Michael Lally

 

from March 18, 2003

Isnít it true the world hasnít been easy for a long time?
Wasnít it once?
Werenít there kidsólittle
girls in dresses with
skinny legs and bare armsó
and boys too shy to make
as much noise as the othersó
under street lampsóout
late, because itís too warm
to go to bed yetóand
nothing good for kids on
the radio anywayó
and nobody really afraid of
anything too strange and
disturbing to threaten their
hopes for more evenings like
this?
Wasnít
the world easy
once?
Wasnít that because we didnít know
and maybe didnít want to
like my nephews and nieces donít
today, as they sail away to foreign ports
called up in the reserves or on the active duty
they see as a way out of the confusion
of a working class that thinks it isnít,
or that class doesnít matter, at least not on
the talk radio they listen to?
Is there is no other way for them to go?
Isnít that all they know
despite my talks and books and e mails?
Donít they say it worked for me,
itís how I first got out into the world?
When I try to tell them why theyíre wrong
to believe their leaders and the right wing
corporate radio pimps, isnít it difficult for them to
see, as it was for me, when I used the GI Bill
to attend a university that filled my head with information
that made me dizzy, made me feel crazy,
made me feel alienated from all Iíd known
and grown to love the further away
I got from it?
Shit, why didnít anybody tell us
when we beat the lousy Krauts
and stinkin Japs that the man who
would later get us to the moon, Werner Von Braun,
was the same Nazi scientist who made
the rockets that rain downed death on London?
Did any poem of Dylan Thomas ever tell me that?
Who knew the Volkswagen beetle
that the college kids and later lefties
would embrace was Hitlerís idea?
Did anyone ever discuss how we obliterated
Dresden, for no strategic reason, or caused
more civilian death and devastation there and
in the fire bombing of Tokyo than with
the atom bombs we dropped?
Why didnít I know that General Electric
got off with a fine and hand slaps
for colluding with the Nazis or that IBM set up
the Naziís record keeping or that we refused
to bomb the railroad tracks that carried the
freight cars full of Jews to their destination?
Can we guess why our bombs never touched
the Krupp arms factory?
Is it because it isnít
freedom or democracy we fight for or defend,
but in the end itís weapons, fuel and drugs
the trinity that underpins the wealth of nations
and the corporations that rule them?
Did you know the company that makes
the new computerized voting machines
that defied the exit polls and put right wing
Republicans in power where they werenít before
are owned by the right-wing Republican Senator
who did just that in Nebraska, where
according to the results even a majority of blacks
who said they voted against him were obviously wrong
and did the opposite according to his computers?
Is that why the networks
wonít use their own exit polls anymore,
so as not to contradict machines
that leave no inconvenient paper trail
that can be verified,
no tabs and chads and all the rest
that almost gave us who we really voted for?
Why would my relatives, in uniform or not,
want to know that,
stifling in the embrace of a fate
much bigger than any whim of Bush the Great
as he seems to see himself?
And why shouldnít he?
Didnít he grow up with the kind of privileges
our families couldnít even guess at?
When I went AWOL for a two week unplanned
vacation in San Francisco of 1962,
didnít I come back to a court martial and its consequences?
When he failed to show for weekend duty
in the Texas National Guard during Viet Nam
for an entire year, didnít he get the same pass
he got when reporters let him gas about
how DUIís at forty are just youthful
indiscretions, not the job losing experiences
they might be for you or me or our families?
But, he never had a job to lose, did he?
Werenít they just favors from his fatherís friends?
And even when he lost them, didnít somebody else pay
the price, as we are doing now, this night,
especially those paid peanuts to fight
in his place once again?
But is it a whim, or divine right
in his sight, as heís implied?
Have you noticed how
he never mangles his speech when he talks about
bending others to his will, about killing prisoners
in Texas on death row or blowing those heís
designated evil to kingdom come?
Can you see that heís not
dumb, just not a very good liar, stumbling
over words meant to convey compassion or
all the things he knows arenít true?
Wasnít it odd when he
defended himself at his recent news conference
by explaining with exasperation that his
reason for waging war on Iraq was because,
as he emotionally explained, as though
to remedial students, he put his hand
on a Bible and took an oath to defend
the constitution of the United States
of America?
Has Saddam got plans for
destroying our constitution?
Would that be by enticing Bush into an alliance
breaking terrorist inciting preemptive
attack on a large source of oil?
Is that too glib?
When American troops found Al Qaeda
training videos in Afghanistan, werenít they
right to be incensed at the tactics being practiced by
these Moslem boys and men against pretend
hostages they might take in an assault on
Ohio or Dubuqueóas the trainees screamed
and punched and kicked their innocent victim manquesó
just like the Afghan taxi driver said was
done to him by American women and men
interrogating him about things he had
no knowledge of while chained to
the ceiling and floor like some New Yorker cartoon
that isnít funny any more?
Wasnít it the blows and kicks meted out
by an American female that made the Afghan cry,
the humiliation of it as he pissed his pants and
cowered under the physical and verbal abuse
for no more reason, he claimed, than that he
drove his taxi into the wrong street at the
obviously wrong time?
