Be loyal to mother and father and child
Be loyal to god and to the holy wild
Be loyal to all children, all grands and greats
Abandon all loyalty to king and state
Abandon the store that would abandon us
And fill in the factories with slaves of rust
Abandon all loyalty to priests of the mind
Instead of loyalty — be kind, always kind
For olive trees twist and the vines all falter
And the fig trees ooze sap in the place all bones rattle
Where the roof tops bend and carry no shelter
There is the place where kill comes for cattle
Loyal to only the wind of the stars,
And the shivering Atoms, life, alone, prays
And Solomon, what’s left of all his glory?
His meticulously described temple is gone
The gold and olive-wood carving is a story
that contains the temple, now. All he has done
as a king, the wars and lovers, all, adrift
like wet books in large oceans, passing
from one wave to another, the slow shift
of rewriting wet pages and back into the tossing
Until the story, itself, only pretends at truth
There was a man, once, who would be king
In his dream, he asked for wisdom from a God
And, when he woke, the babe was brought in
Two women shouting, “It’s mine! The child’s mine!”
And, his mind burning, he held the sword of time
I used to know how to write a poem
Once upon a time I even knew stories
I see these ideas I built like ruined Rome
I have buried more in my worries
Than I have ever been able to keep
Once I thought I could change everything
Build parapets of paragraphs, war weep
To carry sorrow to joyful ignorance bring
Light to undiscovered continents inside
The soul of dreams. I wake up from this
The dust accumulated, buried streets wide
I stumble to work lost to the fabled kiss
Of forces greater than one little soul
I have forgotten more than will ever be whole
The castle is no place to be a man,
All that dust and draftiness, narrow stairs
And those tiny slits for windows. Escape plans
And siege equipment, and all those rare
Accumulated things growing mold
or hidden in moldy boxes, and the cracks
in the walls where mice, chewing on old
manuscripts. And there’s all those people hack
coughs in the dust and race around the stairs
No, the castle is no place to be a man
The crown is an unnatural invention made for stares
That weighs the mind down. Will you stand?
I’ve never met a man in a castle – only jesters
Who seem unaware of the jeers of their betters.
The day I knew I could never go home
Again, never again, was with a cookie
I knew in childhood, a humble cookie
And the memory of the cookie’s grown
a mythology in my desire, a craving
irrational, at best, an addiction to it
Such that I must never permit
the thing to enter the house, and staving
off this desire is a fact I know as truth
If I give in and taste the cookie,
It is not so great in my mouth
As it is as a memory of the cookie
The taste is nothing but a dream
Old rooms in lost houses larger than seem
We do not know the world is not an egg
Waiting to hatch when it is warm enough
The inner workings of the magma and rough
stone crust are known only by trembling legs
And layers of sediment, volcanic eruptions
We only know what lies smeared upon the edge
The topsoil layer, the distant crane flight’s stretch
and the mumble of the clouds between; excitations
could mean anything. How do we know for sure
Each planet is not a dragon’s egg, remember the serpent?
Remember the old tales, how darkness swallows azure
and the land beneath our feet cracks – inadvertant
to this, we make such plans about new myths, a blur
of heavenly angels that will come, for some important
There used to be parakeets across this country
They were a splash of color in the corn
The farmers took the musketball and scorn
To drive them to the brink, a stuffed sundry
Along with the carrier pigeon, they all died
And that was supposed to be the end of it
Ask anyone they’ll tell you there’s no parrot
Native to this country anymore, all died
All died… Except, the pets went wild
And look up into the trees of the city
There the colonies cackle in style
They call them invasive, but they’re pretty
And they came here from some emerald isle
The same as any ghosts where we lacked pity
Every time I write a book, the bird
Of it takes flight from my little boat
The flood is always here, the lost word
The critical isolation of ideation by rote
Essential to the maintenance of civilization
So from this little ship I send my birds to shore
Or boat to anywhere they land, find ration
It feels greedy to call upon the rainbows for more
The unfinished things return, finding none
And curl in among the elephants and cattle
The strong fliers, the far seeing birds, leave home
They land in distant places, cry out their soul rattle
The trilling insistence that morning sun rises
No matter what floods come, no matter night’s swollen surprises
I watched with great horror the Turkish bodyguards of Erdogan charging across the street, into the field where peaceful protestors believed themselves safe in America from the thing that would get them killed in Turkey: free speech. The thugs of Erdogan descended and beat and choked indiscriminately. Policemen tried to break up the fighting with the realization that they were witness to an international incident. Diplomatic immunity was abused to bring a pocket of autocracy into the heart of our nation’s capitol. I thought that naked thuggery in the halls of power was a dark thing, but how dark, and how naked? The cameras were rolling. None of the goons cared.
