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Shelley Ettinger

Three Poems

Speciation. Larceny

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 theft. Larceny.

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 refrain.



They're the birds—

The birds with the backs so bright—

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 retreat

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

grassy fields

berry-bursting branches spilling purple pulp

meandering clematis, cloying honeysuckle vines.

Sweet rustic scene articulating only peace. Only green.

Take your ease. Raise your eyes

to the cloud-clawed morning sky

and wait

and watch it burn

to a shrill hysteric blue this afternoon.

Breathe wisteria, lavender, lobelia

as you wander willowy riverbanks.


These slow quiet rural surrounds

should create a salutary effect

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 meadowlark bumblebee.

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

empty-bellied violence-ridden racist unjust poverty-pitted

the inescapable though I'm supposed to focus on art

the manifestly actual the practically uninhabitable

for its mass of choiceless voiceless hamstrung inhabitants

the heedless pining needful heart-peeling soul-shredding

oppression-infested 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 G.E.D.,

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 hard rock

reached through sheer climb

over sharp obstacles

at awful risk.

Art of courage, because a person can

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.

Urgent art

emergency art

shriek art spleen art take a stand and unclog my arteries

art that makes the dastardly shrink

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 retreat

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 earth?

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 novel.

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