Didnít he also cry at the memory of the
Afghan boys who died in the custody of our interrogators,
never having been away from their
families and homes before their being chained
to ceiling and floor at ankle and wrist while
being deprived of sleep and screamed at
in an English they couldnít decipher?
Didnít the military doctors who did their autopsies
with the same efficient record keeping
that the Nazis perfected say they died of internal injuries?
Am I saying
the gang who tried to permanently eliminate Jews,
and Gypsies, and queers and the retarded and
deformed and more is what our troops and
their commanders replicate in our name?
Or am I saying war brings out the best and
worst ofóbut havenít you heard all that before?
Arenít your souls and hearts as sore as mine
from all the confusion and obfuscation and distortion
and repulsion of what others do to others
in the name of having been done to us?
Didnít our government use the same tactics it
deplores Saddam for?
Didnít we try to be honest?
But didnít the truth keep changing on us?
When I was a kid, didnít they teach us that
ďUncle Joe StalinĒ helped us win the war?
When I was a man, didnít
Ronald Reagan remember scenes from
war movies as if they really happened
and he was there though he was in Hollywood
the entire time making movies he remembered
as reality?
In the light of his later disease
donít we understand that?
Donít we understand everything, sometimesó
or once?
Is this the way we count the time to go
to get to where we know it will be all right for us again?
Or have we walked through the door to the future
and found ourselves on fire before we can see
the flames and what remains and what must go
is all these fools are fighting over when they pose
as people-in-the-know on where we all have been
and might be going?
Does it matter where we are or the color
of our skin or religion of our ancestors or is that
incidental because whatís fundamental about these times
is the way the long hot Summer starts in winter
one unexpected day and then, say, turns up in Spring
for more than a week, or peaks in Fall
when all we want is a breath of fresh crisp air,
the kind we find some mornings in the mountains
or the North but not as many as before,
before the earth became a living/dying litmus test
of our deceit in dealing with these tired times
when even trees are gasping to survive
and theyíre the ones who keep us alive?
How much does the changing weather patterns
over Afghanistan that caused the years of drought
that impoverished the country that embraced a Taliban
solution to their problems have to do with lives lost
and the other costs of 9/11?
What legacy do we end with?
Too many VCRs and DVDs and not enough
of what it takes to keep us all from baking in the long
hot Summer of a raceís demise despite the seemingly
old fashioned winter weíve just survived?
Is it a surprise, that the fate we share is in the air
not in the eyes of some tenacious politician
who pretends heís one of us?
Was Duchamp correct when he said, only in French,
ďTools that are no good require more skillĒ?
Isnít it too noisy these days?
Can you hear yourself think
with all these hard surfaces
reflecting the clatter
of all the shit that doesnít
even matter anymore?
Canít we just close the door?
Does it help?
To lock it, bolt it,
reinforce it with armed
guards and VCRs and lipo-
suction and cost reduction
and all the seduction your
memory can muster?
Is it
still too noisy in here?
Out there, is that the smell
of blood and fire in the air?
Has the star that
led us here disappeared
over the horizon, while weíre
still waiting for some-
thing else to happen, as if
we hadnít had enough already?
Havenít I too felt like beating or bombing someone
who frightened me or pissed me off because of the way
they looked or acted or seem to be?
Canít we all just get along?
Donít you want to believe we can?
But when your friends are turning up with lies
and alibis for all their sadness and depression
and the recession is supposed to be ending
just when your moneyís running out,
and they keep smoking and slamming
and jabbing themselves with ways to deform
what they canít even accept yet,
what are we doing here anyway?
Am I wrong?
Was I always?
Is it not about healing, but about tearing
each otherís eyes out because we donít
see things the same way?
Is it all about blame?
Weíre all alive and depend on the ocean and trees,
and the air they give us to breatheóso what are we doing?
Going to any lengths to rip each other off
and tear each other down?
Has the smoke gone away, or not,
because it isnít from the flames
but from the fire that only burns
our lungs like marshmallows at the camps
we never went to, too busy getting here,
where there is no air we canít see,
and the fee for being cynical, like Iím feeling tonight,
is to get up tomorrow and fight my way into a breath
I can remember before this war on all our simple
dreams of harmony got started?
Arenít you feeling brokenhearted too these days?
But not like you lost a lover,
like youíre losing the sustainers of your soul and very breath?
Canít we do something about it?
Canít we all just get alongó
as in people and trees and animals and seas
and the breeze that will someday stop if we
donít start letting it all goóor never stopó
the hurt and the hate and the need to forget it
with stuff that just adds to the noise and pollution?
Isnít there only one life and one problem and one solution
from the streets to the elite?
Donít we all have a seat
in this universe we share?
Is ours now at the feet
of the oil oligarchy running
what once was our home?
You call this a poem?
Didnít they
used to say
ďthe best things in life are freeĒ
when they meant
the air and the trees and the sea?
But we know
better now, donít we?
When death is no longer imaginary,
doesnít it all seem like poetry?
Oróis that just me?