On Reading Allen Ginsberg’s “Homework”

after an article in the New York Times 

It was in the Financial Section. On page 3, below
the fold. A huge multi-national conglomerate is
praised for an “innovative marketing program”

that washes dirty clothes and linens for free  
after a disaster. This time it’s the tornado
that tore through Joplin, but Loads of Hope

began after Katrina. When I think how hard
and costly it was to wash everything we
didn’t throw away after 9/11, my eyes

well up. To begin with, no water or electricity.
It would be months before new machines
arrived to replace those contaminated by dust.

Everything in closets, dressers, chests had to be
hauled to a distant laundry. The sheer number
of quarters it took, the fear that, no matter

how many wash, rinse and spin cycles, 
our clothes would never be clean enough
to put against skin. Allergic to perfumes

as I became after 9/11, I want to breathe
in the Tide of cleanliness; to be one of the lucky,
leaving our filthy belongings with strangers

to remove what they can of disaster and return
them to us, clean, neatly folded, wrapped 
in paper, bagged, and tied with a ribbon.

Related Poems

Talking About New Orleans

Talking about New Orleans
About deforestation & the flood of vodun paraphernalia
the Congo line losing its Congo
the funeral bands losing their funding
the killer winds humming intertribal warfare hums into
two storm-surges
touching down tonguing the ground
three thousand times in a circle of grief
four thousand times on a levee of lips
five thousand times between a fema of fangs
everything fiendish, fetid, funky, swollen, overheated
and splashed with blood & guts & drops of urinated gin
                                                      in syncopation with me
riding through on a refrigerator covered with
asphalt chips with pieces of ragtime music charts
torn photo mug shots & pulverized turtle shells from Biloxi
                                        me bumping against a million-dollar oil rig
me in a ghost town floating on a river on top of a river
                          me with a hundred ton of crab legs
                                        and no evacuation plan
me in a battered tree barking & howling with abandoned dogs
my cheeks stained with dried suicide kisses
my isolation rising with a rainbow of human corpse & 
                                                      fecal rat bones
where is that fire chief in his big hat
where are the fucking pumps
the rescue boats
& the famous coalition of bullhorns calling out names
                          hey     I want my red life jacket now
& I need some sacred sandbags
some fix-the-levee-powder
some blood-pressure-support-juice
some get-it-together-dust
some lucky-rooftop-charms &
some magic-helicopter-blades
I'm not prepared
to live on the bottom of the water like Oshun
I don't have a house built on stilts
I can't cross the sea like Olokun
I'm not equipped to walk on water like Marie Laveau
or swim away from a Titanic situation like Mr. Shine
Send in those paddling engineers
I'm inside of my insides
& I need to distinguish
between the nightmare, the mirage,
the dream and the hallucination
Give me statistics
how many residents died while waiting
how many drowned
how many suffocated
how many were dehydrated
how many were separated
how many are missing
how many had babies
and anyway
who's in charge of this confusion
this gulf coast engulfment
this displacement
this superdome shelter
this stench of stank
this demolition order
this crowded convention center chaos
making me crave solitary confinement

Am I on my own
exhausted from fighting racist policies
exhausted from fighting off sex offenders
exhausted from fighting for cots for tents for trailers
for a way out of this anxiety   this fear   this emptiness
this avoidance   this unequal opportunity world of
disappointments accumulating in my undocumented eye
of no return tickets

Is this freedom   is this global warming   is this the new identity
me riding on a refrigerator through contaminated debris
talking to no one in particular
about a storm that became a hurricane
& a hurricane that got violent and started
eyeballing & whistling & stretching toward
a category three domination that caught me in
                          the numbness of my own consciousness
                               unprepared, unprotected and
                                    made more vulnerable to destabilization
by the corporate installation of human greed, human poverty
human invention of racism & human neglect of the environment

I mean even Buddy Bolden came back to say
                          move to higher ground
                               because a hurricane will not
                                    rearrange its creativity for you
& the river will meet the ocean in
                                         the lake of your flesh again
so move to higher ground
and let your jungle find its new defense
let the smell of your wisdom restore the power of pure air
& let your intoxicated shoreline rumble above & beyond the
water-marks of disaster

I'm speaking of New Orleans of deportation
of belching bulldozers   of poisonous snakes
of bruised bodies   of instability and madness
mechanism of indifference and process of elimination
I'm talking about transformation about death re-entering life with
Bonne chance, bon ton roulé, bonjour & bonne vie in New Orleans, bon

Oklahoma City: The Aftermath

Sometimes I'm so lachrymose I forget I was there
with my darling—I call her my darling to make her
more anonymous, so she can't take up all the space
in my brain. But please, can I continue, or must I

look away from such openness, those spools of light
bringing red and fine threads of silver to her brunette hair?
Or is she an instant, a car ride, a little post-it, last month's
no particular town? Can we shine a little first? First

there was a dust storm that made everyone invisible,
then a thunderstorm where each drop of rain painted a ringlet
on the road like haze around the moon. I'd already
deserted what crumbled there. The mind loves blackouts

more than those dusty bins of grain at the general store,
or the little hand-shovel you'd use to fill muslin sacks
with feed for animals you'd later bring to slaughter.
Then they were cementing over the childcare center.

the shell of state offices were still standing:
buried in the rubble, well there was no rubble...
Are we all so kinetic that on the highway
we're always communicating? We're cacophonic,

colossally bored, it takes many simultaneous tasks
to keep our souls busy. The breeze makes the ash leaves blur,
they're almost silver in the light, like confederate money.
Or I'm driving by the Chinese Pistache, the lacebark elm,

brushing my teeth, taking notes for a morning meeting:
is there no one here to calm me? I don't remember
the whippoorwill, the leaf brown male, if I ever knew one.
I can't decide how this parallels our current situation:

So I take a few minutes' cigarette to see how this
razes all of us. Have you ever been lax, insufficient, prolix?
Weren't you ever particularly sorry? This may be entirely
personal, but once I was driven, exemplar, sheltered

from earthly business—now I keep burying and eclipsing,
more obscuring, suppressing with murmurs what's under duress.