a journal of modern society & culture

Click here to return to the browser-optimized version of this page.

This article can be found on the web at
http://www.logosjournal.com/issue_5.2/poetry.htm


Poetry

Alicia Ostriker
    "A Walker in the City"
    "Coda: Into the Street"

Andy Clausen
    "Insurgency"

A Walker in the City

What you see is what you get,

an inventory of garbage lying loose--

the poor are always with us, but the rich

lurk behind one-way glass in limousines

and an entire class of attractive youth

increasingly able to make money

without actually working

increasingly are into arts and leisure.

 

Thereís power and thereís glamor and thereís grief,

thatís what a city is for, itís why we come,

thereís violence more or less unchanged

apart from a brief spike on nine-one-one.

 

The movies and TV are minting it.

Maybe the city should publish maps

showing the areas of greatest crime

for the benefit of the interested tourist

with special blue stars for locations

of especially famous crimes, the way in London

two shillings lets you follow the career

of Jack the Ripper with a little booklet.

 

Midtown East Side, here's where Robert Chambers

strangled his pretty girlfriend during sex

in Central Park.  Up by the reservoir

someone from lower Harlem jumped and raped

and beat for kicks, get it, a woman jogger

into not death but coma. We thought it was

five boys, but that was wrong.   Running between

a playground and a lake, Strawberry Fields,

some blackbirds in the shady sycamores

mark where across the street on 72nd

the Beatles fan Mark Chapman killed John Lennon.

Imagine there's no heaven, and imagine

The people living in a world of peace.

You have to take the A train to see where

Bernie Goetz pulled out his .44

and stopped the boy he thought another mugger

from sneering with his friends, from making fun.

They come on with their nasty stares, unlaced,

It's so hard to be white, to be a man,

when black kids don't respect you. Here's Howard Beach,

another white on black question of turf

and goodbye Yusef Hawkins.  Here's where the woman guard

in the parking garage got herself shot

between bright eyes for being eyewitness

to some drug dealer's murder. Here a Bronx housewife

weary of scrubbing cracked linoleum

trying to clean her street of crack, lost it,

and the proud Haitian in his candy store the same,

as he wiped his hands on his apron,

and half a dozen children caught in crossfire

one steamy week in summer.  Mama, mama

Ayudame, no puedo--Here's the house

where Joel Steinberg hit his little daughter

for pleasure, or for anger, breaking bone

after bone, yanking the soft blond curls

while the mom cowered in her druggie daze.

The case is special because he was a lawyer

and had a lot of money, otherwise it wouldn't count.

It wouldn't count.  And in this very courtyard

of comfortable brick and stone

Kitty Genovese, mother of them all,

ushering in an era,

screamed, in 1960, being stabbed

several times in the chest by her old boyfriend,

Help me! Somebody help me!

None of the neghbors who heard that woman scream

for an entire hour called the police,

a sensible restraint, all things considered.

That was the sort of thing that shocked us then.

 

It is important to keep the selection of crimes

racially balanced and symmetrical

for tourist purposes, as the mayor says.

Right now everyone seems worried

about black people killing white people.

That's the disturbing thought if you are white,

though naturally most of the people killed

are men of color.  There could be a key

at the map's bottom explaining what was what

if you are here on a self-guided tour.

 

Maybe the sponsors of the map could be

the NRA, and maybe they'd agree

to have an advertisement on the back,

like flower shops and banks in highschool yearbooks.

 

We'd need another color code to show

where most non-violent crimes have taken place,

Wall Street, City Hall, Police Headquarters, The Board

Of Education (Bored of Ed) and Columbia University.

Some people rob you with a knife

some with a fountain pen

some with an IBM.

And a map to show the areas

of crimes of omission?

Color the whole map red.

Color the city red.

Color it ghost white

for the death of compassion.

 

Coda: Into the Street
     -- For Jerry Stern

All of us may ask ourselves

from time to time exactly why it is

we do what we do

 

all of us may want to

rip our own hearts out

sometimes when we think about the world but

 

we could laugh ourselves silly or

figure out how to profit by it

or wonder how to love it anyway

 

This is what freedom and consciousness are for

as if we are standing on the roof

of a very tall tower

 

looking at the complicated view

then taking the elevator

going out into the street

 

lucky us

 

Alicia Ostriker is the author of 11 books of poetry, most recently No Heaven (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2005, www.pitt.edu/~press), in which the two poems in this issue of Logos originally appeared. Her previous books of poetry include The Imaginary Lover (1986), The Crack in Everything (1996), The Little Space: Poems Selected and New 1968-1998, and the volcano sequence (2002). Her critical works include Stealing the Language: The Emergence of Women's Poetry in America (1986) and Dancing at the Devil's Party: Essays on Poetry, Politics, and the Erotic (2000).

