Scoundrel Time

A Daybook for Late Summer, 2017

Antifascists say the time for waiting
is over, or rather that fascism will only grow
stronger if we wait for it to grow stronger.

I’m scared.

Tonight’s sky was a foreboding beauty,
the kind that makes the heart fold in
like the shoulders of someone who’s cold
or uncertain that they still exist
unless they are fetal, body touching
as much of itself as possible.
Eggplant on ripening peach.
Scalloped cirrostratus clouds repeating
and receding with distance, the space
between them growing wider


or flight returns but only after I’ve
appreciated something in my surroundings, like the sky.
I re-read Thich Nhat-Hanh’s guide to cultivating peace inside oneself
regardless of circumstance. Smiling on the exhale, as bombs
rained on Saigon, his little light in the darkness shone, no need
to enlarge the beam to the horizon.
So I pray. So I breathe.
So I see the tiny hole of my third eye as umbilicus back
to the unchanging field of life-force,
until I hear the hectoring voice of the leader on TV again,
its battering cadences, pain exported, translated to pummel.
Flashback to school nights when my father ranted drunk
into the morning hours and I manufactured strings to pull
from my little bunk bed, none of them attached to any thing
on the other end.


I rehearse debates with republicans,
some of them kin. But, on encounter,
I find that I don’t want to argue anymore;
if there was a scaffolding for argument
still (if there ever was) in the air between
our separate lives, we could build.
If there was a script of basic decency
we all could agree on, stripped away
from the partisan past, if love was bald
as an unborn skull, and as vulnerable—
they probably dread me as well,
riffling through scripts of their own?


Fairness should be sanctified
and melted into gold
that we must bow to
twice a day, like currency.

Certifiably crazy
if behind all of this is abiding
love—while the bodies face
each other toe to toe
and on my side we only say,
We must not put down groups
of people. We must not oppress.
These are absolutes of our humanity.


But in fact, they are relative; this must be faced. History
remembers mostly the names of the oppressors, the ones
who survived to tell the tale or at least to have it heard.
The oppressors, driven by greed and a learned ability
to dehumanize in order to live with their predations,
are few but they start to accrue greater numbers if allowed
to remain in power. Is it possible to reason with such people?
And every waking minute gives me the chance to be
an oppressor, too.


It’s not called the harvest moon
but the corn moon
and it’s waxing
gibbous // I’d tell you lots of news
but I’ve vowed silence on the topic
for the evening, which is also why
the topic itself is vague here //
there is lavender in the air
and I want to turn in early,
like a basil leaf in September. //
The girl across the street
whose car I scratched when I pulled in
too close to park (so hot that day
I barely sensed the contact—
like feeling there’s someone
in the room when you’re alone)
never called me about my insurance
even though I left her a note
& once spoke to her about it.
Her name’s Coco and I bless her
head through the sheer curtains
and the cat on the sill every time
I step out of the car; it shouldn’t matter
but it does, to me, these days.

I’m thinking: Maybe all I can do is be kind.
I’m thinking: Nice people let the Nazis.


You can probably opt out of a narrative life.
R’s done this. His life is like a vine of tomatillos,
bullets on a bandolier, a whole lot of uprooted nows,
but always just a single one at a time
with only enough dirt to inform the root,
capillaries & bronchioles with a past and future
so immediately relevant they are neither.
Is this also the case with the frightening president,
who this week stuns the press by appearing to be bipartisan,
though whether olive branch to the opposition
or gall to his own party for their osteoporous loyalty,
few can know. And anyway, the president does live
narratively but not in the way of the balanced,
who can only complete the narrative in retrospect
and even then leave some details or plot points blank:
rather, he narrates the way that he wants it to be,
and even if it isn’t that way, he just keeps spewing out
his narrative, the hearing of which is like
taking a series of lashes to the consciousness,
and consciousness can bruise. A hematoma of the psyche
can become a sort of tumor, so the best you can do
is to have the ones who love you most tie you to
the various masts that keep your craft in balance,
fill your ears with the malleable wax of a mantra
that is to semiotics as a gourd is to a squash,
which is to say it should not mean but be,
an acoustic knickknack to allow the pool to still
at the middle of your brain. Prepare for the invention
of fire, the development of weapons, machines,
agriculture, factories, bombs, binaries and fibrous
connectivity, projected on the darkened cave wall.


My head on its stem starts to bow.
September’s delicious decay.
Millions of people without power today
after two brutal hurricanes.
Wildfires out West,
a brutal earthquake in Mexico.
Deadly floods in Cameroon.

“Chill the fuck out, Mother Earth,” someone Tweets.

The president’s drowned out
by three days of weather, neon-colored
rings of the storm on the screen
pull our eyes into the tasmanian eye,
and the people of Houston and Florida,
the Caribbean islands take measure of destruction,
wading through the toxic water, facing the loss
of their homes and possessions. Animals,
humans they love. It’s hard to find a rhythm
or groove when considering this,
lives no safer than the insects
we slaughter in seconds with spray.


I let my head bow for a long time tonight,
neck limp, shoulders slid back to where
they once were. Focused only on breath,
rinsing all of my brain with new blood.

