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from the “You missed them/They didn’t miss you,”* file

By Anselm Berrigan


et je suis triste, Seigneur, d’etre si triste.
– Blaise Cendrars

This morning, cold
Somewhere beyond a single mockingbird
I heard again
A haunting Negro song
Were you there when
They crucified my Lord?

After a decade
Of felons in high places,
Greed unleashed
To herd us into Hell

We’re all there now
For lesser crucifixions

Just another wet East Texas day
Dawn scrubs the sky from darker to light gray

I don’t know what to do
I don’t know what to do

And all our journalists declare
“The world is mad!”
The same who cried
The end of history in all the streets

The same who yelled “Surf’s up!
Democracy is cresting like a tidal wave”
Bringing its flood of common oddities
To all the world
Declare, “The world is mad!”
And have no trouble finding testaments
Rumors, portents and signs
Our people lost in hearts of deserts
Our cities falling from within
Warm valleys white with flames of uprising
Tricksters and traitors
Posing as candidates but well prepared
To fall back on careers
As foul-mouthed comics

We’re in the tube, my friends

I don’t know what to do
Lord, I don’t know what to do

In Kampuchea and South Africa
In middle Europe, Yeats’s Ireland, Los Angeles, Somalia
Boys are initiated into death
Before they learn the skill that brought them here

Children completely dipped in numbing pain
Conduct a routine slaughter in the streets
Of innocents and others just like them
Kidnapped into a mindless helical design

I don’t know what to do, Lord
I don’t know what to do

Here on a slate-grey morning
A cold front comes up from the hill country
Bringing chill rain
Lawmen in 4 x 4s and helicopters
The crack Booze, Butts and Bombs detail
Our square jawed champions
Until they bite the dust
When suddenly transformed
Soft family men, the best of us
And there’s a fund to help
The family

Psychotic prophets
Without the foresight to have booked
A Passion Play
End up in a re-enactment of the Alamo
A muddy siege
Each drawn both sides count heads and feet
Beneath the thudding racket
Of a sky filled with our journalists
In traffic helicopters

This frenzied Passover
Confused with Lent
Catches our breaths like wind
And clouds our faces

If not for a woman’s hand,
Peace officers, pacing in high-tech tents
Would send a hundred people to the grave
For bypassed payment of their bullet fees
In carnage more insane than Attica

Thank you for this, O Lord

Thank you O Lord
For the comfort of minute awareness
Our journalists have not forsaken us
Return to tell in microwave Homerics
A vigil that disrupts
The Price Is Right each morning
Just before the Showcase Showdown
But cuts away
Before we miss the end
Who wins the game.

A little charity is what we need
And there’s a fund
For pro-life murderers
And funds for milk
Where childhoods blaze and infancies implode
Upon a bed of cinders
Reflected in the dark, round
Always and forever open eyes
Of those made homeless, hopeless
By bombs and guns made in the USA
Properly taxed
Or smuggled by collusion of the law
And slushfund patriots

O Lord, I don’t know what to do
I don’t like watching what comes into view
I will narrow my eyelids
Till there is nothing in the world but You

Waco, Texas, 1993

by Lorenzo Thomas, from the “Resistance as Memory” section of Dancing on Main Street (Coffee House Press, 2004)

* Let’s imagine there have been hundreds of thousands of public poems written by American poets in just the last quarter century, written about all sorts of events, situations, histories, outcomes, non-outcomes, injustices, mind frames, nuances, ideas, oddities, lives ordinary and extraordinary – it’s not hard for me to imagine that kind of output anyway: I have read and listened to some thousands of examples over the past two decades, and I know it’s just a drop in the bucket because there’s all kinds of stuff I know I haven’t gotten to – are we not imagining a record of attention and response to public matters that is, for better or worse, not only immense in scope and spirit but beyond the reckoning of most if not all of our current collective public discussion and thinking about the art? It is so hard to imagine people being affected by just a touch of this work to the point of taking it in on a deep level, and in many cases taking up the practice themselves, and these things happening again and again and again despite “every” “good” “reason” not to?

Posted in Uncategorized on Sunday, April 18th, 2010 by Anselm Berrigan.