Thursday, September 21, 2017

This is the Year (5778)

“O sing unto the Lord a new song;
Sing unto the Lord, all the earth!

Let the skies be glad, let earth rejoice,
Let the sea and all within it thunder praise!”
- Psalm 96

This is the Year
after Martín Espada, and all visionaries

This is in fact the year that squatters evict landlords,
as we occupy all streets & all city halls,

This is the year Black torture sites
butterfly into Freedom Squares,
Boards of Trade
are made Room & Board,
Tent cities vanish into sanctuaries
& homeless humans
move to human homes,

Let the prisoners be freed,
Let the refugees return,
Let the Water Protectors rest,
Let the organizers sleep,
Let the truth-speakers read novels,
Let the poets write about rivers,
Let the rivers fill with fish!

Let the land and everything it holds exult!

& Praise you People, praise your Rage,
come ye drummers, come ye sousaphones, 

come you hordes of righteous screamers,

Bless this Music of your thirst
for Justice, your hunger for Love!

This is the year the White House
is repossessed
& decked out with graffiti
by the children of D.C.

This is the year the Kochs & Goldman-Sachses pay their taxes,
Washing dishes, filling prisons with their fat cat class of fascists,

This is the year a law is passed prohibiting cops from gathering
in groups larger than two, unless they trade their guns for hackey sacks,

This is the year that Dred Scott resurrects from the Calvary Cemetery
to lead a seige of martyed ghosts upon the hosts of Capital,

This is the year that Moses & the Old Testament prophets
go toe to toe with Israeli soldiers, turning bullets into olives,

This is the year that T-Rump
pays off Mexico’s debt,

The year We the People forget to forget

The year we turn off
the reality television show that governs us
& start to govern our own reality,

This is the year the presidents of Mount Rushmore

morph into the faces of Crazy Horse,

Sitting Bull, Black Elk, & Fools Crow,   

This is the year that banners unravel
& barbed-wire fences crumble,

the year wage-slaves take over
as the stock   market        topples,

                        so the last will be first
                                    and the first will be last,

and we’ll give what we can
and take what we need…  

This is the year food & clean water are free
& gas is too expensive for everyone,

In fact This is the year we remember 

we cannot buy
or sell the Earth -- 

                                    (we are Her…)

If Occupy began
as a Vision
of people having the debts that crippled them cleared,
then This is the year…

If #BlackLivesMatter began as a Vision
of people walking the streets without fear,
then This is the year…

If every Movement begins as a Vision
of People empowered in body & spirit
Then this is the year it is so.


Let all the trees of the forest sing for joy
                        before the Eternal…

Let the rivers clap their hands,
Let the mountains sing in chorus!

and if eyes are eyes,

… so may every silent mouth,
dry as thirsty dirt,


       with the music  
         of Justice.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Ode to Technology

“Not my world alone,
but your world and my world,
belonging to all the hands who build.”

- Langston Hughes, “Freedom’s Plow”

“That electronic technology
that chains us today
in the prison of
unemployment lines
what could it do
in the hands
of the people”

- Lew Rosenbaum, “Ode to a Cell Phone”

We are sitting in a classroom
writing poems about technology
and our relationship to it

reaching for words
to describe our lives,
their limitations and possibilities –

striving to capture the feeling
of riding a train through underground tunnels,
the sound of it, that low metallic rushing all around,

and people, all on their phones,
connected through the World Wide Web
millions of invisible waves
travelling through the air,

bringing music to our earbuds,
images and words to our screens,
joining us in a vast global brain of 7 billion,
miracle of miracles,

this planetary network
of warp speed connectivity
from which we almost never

look up
to actually see
each other

we are trying to describe
the strange loneliness of this…
but also,

the comfort of this silence,
the kindness of this time spent
in transit, passively locomoting
from one place to another,
with nothing in particular to do,

and the gentle rocking of the train’s motion,
this soothing place
of being alone, together, yes,
in this quiet kind of intimacy
that I actually enjoy

