All poetry is political; some politics are poetical.

Reading the Ranting Rainbow

At the big pink building

in the big red state (the second biggest

until you take into account the

        heights of the hair

    widths of the buckles

            depths of the stupidity

        & lengths gone

                    by the gerrymandered godsquad)

sits-in the pink shirted army, crimson-faced

        because confronted with the blackest of hearts.

    Brown uniforms DPS the public lack of safety,

rose red running from foreheads & noses as

    they wade through the gray of maintaining order.

    Blue jeans & pink shoes run ragged

            the cautions of filibuster yellow.

& still the Red tide rolls, as if the T-party had

    the yellow moons on its side, the sun, orange stars.

        Pink hearts wishing on green clovers.

        Blue diamonds in the rough struggle, willing

    to throw purple horseshoes

            at the white milquetoast men.

“Stop!” they say, red light on their health care;

“Go!” they say, green light to bygone eras and errors,

    the green faces of those in pink, sickened

    by the s-curve in mountainous descent.

“Slow down!” they say, yellow-bellied response to

    the hot pink of progress, of parity, of

        personal choice.

At the big pink building

in the big red state

    pink shirts & crimson faces,

        dirtied by Brown uniforms & White Privilege

    fight to no avail

            against the blues of servitude

                the red of loss

                the gray of history’s clouded precedent

And hundreds of miles east

in the state sun yellowed & bleached blond

        black is still the shaded suspect

        white the night watch ranger

            red the blood on the sidewalk

                silver the bullet in chest

                    black the hoodie, black the gun

        and always, all ways

                the gray of uncertainty


        unseen, blinded Justice, whether under shined sun or lone star,

            mourns the loss of hues;

                gone the red of valor

                gone the white of innocence

                gone the blue of justice.

But Wait!

The new fall colors are in

                        GSR gray

                        Protest pink

                        Keltec 9MM black

                        Kevlar blue

                        Fascist brown

dress appropriately, you never know whose path you’ll cross.

Oh My! That’s So Ekphrastic!

Ekphrasis, in Greek, means “description.” I’m a big fan of ekphrastic poetry, that genre that, on the most basic level, is writing something descriptive about a visual representation (a painting, a photo, a sculpture). As the Poetry Foundation defines it, “An ekphrastic poem is a vivid description of a scene or, more commonly, a work of art. Through the imaginative act of narrating and reflecting on the ‘action’ of a painting or sculpture, the poet may amplify and expand its meaning.” The Academy of American Poets offers some fine-tuning that syncs nicely with my own work, saying “[M]odern ekphrastic poems have generally shrugged off antiquity’s obsession with elaborate description, and instead have tried to interpret, inhabit, confront, and speak to their subjects.”

Since my first encounters with the poetry of Ferlinghetti, and my first attempts with the flaming giraffes of Dalì, I have grown quite fond of art as inspiration. Thus is born the first poem inspired by the art of David Sweeney. His work, if you’ll forgive the brief, Cliff Notes-style, non-poetic ekphrasis, reminds me of the dream-like canvases of the Surrealists; his paintings make use of collage, of mixed media, which always summon my attention, reminiscent of the way I gravitate to some of the works of Picasso, Ernst or Braque. I am especially drawn to the appearance of text–newspaper clippings, stenciled quotes, scribbled phrases–in his art; the intersection of image and word begging for the poet’s ekphrasis. Lest I ramble on too much, I leave you to look at his œuvre at your leisure. If you find something you like, snatch it up, it’s hard to find good original art these days.

And now, to the poem.

It was first inspired by David Sweeney’s painting #517.

It can also be found at,paintings, the second painting from the top.
It can also be found at here, the second painting from the top.

The italics (except for the French), including the title, are taken from some articles in the NYTimes regarding air travel. The thrust of the poem, in language and subject, has changed repeatedly, and the last line was a surprise, unexpected in its return to a minor detail in the painting, as I finished this, draft version 1.5.

Whatever Happened to First Class?

First, let’s get things straight. The euphemism for first caste has got to go, cleared for takeoff–always a misnomer misnaming for misdirection. Even before da Vinci’s device and the Wrights’ winged wonder, the ocean-gliding, wave-riding masted masterpieces kept the dividing line pretty clear, offering free passage to free labor for the not-so-free folks packed in the hold, barely holding on to their humanity, barely holding on to their little-scrap lunch.

