Inhabited Flesh, Haunted Bones


The elderly woman on the telephone
has a brand-new granddaughter,
I can hear the baby-laughter
tickling her voice
and the legions of bombers lift off
one by one from the runways

The church is lit with stained-glass
snapshots of the life of Christ
as we rehearse for the wedding,
bride and groom aglow
among somber stepchildren
in everyday clothes
and the bombs begin to rain down on Iraq

On crewcut lawns and flagstone patios
across the country I love
charcoal burns in barbecues,
the odor of charred meat
calls families together for grace
around the grill
and the hospitals of Baghdad begin to fill
with cries of agony and grief
and innocent
gushes of blood

Two hundred eighty million people
watched two buildings burn and fall
in New York City,
                                then watched it again
and again and again,
as many times as it took to numb the loss
of three thousand innocents.

They walked on in a trance
of lost innocence,
retracing the steps
of some previous century’s habits and routines.

But the fire burned on underground
in their sleep,
                         the leaping martyrs
rose again on toxic clouds
night after night, while
black magicians gathered in the War Room:

“Only a massacre of innocents
can avenge the massacre of innocents!”
they chanted to the crowds
                                                 still hypnotized
by endless replays of the apocalypse –
“Blood sacrifice for blood sacrifice!
Repayment of fire
                                 in fire,
with interest!”
A high-altitude lottery of shrapnel
and concussion:
resurrection of the dead Savior
to be murdered once more


These trillion-dollar global corporations
fly the flag I love
like rogue battleships turned pirate,
firing their death-deals
like so many missiles
each tipped with five hundred Hiroshimas,
targeting the towns and cities
that harbored them along the way:
Free Trade agreements and World Bank loans,
sweatshops and toxic dumps,
paid-off cabinet officials,
death squads, killer drones,
and, if all else fails . . .

The honor of criminals
is once more at stake
so the young men strap on weapons,
leave their warm wives at home
and take up
target practice.
A soldier’s job is to obey.

A citizen’s job is to question:
the bulletscarred banners,
bloodstained bunting
over the review stand at the parade,
the flag on the anchorman’s lapel –
even the medic is part of the disease!
Even the schoolteacher
reciting her litany of old wars,
marching her fourth-graders single file
through the shabby halls –

The man driving the Wells Fargo truck
waiting beside me at the light,
dark behind his bulletproof glass,
must sit up late
gazing into the cool flicker of television light,
all those headlines bursting
in rapidfire salvos through his brain,
and wonder
who his enemies are . . .

And the young woman with the tattoo
and the navel ring
who might have become a casualty
in a layoff
at the land mine factory
if her elected leaders had signed and ratified
a certain piece of paper –
inhabited flesh, haunted bones
make us blood brother and soul sister,
kin to all the fallen martyrs
of the land mines:

I have no quarrel with you.
You’re making a living.
I’ve looked into your eyes on a bus somewhere.
I’ve seen you laughing.
My quarrel is with those who make
five hundred times your living
and think it’s not enough.
The architects of incineration.
The evangelists of revenge.
Fire-addicts. Blood-junkies.
The ones who would lay waste to the sun
if they could only get there –

Beware, sister.
The ones who pay your hourly wage
with stolen wealth,
are they the trustees of your pension fund?
To defend their pirate’s booty,
they’ll shove you bodily into the breech
of the cannon
the minute their ammunition runs low.
They’ll lay waste to your soul
if they can only get there.

Be sure to donate alms for the dead
while you’re here,
leave a little something
for the scavengers when you go,
and you may yet be forgiven
for casting your only vote
into a lake of fire . . .


“How’s it going?”
Irrelevant question
when children suffer amputation
without anesthesia
in bombed-out hospitals,
while farmers starve
and entire nations strangle
on insurmountable debt.
Nevertheless, we ask it:
“How’s it going?”

Peace march:
rich neighborhood to poor.
Cold to sunny.
Hardly anybody looks.

Couldn’t it be that the unnamed,
undefinable pain you feel
any time you stop to feel
is simply your share
of the general background level of misery
drifting out from the prisons
and slaughterhouses and refugee camps?
On the inside of my face
I am not smiling. Nevertheless, I repeat
the ritual response:
“I’m fine, how’ve you been?”

A friendly cop.
Silence by the tomb
of Martin Luther King.
A flute plays “Amazing Grace.”

Each of us has been given
one hand to hold the candle,
one hand to shield it and
when the wind blows it out anyway
some neighboring pilgrim
with another candle
to rekindle the flame:
“Nice to see you again . . .”

Echo of the drum
off concrete and glass.
Peace bubbles up in my breath,
my heartbeat a slow-drumming
reply –

          It may be time at last to turn
          and eat the Earth:
          devour it stone by stone,
          gorge ourselves on the rich dirt.
          Sautee the twigs
          in a delicate mudpuddle sauce.
          Toss the seashells in a dressing
          of treesap and quicksand.
          Gulp down the last living specimens
          of plant, animal, insect, algae, protozoa.
          Eventually each other.
          Finally, ourselves.
          And in the end, even our rusty junk
          might flavor a salty broth
          of silence.

                                             April-May 2003