Halliburton. Bechtel. We are in horticultural hell. These are the
fellows to reseed Iraq. The left hand shall raise what the right hand
felled. Perverse game: Latinate their names. Order, family, genus,
species. Take a leaf from Linnaeus, update it with cladistics, key in
the statistics, and see—they mutate from profiteering geniuses to
prophets of photosynthesis. Sowing seeds of dominion. Positively
Darwinian. Green glow the blood-red fields. Bone-fertile crescent.
Momentum of empire. Speciation.
Cheney. Schultz. We are familiar with the drill. These are the
fellows with their fingers in the till. Mop up after the kill.
Destruction done, the money's in construction. Tip to top. Jobs. Roads.
Curriculum. Homes. Water food radio TV. Murderers invaders arsonists
corpse creators. Raiders contractors bandits cash collectors. Grand
Prisoner: Why I Can’t Retreat
Little yellow birds:
goldfinches, I’m told, and
once I know the name I can’t
restrain my throat
from emoting a Shirley Bassey
They're the birds—
The birds with the backs so
Behold their flight!
Spy movie. Ejector seats. Six
degrees of Sean Connery. The man who would be king. Rudyard Kipling.
White man's burden. The scramble for Africa. IMF extorts Zimbabwe for
Cecil Rhodes' cohorts. NAFTA cracks Mexico's economy with Iowa corn
exports. Israeli bulldozers smash Palestine family homes. Dubya quests
for empire on behalf of slimy oil execs—Wait!
Rein it in.
This is supposed to be a
from people places things
the clutter of pop culture
and current events.
Clear your mind, 60s child,
of all that debris.
Look at the leaves
spilling purple pulp
meandering clematis, cloying
Sweet rustic scene
articulating only peace. Only green.
Take your ease. Raise your
to the cloud-clawed morning
and watch it burn
to a shrill hysteric blue
Breathe wisteria, lavender,
as you wander willowy
These slow quiet rural
should create a salutary
serum injected into your
racing urban veins
antidote to clear the poisons
calm the jitters
silence the iterative
citified echo of vast humanity's million-magnified pain—
at a minimum mute it, dull it
down to an elemental elegiac drone
drowned in the din of cicada
Sit a while. The drowsing
effect will surely come. Listen to nature's discourse
and command your brain to
hush. Gift yourself thus.
It's no use.
I can't cease insistent
resort to radio, the Web,
relentless compulsion to
track what's happening back in
what I'm helpless to resist
regarding as the real the true
the raw unlovely ragged
bleeding from head finger heel
racist unjust poverty-pitted
the inescapable though I'm
supposed to focus on art
the manifestly actual the
for its mass of choiceless
voiceless hamstrung inhabitants
the heedless pining needful
hope-infected bitter unfinished world.
I feel like a prisoner here.
Bucolic, I guess, is boring to me
unless accompanied by a nod a
word a glance
to acknowledge the fact of
the planet and its hapless spin. Life
as we know it exists, for
instance, in the Middle East,
where our taxes fund two
occupations. Can creativity
detach from that? Is it art
if it does?
How can anyone forget Iraq?
Odd duck, outcast, gate
crasher, the interloper hops a bus
for a brief escape. What a
happy trade I make:
pastoral for industrial. The
coach passes factories
where they manufacture
baseball caps, lawn chairs
and, if my eyes don't mistake
me, mascara. Adding to my luck,
it's shift change time.
Workers stand in line and board. They chat:
someone got written up for
taking too many pee breaks,
someone else looked like
she'd been out all night,
my daughter's taking her
my boy in the reserves has
been called up. Looks like
Bush lied about Saddam's
weapons. Sure don't want my kid to die.
Moping is a privilege. When I
finish here I'll head home.
I am not a prisoner. Mumia
is. His is a literal condition.
Locked up since 1981. The
denizen death row
can't silence. He writes
and ranges wide. He speaks
and friends disseminate the
tapes. He offers up such
freedom thoughts that though
they are composed behind thick bars
they fly. This is an artist,
and this is the art
that interests me. Hewn from
reached through sheer climb
over sharp obstacles
at awful risk.
Art of courage, because a
come to harm that way, but
there is no alternate route
if you love the land the sea
the carbon-based creatures. No easy way out.
Art of consequence, because
there is no time
for insubstantial stuff. It's
late. Meaning matters.
shriek art spleen art take a
stand and unclog my arteries
art that makes the dastardly
and the downtrodden dance
into the street.
The art that is air that is
blood that is work. The work
from which there can be no
May Day in New York, 2003
The millions march worldwide. Not here. Might strike you queer if you
recall Chicago workers started it all. Haymarket, 1886. Now tulipmania
has me in its grip. I call in sick. In Union Square, surrounded by
flowers, I sit. I picture picking that blue one, there, lift it to my
lips, tip its tall tender petals to tongue, it's a cup, I sip. So what?
If I were liquored up would there be ease, could bitter elixir release
the lock? The clock (blocked by Zeckendorf Towers) ticks. The bombs.
Iraq. The bombs. Iraq.
Dance about the Maypole. Rally round the flagpole. Rally round the
flag, boys. Exploit the fear for all it's worth. Line up for loyalty
oath transit employees teachers labor organizers park cleaners. Bed-Stuy
occupied by police. INS tags Pakistanis. Pentagon tracks students. The
McCarthy period didn't end. I speak historically, not metaphorically. If
I spoke I'd be heroic but Ethel and Julius died (were they stoic? did
they cry?) a year before my birth and still I feel the chill. I make an
hourly wage. How oust the fat cats from their immaculately appointed
berths sailing athwart, as if it's their personal sea, the wide wet
Last fall my love went to Baghdad. She brought home wood beads, a
pretty little tea set, glowing silver Aladdin's lamp. Verdigris and
burgundy rug cartwheeled with whimsical design. And nine hours of
videotape. Talking with women, her new Iraqi friends, as they prepared
for the attack. The only issue our home, Sawdah, Ghazal, Nasihah said.
Our nation. Our oil. The blitzkrieg will come. We will fight back.
Is it just me, or does Homeland Security have a Nazi ring? Soldiers
at my subway entrance rifles in hand. I'm not one to sniff fascism on
every block but there's an unpleasant whiff in the air. SOS! The world
in distress! The threats the deaths New World Order Third World debt.
When does the true balance come due? Apocalyptic 666? Ditch the
mysticism. End of history? Mister Monopolist wishes but it isn't,
despite trickle-down dividend-tax-cut trickery. Globalization. Prison
industrialization. Neo-post-mega-colonization. White men in suits
engorged at the planet smorgasbord, swine after truffles snuffle
resources, markets, land. An octopussy (no apologies to Ian Fleming)
thing. Tentacles stretched. Suctioning riches. Diamonds rubber coffee
cotton mined dug picked manufactured by hand by machine by human beings
by workers a word they'd like us to forget.
In the weary evening speaking 17 languages on the #7 train to Queens.
Stitching slacks for 70 cents a day ten time zones away.
May Day! May Day! Emergency! In February we thicked the streets. Lima
Bombay Johannesburg New York Manila Minsk. Again in March. The barrage
was begun the following week. Swiftly complete. Yet listen. Yet wait.
For the world, which is workers, a temporary defeat. Karbala Bangkok
Barcelona New York. The workers are Ground Zero. We are beauty—only
stunned, we are not, even here, forevermore asleep.
Shelley Ettinger's work has been published or is forthcoming in
Blithe House Quarterly, Lodestar Quarterly, Mudlark, Facets, Glass
Tesseract, Word is Bond, HazMat Review and other journals. A
secretary at New York University, she is currently completing her first