here, still writing the poem, pencil in hand,
scribing in this ancient system called a book,
stitched by a friend of mine, its cover so soft
and leathery it eases my mind into writing,
filling these pages with lines and dots
and circles that mean things


i like to think of myself as a kind of tool
for a greater process

not god, necessarily,
(unless you like to think so, as I do)

but you, and us, and everyone,
our species, and our mother, earth

these hands build poems,
songs, beats, workshops,
concerts, culture,

they write, strum, type
these words composed
by billions of tiny
invisible electric hands
firing in my brain,

which wonders, now,
what your hands do?
and your brain?

whatever the answer may be,
bless the hands, and bless the brain,
bless the work that is yours,
your contribution

isn’t this what makes us human?
not the labor, but the sharing of it –
not the stuff around us,
but the world we create together from it?

Allen was a copy editor for the Sun Times for 23 years
            until that time when the times changed,
and he and 600 others got squeezed out

Lew was a manager at a branch of Barnes and Noble
fired for not wringing
the last drop of sweat
out of his workers

Diana was a teacher
slowly shoved out of the classroom
by Scholastic and data analysis and test prep
replaced by anything more marketable

so much for her hours of conversations
with students about real-life heroes
like the Freedom Riders in her Beowulf unit

now she must look for new ways
to teach and learn

but what if all of them
had a say
in how the tools replacing them
are used?

Imagine, for a moment,

all of the computers taking over our jobs,
and all of us taking over the computers!

Friends, I never wanted
to be shackled to a classroom
having spent so many days
and years abhorring them

and yet I’m here
in a different classroom every day
talking about poetry, listening,
trying to master this art of dialogue
because, you see,
this is my most precious tool
and, I think, our most invincible

and this is why I’m writing to you,
speaking to you, friend,
comrade, relative –

i want to imagine with you,
visualize with you,
perhaps, this very place,
the same, but different,
i want all of us to imagine
doing the things we love most:

telling stories, dancing, playing guitar,
writing, reading, painting, gardening,
taking walks and hikes through mountains,
swimming in lakes and oceans and rivers,
studying stars or history or Torah,
teaching youth how to live, how to learn,
how to make medicinal blends of tea,
how to break dance

or maybe, sitting quietly with our grandparents,
sipping coffee, making pancakes,
listening to records, or Spotify playlists,
watching movies, playing soccer
in the yard with our babies,
with our nieces and nephews,
with all our relations

(We are all related… )


here is a corner of my imagination,
take it, stretch with me
as wide as possible:

can we flex our collective mind
into a picture of us
doing all of these things

freely, meaning,
without any money
and without any orders

simply because we are who we are,
what we are –
can you imagine

nobody having to stand
outside a grocery store
panhandling for food?

and nobody having to sleep on the street
or choose between medicine or electricity or heat?

and nobody having to stand in the way
of a bulldozer coming to turn up the graves
of their great great grandmothers and fathers

and nobody shot dead on the street by police
and yes, no police
do we dare imagine it?

brothers, sisters,
close your eyes, if you want –
and try to see yourself
waking up in the morning, in a bed
and knowing every person in the world
slept warm and safe last night, and every night,
and every morning, eating breakfast
with every one of the 7 billion, drinking coffee
knowing any human hands growing the beans
work with dignity, with all the time in the world
to rock their babies to sleep

imagine the taste
of bagels, tomatoes, onions, and eggs
made without the torture of people,
land, animals, or water

and maybe even
passing the whole day through
from dawn to dusk

without worrying,
or working a job,

only doing that which flows
from our own beating hearts

a never-ending summer vacation
an eternal Sabbath

what would you give
if it could be anything?

what would life be like
if we were free
to give and receive
all of nature?

the way the river feeds its children,
and the trees shelter the owls?

the way that rain waters the prairies,
and children play…

oh, the days
we’ll spend in the sun,
and the dreams
we’ll dream by night,

which we now

even dream!

