america take a hard look at yourself
do recent events reveal the hidden face of you
it’s too easy to blame pure evil when so much
derives from the very marks of achievement
we hold so dear like fame and weath and winning
when we applaud violence and brutality
on playing field and screen
when bearing arms is just a game of one upmanship
when a puerile hate-mongering president
plays the most deadly game of all
america the great experiment
is yours the face of failure
is it time to try something new
Are there cities that you just can’t stand? Cities that for no easily justifiable reason suck the life out of you? I remember meeting a Londoner in St. Petersburg once (and I’m not talking about either London or St. Petersburg in this regard – just relating what this man had to say) who told me he hated Los Angeles – it had no soul. Being from Los Angeles, I felt I had to explain. I said, L.A. is such a huge metropolis with so many different communities and vibes – weren’t there perhaps some areas he liked better than others? No, he replied. He hated it all and couldn’t leave fast enough.
Now, I think I know how he must have felt. I feel the same way about Pasadena (California). At different points in my life I’ve lived in that city and worked in that city and nothing good has ever come of it. (Just recently, I had a job there and breathed an actual sigh of relief when I walked out on it.) If you have never visited Pasadena, let me give you a glimpse beyond the pomp and circumstance of the Rose Parade. As you drive in you’ll notice the sky becoming gun-metal gray due to the place it occupies in the San Gabriel Valley, much like a sewage drain. In other words, it does a good job of collecting the region’s smog and keeping it trapped for most of the year. Although there is a backdrop of looming mountains, mostly they appear as a strangely spectral border threatening to seal you in (think of the TV show The Dome). As you drive through, you’ll note a general grayness to the city itself, despite the admittedly pretty Craftsman-style houses. But it’s this very quaint and old-fashioned ambiance that I find oppressive. (And, yes, I realize there are shiny new districts with top-rated restaurants and the like but these appear to me like so much finery on a decaying corpse.) And then there is the glut of century-old high-spired churches – churches competing in grayness with the sky – churches on every corner. Yes, Pasadena is an old-fashioned and downright God-fearing city. Of course, if you like this sort of thing, stop reading here. But for me, I’m already feeling panicky just giving you a glimpse. I’m thinking of the experiences now, my personal experiences that, rightly or not, are forever embedded in the landscape. The people I’ve met, the people I’ve worked for (of course, I’ve met some great people, too), these people have mainly caused grief.
In short, there just seems to be something about the city and its people that are not conducive to my good health, mental or otherwise. Though the place may be God-fearing, it does damage to whatever I take to be my soul. So, I do understand perfectly now what that Londoner was feeling in regard to Los Angeles. Some places you’re simply better off just passing through.
I hear you loud and clear, Bernie.
Yours is not a well-fought campaign
as the self-congratulatory so-called victor
asserts nor was it ever a futile dream
as the press and the pundits would have us believe.
Yours is a movement, ragged and unruly
as all movements must be, and those who think otherwise,
who are enamored with the possibility
of a female president of the not-so-free world,
are complacent fools who refuse
to hear the thunderous cries of not
just one generation – but of many generations –
reaching forward and backward in time
amid an ever-gathering storm.
It trickles down, the hate you see
on the airwaves, the hate you feel
in the air.
It trickles down to your office space,
to the very place where you live.
Minds are malleable – too many have
fallen under the sway, where it has
become not only acceptable but
required to despise the Other.
Ah, the Other – where have they to go?
Will a wall really keep them out?
But what wall in history has not been
breached, blown up, torn down
brick by brick?
What Other in history have not risen up
to right the wrongs of a privileged few?
It may not happen today, nor tomorrow.
But one day you’ll look around
and see what’s built come tumbling down.
the bmw doesn’t think to signal as he
cuts me off on the way to work.
the clouds hang heavy through the windshield,
dense and unspooled, offering little comfort.
it’s almost may – a time of protest and renewal.
but today, late for a meeting, and at the mercy
of the traffic’s ebb and flow, I feel ill.
and when I somehow arrive on time the nausea
only increases because for 2 hours I sit here sour
and uninvolved, thinking – I will never reclaim this time.
so I try to claim it now by writing a poem, this poem,
in a feeble attempt at both protest and renewal.
If you know Excel well,
you’ve never been to Excel hell.
Alas, I know it not.
It only makes me overwrought.
How I wish I could torch
this application and watch with
joy the conflagration:
Files smoldering hot,
the data hopelessly lost.
Upon seeing your request…
I want to scratch out my eyes
and tear at my flesh
in a frenzy of self-flagellation.
I want to embark on a trip
through the Amazonian jungle,
take a wrong turn,
and be reported lost on CNN
for all the world to hear –
I want to vomit black blood
and watch it swirl down a drain
without calling 911.
I want a frontal lobotomy
and any other cerebral excision
to rid my mind
of the merest hint of you.
So you can see that I’ll never
say yes to your request
to add me as a contact.
(This is one of my “poems of complaint” – I probably have far too many of those. In any case, this one made me smile to read after having written it a few years ago. It tells of a work commute on the dreadful 405 freeway in Los Angeles to a job at a university that was – perhaps – more of a diploma mill than anything else, though who’s to say??? Hope this makes you smile, too.)
took abuse, learned to accept it.
life is funny that way.
while sky and clouds and birds
i was confined to
a swath cut through the hillside
that engulfs like a grave
where not clods of dirt
but motorists pelt you
with their long-suffering looks,
and the sun’s morning glare
on windshields and mirrors
and cut-glass buildings
beats you into submission.
everyone has a breaking point.
not too proud to admit it.
mine was a commute from hell
to a job at snakeoil u
competes with dollars and sense
and the only winners
are the alchemist-owners who
transmute tuition into gold.
don’t know what road to take now,
though, and through what terrain.
it’s a question i return to
again and again…
so far all roads have led
to a sad, scary place:
a madhouse of distorted mirrors
that reflect someone I do not care to know:
the me that has lost her way.
maybe i’ll sit this one out for a while,
maybe i’ll sleep and dream and relax
and thereby come upon a new plan,
or maybe i’ll just set my sights
on the sky and clouds and birds above
until i become a part of
the elemental motion.