
Breathe in the fallen
and breathe out lifelong friendships intact.
Wage peace with your listening:
hear sirens, pray loud.
Remember your tools:
flower seeds, clothespins, clean rivers.
learn the word thank you in three languages.
Learn to knit, and make a hat.
Think of chaos as dancing raspberries,
imagine grief as the outbreath of beauty
or the gesture of fish.
Swim for the other side.
Never has the world seemed so fresh and precious.
Have a cup of tea and rejoice.
Act as if armistice has already arrived.
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