Monday, April 3, 2017

Out From the Narrow Place

Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let us go out to the field.” And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother and killed him. Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” He said “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?”
      Genesis 4:8-9

Chicago police Officer Jason Van Dyke pleaded not guilty Tuesday to murder and misconduct charges in the shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald… Van Dyke's attorney, Daniel Herbert, has said Van Dyke feared for his life and insists that the video doesn't tell the full story.

      CNN, December 2015

This shall be a day of remembrance for you.

In times to come, when your children ask you,
“What is the meaning of these precepts, these statutes, and these laws,
that the Lord our God has laid down for you?”

You shall tell your children,

“Once we were Pharaoh’s slaves in Egypt,
and God brought us out of that narrow place by his mighty hand.

Before our eyes God worked great and terrible signs
and wonders against Pharaoh and all his house.

And he brought us out from there to lead us to the promised land.

And God commanded us to observe all the statutes,
to love God, for our own good forever
so that we might live as on this day.

And for us justice will be to take care
to observe all these commandments
before the Lord our God as he has directed us.”


And to love our neighbors as ourselves,

is this not the first and last?

And are we not as bound to struggle
for the freedom of our fellow persecuted as our own?

Remember, now,

at Homan Ave and Fillmore St
in the heart of North Lawndale,
there is a dull brick building
a city block long,
with cameras watching
from the corners of the roof
and a few unmarked cars parked outside,
beneath the fire escapes,
beside the steel garage doors.

If you ask the police officers
standing around what it is, they’ll say,

“I don’t know what this is.”
“This isn’t a police station”
“We don’t hold people here.”

But if you ask Kory Wright,
he might tell you
about the nightmare
he and his relatives lived through
in that building

On the morning of his 20th birthday
a hot day in June,
when he and his cousin were on his porch

He was having his hair braided
while another cousin and a friend
played video games downstairs

A woman walked up to them
and asked for change for a fifty
to buy crack cocaine

Three minutes later,
officers in plain clothes
swarmed the house
arrested the four boys
and took them to the black site

no rights read, no calls made,
no prints taken, no papers filed

Kory told the officers it was his birthday
and they sang Happy Birthday to him

they put the boys in separate cells
the size of cubicles

An officer zip-tied Kory to a bench
strapping his hands on both sides
told him “It’s gonna get a little hot in here”
then left

The temperature rose

For six hours, Kory sat sweating and hurting
with no water or toilet or phone

In another room, his friend Deandre Hutcherson,
19, was cuffed, arms spread as if being crucified
while officers punched him in the face,
stomped on his groin, and interrogated him
about crimes he knew nothing about

When pressed on allegations
of police abuse at Homan Square,
Mayor Rahm Emanuel said,

“That’s not true.
We follow all the rules.”


When your children ask you
“What is the purpose of these laws?”

Tell them we were once slaves,
and that is why we know what freedom means.

And that is how our religion came to us:

As a mission
to set the world free –

Tell them
we were once captives
in mitzrayim, the narrow place,
and that the God of Nature brought us out
by parting an ocean and softening a heart

Tell them
we obey these laws
because they come from freedom
and serve that purpose only

and that the darkest, narrowest place of all
is not in Egypt or in Homan Square
but in our very hearts and minds
if we forget the meaning of these words:

Tzedek, Tzedek tir’dof / l’ma’an tich’yeh /
v’yarash’ta et-ha’aretz / asher Adonai eloheycha noten lakh

Justice, Justice shall you pursue, so that you may live
and possess the land the LORD your God is giving you

Put these words upon your hearts.
Teach them to your children.
Talk about them when you sit at home
and when you walk along the road
when you lie down and when you get up

Tattoo them upon your skin
and pin them to your clothes

Tzedek, Tzedek tir’dof
l’ma’an tich’yeh

Write them on protest signs
and frame them over your bed

Tzedek, Tzedek tir’dof
l’ma’an tich’yeh

Justice, and Justice alone shall you follow,

so that you
may live.