The President of the Philippines has openly announced that he has taken part in the vigilante killing of suspected drug dealers, the extra-judicial method he has chosen to combat crime in his country. No rule of law, just this: The police think you’re a drug dealer, so they shoot you in the street. He was elected to his office, and blusters and howls while he seems to collude with the corrupt.
It is widely held that the richest man in the world is Vladimir Putin. No one knows for sure, but at the top of a pyramid of what we are calling oligarchs, which would be more correctly referred to as a mafia, Putin has skimmed off the top of an entire country, pushing his own people into poverty while his coffers fill.
In Venezuela, they protest and protest… And for what? Democracy? An end to the corruption? Incompetence among those who rule, who cannot provide basic services?
We live in the age of rising autocracy, where tough men bellow and bluster and bully their way over the laws of the land. The law is constrained because power is required to enact the will of law, and power, once gathered, is hard to contain with law.
Is your democracy strong enough to withstand the rise of autocrats? Can these populist thugs take root in your country, or will you cast them out? These are the important questions, and safeguarding one’s nation from such thuggery is critical to protect the people from the thugs who charge across the street and beat down peaceful protestors beyond indifferent to the laws and customs of their host nation, brazen in their disrespect of any other laws but strength and purchased strength.
In this world, I read a classic of Western Literature about Josef Stalin, where an agent of communism is imprisoned and faces execution for whatever reasons are convenient. It amounts to the feeling of Stalin, never named in the text, indicate that the hero, Rubashov, is not loyal anymore, and could be dangerous to Stalin’s own hold on power. For in this world, the great struggle to promote worldwide communism stalls against the autocratic drive of one man, who slows the tide and hardens his grip upon the nation he has claimed. The ideology of communism, it is clear, is now swept up into one man’s ambition. The debate between the interrogator and the interrogated acknowledges this fact, while questioning the belief in communism in religious terms. Do you believe in the destiny of communism? If so, sacrifice yourself to it. Confess to this crime you did not commit.
The intellectual, Rubashov, accepts his place as a sacrificial victim of communism, in his way. He acknowledges that what is happening to him is something he had done to others, allowing others to be sacrificed on the blood alter of communism. The fervor of it, the way it swallows up lives, feels monstrous, but to a dedicated believer in the cause they are all martyrs to a historical destiny in which they firmly believe, even as it devours them whole.
The bleak and stark novel of prison and faith in philosophy and the bloody deception of political power stands against a backdrop of purges less elegant, purges so brutal and thoughtless that the beauty and philosophy of the text is almost an affront to the reality that it fictionalizes. The true horror of the text is that it permits an intellectualization of the lives of real people who fell into darkness, and were devoured whole in a holocaust of non-believers and outliers in a systematized corporatization of history under autocratic rule. Anything that deviated from the will of No. 1 faced death, and anyone inconvenient to the will of No. 1 faced death, and everyone knew they had to submit, maneuver carefully, and abandon their sense of self to the bullet of history.
Consider this in our current age of autocrats: Once upon a time, the autocrats abused rebellion to rise to power. Democracy was the answer against such behaviors. Democracies were able to hold back the flood of Communism better than monarchies and other such things. Where power accumulated at the top of society, revolutions took root among the desperate people and intellectuals. In our own time, the top of democracies have become functional oligarchies in many ways. Our own country has seen political power become nearly hereditary in some families, and corporate influence has led to a class of individuals who are more powerful in the shaping of legislation than the individual voters who presume to be in power through their congressmen. Were we not ripe for revolution? Were the autocratic impulses not looking around, seeking the weakness in the system of men?
A religious belief in democracy, then, may become the liability that is exploited by the autocrats. Do not be afraid to abandon the religion of political power. Let no oath to paper or men be greater than the whole of those ruled in sorrow.