Newborn now as I turn to the page,
have the words, have the habit,
but honestly I’m too blissed out,

I just want to feel the deck’s weight
underneath me, supporting
my skeleton and muscles,

occipital, tailbone, heels the only
points of contact with the wood.
I don’t want to ask any questions
of the sky I’m falling into, save

the one about will none of us be
lonely, though it seems lonely,
out there. That question replaces

my tongue more and more, and
all there is to do is breathe it in
and breathe it out. All the way.


Rusted rivet installed, orange powder
all over the face of it. Imagine
the force and torque that planted it.

It fastens a lie to a pipe hissing toxic gas.
It fastens fists to a flagella of fear.
It fastens an iron spike to a spiteful tongue.

To loosen, turn left, but it only grinds
it down to a much smoother mound
and soon it will be level with the rest

of the metal, and all it fastens
will seem natural and normal,
even fastening God to a gun.


The opposite on the patio tonight:
a thumb-sized hummingbird,
one leg missing, trailing fluid
from the missing part, bent wing.
It was green and blue, black
and brownish-gray, a flower
in the air made impressionistic
by the whirring wings, but now
a heavy dying thing, proboscis
a large instrument to be lugged
although no longer played. Syrup
tuned it, now a thin sweet song
plays far away from this hospice
on the inside of a planter, soil
& loose petals to accompany death.


for the bent nose into splinter-chutes of news and neurons
beware the deviated septum and the impending imbalance
of the media mites; how about a catastrophic sneeze?

for the heart like a baseball mitt, folding like summer: even
if you caught it, it would hurt, and being empty hurts too
so what’s the difference? Opening and closing’s what you do.

for the fingers that step into the meadow in the morning
when everything is whitened, indiscernible: write.
this is a particular movement, a necessary insect.

for the planks on which I rise up into my life, for bones
at the bottom of my spine when I sit like the royalty
we all are: you are my gear & you’re good & I thank you.


Aside from that, some voices are unassuming splashes
on the night, rising with the neighbor’s campfire,
falling with the sigh of traffic up on the brow.

How many sick people stress themselves out
by thinking of the healthy achievers in their life.
Picture a big bushel of crabs, some are climbing

their way out, toppling from night into brash day,
then scuttling toward the biggest world of water
they can find. For me, that’s X and his new Y

on the society page, up at 4 to get their bodies good
then working all day to make serious bank, relaxing
over an expensive meal. I can’t even imagine them

sleeping, though there’s no manic energy to them.
They’re simply here to do what they are doing.
Or D—who has what she called “animal vitality”

after all that early trauma. So what’s my excuse?
That’s the way it works when I’m flattened sick,
that tape starts to run on a loop. Add prednisone

to keep me up all night and pour some gas on
some flames in order to put down some others,
the impossibility of which is me having several

dark nights of the soul in a row. The bath, the soup,
the neti pot—all of the gestures of self-care
given grudgingly, or finally, when it’s clear

no one is going to do it if I don’t (get well,
where “get’s” a destination, or maybe the default
as though I am always well, in some ideal realm,

always a hearty ginger tea, though I’m only
water now). If I’m willing enough to steep in
my body, whatever it’s doing today, I may

return to the health that I was and always am.
I blame myself for following the news &
taking in all the toxins. Or I blame nothing,

yes, no blame, that’s better. Blame is onus
taken from the self and placed on someone,
something else. But does it have to be onus,

does it have to be on us, an impingement
like that? This might be what is meant
by the zen idea of “eating the blame”:

it can be incorporated into your being,
and all that is unnecessary can pass out.
Doing this keeps me away from the news.


Watching Legion of Brothers, a guy recalling how
his captain managed to keep everything together
in Afghanistan, working by, with, and through

a diplomat and his followers, I feel hopeless
for the country, though I filled up on gas
just three hours ago, next to a white woman

on a scooter, model proportions in a long
white dress, through which one could see
a bikini; it’s that kind of day, 90 degrees

near the end of September. Tonight,
it took forever to deposit three hundred dollars
cash into the atm. I was aware someone

was waiting just behind me, but I had to make
four separate deposits. She was black,
really lovely in a vivid African print

involving interlocking diagonal lines,
healthy veins full of thick, committed
reds and greens and yellows. Assumed

she would hate me after having to
wait so long, hate me for the whiteness
of my voting bloc. “No, you’re fine,”

(she said when I apologized).

“I saw you struggling. You’re fine.”
I get into the car and hear a radio report
by a black woman who can pass as white;

she’s left a message on Jason Kessler’s
voicemail: “Do you want a race war?”
He replies that he is not a cartoon villain.

Today’s the day the president railed
against the black athletes who kneel
during the national anthem to protest

the disproportionate use of lethal force
by law enforcement against black men.
The abstractions move like slugs

in a chamber when I write it like that:
I prefer to think of it as a mother’s
nightmare, a father’s hell. It shouldn’t be.

Somewhere, the inside of the skull’s
a marble dome, it all seems clear
as an allegorical fresco, with flames.

But in the interaction, back and forth,
the comment streams, the rapid-fire
synaptic cocaine that is Twitter,

we can’t fucking speak to one another
anymore (if we even could before).


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