Hills of Bureaucracy

In the event
that the engagement
shall be prevented
by reason of war,
Act of God, strike,
civic tumult, epidemic
or any other cause
beyond the control
of either agreeing party,
which is deemed
to be “force majeure,”
the agreed parties
shall be respectively
relieved of their obligations
contained herein and
return to the rolling hills
of bureaucracy,
a deep green field
of barley, more hills
with hay bales, no sky:
an argyle of crops,
following emergency exits 
and evacuation plans
to the long and winding
road that leads
to your door.

That would be 15 A
on the updated form,
the red door
with a mat and rack
for your shoes
of a cottage in the village.
Let the minutes state
you’ve had a tiresome   
journey through various causes
on the lengthy lavender road
past blaze orange fields
that shall include revolutions,
riots, wars, acts of enemies,
national state local
emergency, strikes,
floods, fires, epidemics,
quarantine, embargoes,
or unusually severe weather,
and that we’re not responsible
or liable for any loss
or damage, for delays
in performance
or failure to perform.
The 10 point font path
has brought you to the Open Forum
on Comprehensive
where the committee
invites input from the whole
community about where
we are at and where
we should go,            
which thatched houses  
for which gas stations
in the settlements of
educational plans, mission
statements, internal hiring.
The designated spokesperson
from the institutional
advancement office is explaining:
This is a plan for all
of us. A family reunion
hosted by Human Resources
in partnership
with Business Intelligence,
Focus on Core Academic Function,
so the member
at the back of the conference room
knitting wooly yarn clouds
as stress relief
should get a grip.
We’ve all stopped
our planting in favor
of administering to
attend this conference
on the administration of planting,
Cc: all: the assistant to, vice-,
associate, interim, acting,
chief, head of, associate director.
Staples for vineyards.
Collated construction
plans are in departmental
mail boxes. Approving
the minutes from yesterday,
let’s send the next presenter back
like a salmon stunned w/ frustration
who weeps with frustration
into the whirling vortex
of a policy about policy,
a few hay bales,
shade trees for cattle
or the sub-committee to
this committee,
though Party 1 is not a fish
but a person who must drive
back in his rental Kia,
the application form
was incomplete.
Next order of business:
those ornamental wild
grasses planted
last year for the parade,
tall, on the highway divide
on Route 2 South,
junction of JFK Boulevard
and South Main,
a deathtrap or death wish?

The Egyptian Tomb of Emily Dickinson

The author reading in her grave is an orange dotted line
then a red continuous line, a house light & more head lights,
above that, a row of (etc.), what a car alarm looks like:
4 signs repeated together: a cherry, a pineapple, cloud, raindrop &
then brief yellow dashes moving like birds, “To be continued.”
The red line lies above the orange line at 75 mph
on the mountains on the last page—while a crow goes
from behind, deleting the orange dotted line—each dash
worth 5 points, cherry and pineapple 10 points, the glow-in-the-dark
haystacks & speeding garbage truck, 50—through
to the underlined parts of the room where I write.
The red line lies above the orange line at 75 mph
on the mountains on the last page in the dark morning.
She reads and reads in this large building in a room
in western Massachusetts—in this primitive dark
a fish skeleton goes by. The walls are decorated with
repetitions, electronic and natural sounds, someone coughing,
an alarm clock going off. A large gloomy ballroom
with an answering machine, & then a black mental swimming pool
ended by three dots.

The Gift

Like a spittle of aluminum, a crest of fear
in a long-faced mirror, like water rushing over a box,
like a dried sentence flying in the air,
like being shown a picture of a perforated wave,
like a mark that appears on each moment,
like knowing a man is in the box,
ingot of man, and the water is shiny, highly intuitive.

Like a mote dripping with silver,
a cataract painted with lead, a sentence of gleam,
and the sky speed up, cloudy, obscure, occluded, unheard of
using a cat’s eye for a planet,
like the water now almost reaching
the help desk across the marble floor
of the enormous lobby of the hospital.
The sculpture, a prototype, donated by the major
auto-pharmaceutical industries, Spanish moss fills the ceiling
in the car port, vaults rush past picking up no one
and souls like aphids stream the stalk of the escalator.

In this gift—a sheen, a shining—wrapped around
a grid of major research hospitals in one block,
on an acre with a drop-away floor,
the mesh bow, car-sized, is heavier than it looks.
Shreds of people, the day torn off, and the incinerator is working.
Oh, dollop of man. Replica of Rodin’s thinker from the gift shop,
I spot that, neon yellow teddy bear inside leaves of cellophane
for the sick child, I spot that. A man is inside the box
of cascading water. He is always wrapped in the present
moment. By now, the silvery water runs over the lines /
of this poem. I feel like shaking for the jet, the cross inside the box.
We are all headed home.