So what happened to first caste? Classy became the label rather than the behavior, fancy china replacing fine company, fancy curtain replacing fine linen. And in first caste, room to stretch and kick, lie flat as capital’s whore, 300 channels to choose as you charge IMac and IPad and IPod and IPhone and IBeeper and ISnob, sip champagne, the warm wet sandpaper towel wiping from your face the grime of those in the back of the bus, the tail of the plane, the bottom of the boat. High above, the 1 percent fly first class; the .1 percent fly Netjets; the .01 percent fly their own planes.

Meanwhile, tail-side, knees to chest, elbows tucked with three-pretzel packs and chocolate-chip puck, the chosen few of the 99% lucky to escape the surface, grouped into herds by booking for boarding, one movie on one screen, one position for your one-inch seat, unsettle in for takeoff and turbulence.

And on the ground, far below, the (un)lucky 99%, stick in traffic, hostage to the toll road trolls, opt for one of the 300 $ burgers at the 300 fast food joints for the 300 lbs, the only bubbles from the soda machine–bottom caste transport never felt good.

“You go into first class because it’s less horrible than coach.” No cash to pay outright, CapitalOne card hassled to the max? Then it is perhaps with the free upgrade, high miles in your frequent flier club, without mile high club fornicating to give the bumpy flight some purpose. Which seat do you book? Which level are you?

Platinum Premium or Bronze Business, Elite Economy or Cushy Coach
Poached Ivory or Plated Silver, Gaudy Gold or Dazzling Diamond
these are the new
Fabulous First, Satisfying Second, Thirsty Third, Struggling Steerage which were
Captain and mates and crew and slaves from
King and Court and Lords and Serfs. Plus ça change, the more it stays the same.

And somewhere in the middle, betwixt the heaven and the hell, the poet, drifting in his dirigible, observes them all.

Let’s get poetical, political, I wanna get poetical, political, let me hear the body politic talk!

For Margo.

W. S. Merwin once said that all poetry is political; Jean-Paul Sartre called for a littérature engagée, engaged in the politics, absurdities, and struggles of the human condition.  From Whitman to Merwin, Prévert to Ferlinghetti, Ginsberg to Chuck D, Gil Scott-Heron to Reg E. Gaines, Baudelaire to Césaire, Guru to Solaar, poetry has long been engaged with some struggle. The best poetry (or any art for that matter) frames for us a way to deal with the difficult; sometimes poets find just the right words to express our outrage or shock.  They speak in our silence, and use silence to speak.  Some avoid rhyme in their efforts to reason, some eschew reason so that we may escape through their rhyme.

Muddled clichés aside, my own attempts to grapple with Boston (and Newtown and Aurora and Oak Creek and Kabul and Baghdad and a million other  cities and lives) are still in process; being thunderstruck at the inaction of leaders and politicians, my own wordlessness still thumbs through Webster’s and the OED, looking for just the right utterance to break the silence.   Others have already cleared their throats, already put pen to paper, already clackety-clacked on keyboards.

So it is with Margo Berdeshevsky, brilliant poet and brilliant photographer; an artist, whose voice sings true, of whom Sartre and Merwin would be proud.  She is also a dear friend and kindred spirit, a “soul mate” in these days of increasing soullessness in our topsy-turvied world.  I share with you a brief excerpt from her “Postcards to the Body Politic” and link you to the full poem, as well as to ma chère Margo giving voice to the weight.  When, in troubled times, the politicos and the press fail to speak truth, to state the obvious, to ask the difficult questions, it is to the poets we must turn, and at this moment, to Margo:

Postcards to the Body Politic


But there’s more. First, I cannot write dear. I cannot call you dear. I am too deeply, deeply  — and I have never believed in. Before. But now so much less. No. So much less. Dear illusion of dear. Dear I-could-not-write. You will not mind. You do not love.

Dear body. Dear if-my-right-hand. Dear how can you love only your own soul? Dear why would you feed only one eye? Not the hand. Not the belly. How can you love the head, not skin, not the water?

You make me cry. You make me sadder than women, sadder than men, even sadder than your —No. You, and your guns. Do you even love your hands? Can you love your mind? Body dangerous. I try to call you dear. Enraged at your arms, enraged at your desire, enraged at your eyes. If I am too angry to love you — what, what will we do?

To read the entire poem, simply click here. And the streaming audio of Margo’s words.