temperance and distance in poetry

Revised: 03/15/2019 3:32 a.m.

  • March 14, 2019, 9:50 p.m.
  • |
  • Public

everyone looks like someone else
in the place where you’re from
at least on distant shores
everyone’s a stranger from the start
that’s where I went to change the world
anywhere everyone looked different
I left my living room, off for America’s heart

we can chart out this American map
any number of ways, point-to-point
when feeling naive, I chart it out
in places from old rock songs
that corner in Winslow Arizona
to the snow falling on Raton
when angry from tragedy to tragedy
Orlando Pulse to Columbine to Sandy Hook
again and again and again and again
mapped out in bullet-points
or a map in the form of the
Temperance tarot card I keep as a bookmark
to remind me of the balance between
those other two cartographies

my hair, still chocolate dark
straight through at thirty-nine
but two days of stubble and the
five grays on my chin will poke
through my skin to remind me that
I do not get forever to do this

I keep failing at it and I keep coming back home
which fills me to my brim with self-hatred and
fear and anger and all this shameful dread
but not enough to raise the martyred dead

still, if you take all your self-loathing
and project it onto the world then
project that back onto yourself
over and over and over again
you can fold yourself up into
an untempered katana of bitterness
concentric rings of desire gone dead
like an everlasting Gobstopper of
impotent rage and there are still days
I’m still trying to turn that page

my eyes were born damned but all dams gotta burst
is that destruction worth it if it slakes this thirst?
sometimes being woke means letting sleeping dogs lie
and sometimes hello means some other goodbye
sometimes meaning demands sacrifice
sometimes the sacrifice required is
giving up all your hatred of self
for the betterment of everyone else

and you’re probably better than me
I’m just someone arrogant and stubborn
enough to think I can handle the job
but you’re probably far more than I am
you’re probably even more beaten down
your potential still so much more vast

that blinding transcendent light
you shone when you were young is
dimmer now but you’ve been burnished
by other fires in the time since
you now know how to use it without
destroying yourself in your brilliance
that’s what’s needed now
you’ve been tempered your brilliance stronger
burnished by the little bit life has burned away
you stand brilliant in the wisdom of your temperance

we are on this journey in this America together now
beaten down but better for our new weakness
the try, I guess, our last try left
is to breathe laughter into empty lungs
and punch all these stopped hearts back
into their beaten beating rhythm
with repetition, with alternation
CPR percussive maintenance on bodies politic
until the world wakes up, until America wakes up
until one other person wakes up?
it’s all I know how to do and
some day I’ll do it well or
at least I’ll die trying
I will die having tried

art does not come from pain, make no mistake
pain is in no way a prerequisite for art
don’t be fooled, it is though a hell of a tool
for coping with pain and for trying to teach others
how to avoid it and how to ameliorate it for each other
that’s why they seem so conjoined and conflated
despite themselves, despite ourselves
despite our American natures as beaten-down strangers
with fires remaining inside us

look up in the evening
see the scars in the sky
down to the stars on your body
back up to the scars in your eyes
mix the words up and you’ll
get the same meanings, that’s how
this American language works
though no one knows why

everyone looks like someone else
in the place where you’re from
at least on distant shores
everyone’s a stranger from the start
so come into the American distance with us
built with insistence and built-up resistance
while we’re still young enough to go
with stories and songs in our quivers
with brilliant burnished tempered souls
as our shields and bows
we will get there or die trying
we will get there or know
that we died trying

Last updated March 16, 2019

Squidobarnez March 15, 2019

this is beautiful.


Ares March 15, 2019


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