Featured poet: Lew Rosenbaum

Laquan

 

1

Two days ago the number was 1033

Today it is 1040

In November alone 77

27% had “mental health issues”

In England and Wales, police shot and killed 55 people in the last 24 years

In the U.S., police shot and killed 59 people in the first 24 days of 2015

Iceland has had one fatal police shooting in its 71 years of existence

Stockton, California had 5 fatal police shootings in the first five months of this year

The police fired six bullets in the entire year of 2013 in Finland

In Pasco, Washington, police fired 17 bullets in the fatal shooting of Antonio

                 Zambrano Morales

The police shot Laquan, firing 15 bullets into his already prone body

 

2

Half the victims of police killings are white

One quarter are Black

About 17 per cent are Latino

About 2 per cent are an unknown demographic

Asian/Pacific Islanders and Native Americans make up the final 3 per cent

All are poor.  All are poor.

 

3

In the U.S. “contingent work” amounts to 40 per cent of all jobs

Globally, three out of four workers are “vulnerably employed,” unemployed or

                     inactive

Temp workers are “disposable workers”

“Temp workers” are the major component of a new class, of the new generation,

The successor to the hip hop generation,

The best educated and fasted growing new class in history

The most criminalized in history

Called trailer trash and thugs

The school-to-prison-pipeline encarcelating generation

 

4

They

The one hundredth of one percent

Our rulers

They are telling us in so many ways

“Get out of town or else

Laquan

And all your brothers and sisters

You too who are reading or hearing this

You are disposable

We do not need you.”

 

5

Staring into the barrel of the gun

Contemplating the pink slip

Discharging and disgorging us

From that miserable excuse they call a j.o.b.

Looking at the homes

Almost tasting the food

Basking in the fantasy of warm clothes we need.

Let’s end the charade of begging

Standing in front of the superstocked supermarket hat in hand

Let’s take over the bakery

Say no to crumbs

Disarm the cops

Pie for everyone
 

Punish the Murderers

 

Without water there is no life.

 

Last night a thirteen year old

Told how she started her day, preparing for school,

She pours bottled water into a pot

Sets it on the stove to heat up,

Uses some to make her oatmeal for breakfast,

Then brings it to the bathroom

Where she brushes her teeth and

Washes her face.

When she comes home, she carries more

Bottled water to take a bath.

She does not want any more painful skin rashes.

 

Without water there is no life.

 

Then two young siblings said

The school told them not to use the water

A month after they started school.

Their older sister said her school

Told her not to use the water

Two weeks ago.  This is not a joke.

 

Without water there is no life.

Taking away life is murder.

 

A friend tells me there will be no fish

In the ocean after 2048. None.

The thing is, the trend is reversible.

Food is money, and the moneygrubbers

Are killing the thing making them rich.

 

But taking away life is murder.

 

I can’t forget this story. The woman

Who drank the water and miscarried her child.

Or the mother who described how

Her child was now having seizures,

While another has been acting out at school,

And both have lead poisoning

From the water coming from the Flint River.

 

The governor knew about the poison.

He appointed the emergency manager of the city and

He OK’d the city saving money by using the tainted water.

But taking away life is murder.

Without water there is no life.

 

Punish the murderers.

Water must be clean and free for all.

 

Tehachapi Idyll

 

I wrote this in 1994. Diana and I were 2 years married and, as our friends noted, living on cloud nine. It had been nearly 30 years, the summer of 1966, since I made my first journey into California’s “The Valley,” the “Central Valley,” or more explicitly the San Joaquin Valley.  I drove from Los Angeles along the zig-zag highway known as the Grapevine. In the Spring, rugged mountain pass is covered with brilliant orange of the California poppy. Then the first view of  the valley floor, 2,000 feet below, takes your breath away in Spring:  the highway parts the Tehachapi Mountains, reveals miles of orchards and row crops.  But when you reach the rolling, brown foothills, they engulf you.  They are the original sensuous models for the reclining Botero sculptures. Only in this environment do you recognize that what appeared from Botero’s hands as monumental are dwarfed by the looming, voluptuous reality of the hillsides. What began in 1966 as a fantasy wrote itself 30 years later, with a new inspiration.  We’re still living on cloud nine.

 

When I lie with you

 My hand naturally falls

Across the geography of your thigh

And traces a journey from calf

To knee to the mesa of your hip,

Then coasts down

Meandering briefly at your waist

To nestle at the meadow of your breast.

 

At such times my own legs and arms

Suffuse with the warmth of your summer sun,

Bathe in your medicinal sauna.

Then the border between us

 

Opens

 

No line separates the you from the me.

The liquid lava that is us

Pours into each other

We feed each other until we know

We cannot quench our thirst

 

Until together, and with others,

We build the biggest fire of all.

 

 

 

 

 

Fabric of Memory

 

I’ll make a sweater for you, she said.

Can I design it? I replied.  A broad smile spread across her dark features,

She nodded, told me to block it out on a grid.

Taking a sheet of graph paper, I applied pencil

To the squares, picturing king and queen,

Rook on either side, outlines of the features

In forest green and ruby red on a white background.

Below the figures a row of squares stand on point,

Diamonds with a splash of opposite color in their centers.

 

She said it was a difficult design; her fingers twirled

Needles and yarn so that each day, on my return home

From school, I’d measure the changes and

Guess how much longer I’d have to wait.

When I ran into the snow, took it for a ride

Down the hill across the street on my sled,

I gloried in the warmth that embraced me with its tight weave.

 

That was sixty years ago. I just unearthed this fabric

Of my memory out of the drawer from where I heard it calling,

Held it up to remember the snow-whiteness of the yarn

Now aged, much as my hand that holds it, now

More leathery, marked with brown spots.

The figures now set on yellowed woven strands

And I remember the long yellowed whitish hair that dangled

From her head, woven into braids on good days, in her last years.

The cold wind swirls around my head on that slide down the hill

And numbs my gloved fingers and the snow sprays on my tongue

As the runners turn sharply, and all that and more

The sweater in my hands calls up.

 

As I feel this I look at the sweater warming me now,

A loosely knit garment with a plain dark green back and

An abstract, almost Mondrian style front design and think

Of the nimble fingers that made this for me, a different pair

Of hands, my sister’s hands, born of the woman of the chess sweater.

Some of what warms me this year comes

From the smile I see as I slide into it, the twinkle in her eyes.

We talked as we sat in her dining room

Mining memories, straightening past misunderstandings,

Sharing music, writing, art, history

And all that I absorb from the language of the fabric.

 

Something like this grips me as,

When I turn in for the night, I warm my feet

With old socks, where my heels erupt from cavernous holes that

 

Long ago stripped the fibers of the yarn.  I have no working

Knitted socks any more;  yet I hang onto these because,

Well, they work well enough for my bed time purpose,

But also again I think of who made them for me,

And I alternate using them, so none will feel slighted.

 

In this new year I am surrounded by, I rejoice in gifts,

The physical gifts that offer their utility, new or old, more or less.

But there is more.  They conjure out of separate realities

The community that we are together, past and present.

I worry though. When I am gone, who will remember

The sweaters and what they mean?  When the sweaters

Disappear into dust, what happens

To the love from which they were made?