The water draft,

lotuses on blotches of water
coins in water, water on water 
water about water, at the bottom
are coins to get to the bottom of
pastel sound, words written about water
circular words circular words

dashboard figures in lotus position
patron saints, consorts, goddesses
on the surface of pink    of green
music, reggae and gospel  hip-hop
canals of classical and Latin jazz
though in a water garden, H2O music

tuning forks of lotus roots dangle
into a pond of piano, to rooms of silt,
the rooms at bottom toss up silt
watery Times New Roman font
it starts to rain, rain drops on the surface
circular sentences circular sentences

the pink pianissimo starts up
the green largo, the pond of sound
with “brief brush strokes like commas”
notes across water    like black lily pads
dis- and un- in a water garden,
dissonances against the harmony

x x x x x x x x x x x
where the lotuses knocked out
the water lilies

words circular words circular
water about written words, sound pastel
water about water, water on water
water of blotches as sound reverses,
passing under the white footbridge
moves to the left, moves to the left,

before banks of irises, before endowed benches
for Monet’s beloved Camille, for Satie’s girlfriend Suzanne
Valadon, and the lotuses who notarize
Death Certificates, Marriage Certificates,
in mobiles of notes recognize the sound as
Gymnopédies and change color like mood rings

In reverse sound, a bright story is told
differently, the notes of happiness put in reverse
walk backwards, across the water
and a non-indigenous emotional species grows on the surface
of sluggish channels of long ā and short ŏ,
millefiori of past and present

I prefer hand-tinted poems

Would you care to have this pond
immediately silk-screened
onto your chest
replacing the Rainbow Brite
Murky Dismal T-Shirt
you’re currently wearing
above rows of friendship pins?

Related Poems

But there is still life here

Someone tagged the shiny new bus stop shelter
just days after the glass got busted out.
Fat nasty letters graffitied on the boarded up frame
commanded, Don’t Gentrify Us!
We spy small movements here and there.
The man who bought the old firehouse and sat
on it for 7 years is making “artist share spaces”
with luxury apartments above. He makes sure the doors
and windows, fences and barriers are hood proof for now.
He doesn’t speak to neighbors while he works.
He and one of his golden hair boys hunch over
this new project, loose limbed and unbothered,
with a palpable air of ownership—like when a dog
runs up on a new spot, sniffs it out, claims it and sprays.

The entire avenue has gone to crap,
said one long time resident as she
shakes her silver rod set in my direction.
That’s how you know it’s changing she says—
when it’s allowed to sit and rot with no interventions,
just endless meetings to distract and defeat.
She tells me that the vultures will swoop in and collect
shells and reimagine relics; then defiantly confides to me,
but they won’t collect these old bones!
I know that’s right, I say back at her as we
pass one empty storefront after another—
display windows barren, riot gates shuttered.

On one of the neighborhood’s social media pages,
the newcomers are a particularly crafty bunch,
holding full court virtual councils on our hood.
It starts with an assertion or accusation of an eyesore;
sometimes a photo branded “bad renovations” is posted;
or someone doesn’t like another’s siding or
choice of windows or painted brick facade.
The overseers have an aesthetic and they’re
ticked that the masses don’t follow.
Remember your 8th grade bullies?
Remember senseless playground rumbles?
Remember getting jacked up after school, just because?
It’s like that except the bullies are all grown now
and they tow their elitism, classism and racism
across Zuckerberg’s virtual stage and puff chests
and huff and heave with each click and post.

The “SELL US YOUR HOME” leaflets invade our mailboxes.
Gaudy loud colored flyers and bandit signs are stapled
on telephone poles. Robocalls and personalized text
messages urge us to Sell, Sell, Sell our piece of property.
Brad or Mike or Jason want to take our burden of a home
off our hands and into his to bulldoze or to pile on two
extra stories of boxy condos; and then suddenly, the streets
will be cleaned and garages will replace basements and faces
too will be replaced. Some have taken the cash and exited,
others hold out, but patient speculators watch the block,
and we watch them; each side driving stakes deep into the concrete.
And then just like that,
the world hurled its magnificent body against us all,
Rammed the pandemic right into our lives and routines and ugliness.
And just for a moment, we were all raw, all scathed, all gutted.
And just for a moment, we raised our white flags and paused.

So now we’re here.
After 365 harrowing days,
after we’ve lost and mourned and isolated;
we are here now. We are here now.
2020 made the mice and pigeons anxious too.
They thieved the breadcrumbs right off those old trails
we once refused to abandon and now we can’t go back.
And now we must resist the urge
to wound, to pierce one another.
Even if we falter or fault or fail
and think all has dissolved,
even if in our blue blue moments
we think we too may disappear
and we hang our heads so low
that it shadows our new paths
even then, we have to point ourselves forward.

There is still life here
and this is where we will pick up from.
A neighbor clears the trash with her lone broom,
her 80 decade old fingers grip the handle
her stooped back bends just at the right angle
to spy me moving toward her to grab her haul—
bottles and cans and plastic bags and bits of stupid
stuff that littering people drop along streets when
they think no one cares. We stand there together,
nearly two generations apart and grin at our progress.
Here on this forgotten block, we are pointing ourselves forward.

There is still life here people.
If we try a little tenderness, we will nurture it.
Even with warning signs of
what’s to come tagged on bus stops,
even with elders clutching their bones on the avenue
and abandoned store fronts pleading
and new construction notices and moving trucks,
and leaflets that offend with promises to devour us,
there is still life.
We are still a beautiful people.
We are still breaking through.
We are still holding steady.
We are still pointing ourselves forward.

When the Virus Comes

When the virus comes,
Talking heads on television screens
will tell you to abandon ship. 
To drown yourself in a sea of isolation. 
Submerge homes in lysol wipes and hand sanitizer.
Engulf body in face mask and plastic glove
until it becomes second nature.

They will tell you to turn your kitchen into a panic room,
basement into fallout shelter.
Instruct you to grab everything you can,
while you still can.
They will say
the shelves at the stores are empty,
and not realize they are also talking about you.

They will preach from the gospel of quarantine.
Shout parables of
“Thou Shalt wash thine hands.”
“For God so loved the world
he socially distanced himself
from the very people he wanted to save.”
It will make you wonder how a hero
or a government
Can rescue someone they can’t even touch.

When the virus comes,
you will kiss your lover like it’s the last time,
because maybe it is.
You will dance on timelines
like decades are stuck on the balls of your feet.
Sing like a quartet is trapped in your throat.
Laugh like this is the last time you know what joy feels like,
because maybe it is.

And today that will be more than enough.

Good Grief

after the 2021 Texas Winter Storm

I’ll admit that I’ve never thought about frostbite.

Trauma of the blood, a thing to be avoided when heat goes out for an entire state.

I don’t know where to place this grief, this sweltering state freezing, politicians breezing over to a country that doesn’t have tissue choked out by its winter yet.

The sky can only do what it does.

The American government can only do what systems driven by green paper, violence & ache can do.

The trees bloom over dead bodies, missing.

The sound of hands rubbing, engines purring, hopes that gas lights or chafing or the rapture won’t come first may quiver in my blood forever.

I am Black but maybe I am doomed.

Memory flashes like a computer screen; I see the zoom link expand. Colleagues process whatever failure number of a thousand this was this year and I can only remember white.

Six inches deep, sunken into my boots all over.

The timeline of friends stranded, impending doom of electricity shutting off, water pressure slipping into nothing every hour, pipes bursting on top of all that white.

I haven’t recovered from seeing things that too-closely resemble holes in a graveyard.  

I haven’t forgotten the project is due in 2 weeks.

My therapist says take it easy as if capitalism is listening. As if the body will ever forget what it is given.

I am Black which is history, personified.

I used to listen to Pilot Jones fondly. With all this frostbite on my fingers, I’m not sure if I can type.

I cannot finish another sentence on unity.

What is unified about ERCOT letting us freeze? Knowing how to fix the problem & not doing it; how does that form a Kumbaya circle?

If I made art about every pain I’ve felt unjustly, I would be swimming in accolades for great American books.

I would take back every word I’ve written if it ended this.

America is the worst group project.

I’m writing a great American poem about suffering.

How much is going without food that isn’t canned for a week worth?

The absence of snow feels like betrayal. My memory mixes with American delusion. 

I can’t believe half the things that I’ve been through.

Ice cold, baby, I told you; Im ice cold.

Who said it first, Frank Ocean or Christopher Columbus?

I’ve never been taught how to adequately mourn the nights spent bitching about a brisk wind; the night we almost got stranded trying to get to J before the cold swallowed them whole.

I want to give everything I’ve been handed a good cry. Red skin & chapped lips deserve it.  

Good grief, what has Texas done to me.

An article features a person walking past tents near I-35. 

I can’t cry about the body but I feel it.

A highway splits a nation from its promise to be one.

Everything feels blurry and the palm trees have died.

Everything transported here withers away eventually.

6 months later and I haven’t been able to shovel out my sadness.

A news report said that it’s safe to go back to work. & I listen, because what else can you do in 6 inches of white.

The snow melted and I still feel frostbitten.

There are no heroes in a freeze-frame changing nothing.

I pose begrudgingly. Say cheese & then write this.

I’m not a survivor; just still breathing.

I remember grief, loves grand finale.

What else do we have if not the memory of life before this?

I cannot tell you how many lives I’ve lost to mourning, but I can tell you that the sky does what it does.

Let’s go for a walk & touch the trees that survived like us.

Let’s write a future more joyful & less inevitable in segments of leaves.

Anything we dream will be better than this.