 

* * *
 

Insurgency

 

Ineffable undigested lament hovering

            in dark lawless hallways

Cellular anger gestating in mildewed garrots

            adhering to rheumy smoked skin

            tremors of varicose stairways

O you've been elusive grandeur

            peace of mind generation

Yes sparkling diamonds dancing on the lake

            gold shining on the Sierras

            emeralds like festive ornaments

                        hanging in the branches

And in the distance the unmistakable cries

            of wounded children

            of thirsty & hungry dispossessed

            of those left to die

 

I summon and call all reserves

I must try

One word like one step at a time

            staccato spontaneity

            interrupted a dozen times a minute

Jolt conscious consciousness

            say away the monstrous

                        bring the light

Samsonite optics

            purgatory lip burn

Breathing like a nudged accordion

            squeezing wheezing from the center

                        of the solar system

The streets have no home

            the cries of the wounded

All the laughter & bounty

            that will never be

            eaten by maggots alongside

                        the bombed roads

Were there no me

            all my working

            all my so called verse

                        never existed

            all my loves

                        tribulations, sins

                        all my desires

            dead in the water

Far better than this failure

            of the world

This is not about me

It's about us

 

I know you wrote & belted the anthems

            marched & protested

            led a different life than was planned

With ringing strings & radiant keys you strived to celebrate

            harmony in every good atom of your willing body

            scribing verse like never before

            defying the customs & tired forms of the limpid parlor

            ignoring muse strangling edicts

            from tenured blue blood

Illuminating instead the street prison workplace

            backyard river side & human gates

            exonerating desire

You were born in a bombshelter

            born in the exaltations of the G.I. BIll

You sprang into life listening to broadcasts

            reading headlines

New Frontier Great Society War Against Poverty

            Stay the Course I Have a Dream

You fought wars on foreign soil

            sometimes reluctantly, willingly sometimes

Fought against war

Fought warfare with everything you had

            and imagined you had

 

You came home doubting the identity and purpose of God

The way we walked the talk

            was going to change

Each would abet this salvation

            of earth by earth for earth on earth

You would turn on the world

            emancipating the railroaded inmates

            of calloused overweened Truth

You would both do your own thing

            and collectivise against a war

            and do what seldom had been done

You stopped a war without using weapons of war

You formed Manichaen communes to grow resilient bodies

                         & ideas

            welcoming the renegade progeny

                        of the Madman of Kent

Arms open to Spartacus & Ghandi

            Malcolm & Martin

            to demand an accounting

            to understand our resources at the source

            to foster devotion to the Common People

            to love the down trodden

            to literally love one another

Freedom was going to be more

            than just another word

            more than a word

Your seven senses rhapsodied majestic pines

            pungent aphrodisiac redwood, cottonwood & magnolia

You embraced hemlock and climbed rhododendron himals

            copped a stance for snapshots, boots on receding glaciers

            dutifully reporting the raucous elevated sounds

                        at 18000 feet

You beheld the quarried faces

            the landslide jowls

            the gouged & scourged breasts

            desultory forlorn acres of two story piled logged Alaska

                        bound for Japan

            the rotten cabbage-egg spumes of the pulp mills

                        of Springfield & Missoula

            the concertina wires silently screaming

                        Coxsackie, Otisville, Woodbourne

You were blown out when the oxygen devouring flames

                     of the refineries spelled out SATAN MOLOCH

                        TERROR DISEASE APOCALYPSE

            in the choking salmon charcoal night miasma

                        clinging to the windshield

            on the doldrum drive to lower east

                        Paradise Lost & the land of Nod

You got off the couch

            & learned hands-on carpentry & plumbing

            dancing on red iron high in the sky

            the Gotham-Baghdad by the Bay-Oklahoma City Sky

You punked the rods in the thick air valley

            Santa Clara-San Fernando-Phoenix-Hudson-Williamette

Shouldered the hod, humped the wheelbarrow

Kept the rig barreling in the white line fever

             cross country wail bar night

You waited on tables with weary dogs

            and conjured smiles, a tip dependent thespian

You set tables, bussed & cleaned tables

            polished & fabricated tables

            your own and those of the rich

            if you were lucky

If you were lucky had kids

            went into the family business

Wanting to ease the trials of the road

            for the kids, the road you no longer travel

            deteriorating detonating under their innocent

                        wheels

 

 

Remember when you made your own music

            worked out your own songs & prayers

            your own steps & mudras

            your own instruments

Anything was a drum

Any twang okay

Every street had a story a tune

Every country road gave birth to jigs & blues

 

Pilgrim & artist

            pulsating genuine lived in living rooms

            utilizing bedrooms at all hours

            raunchy rambling garages and old time stoops

                        of lowdown hoods with cross blown

                        mouth harps, crimson eyes at half mast

            messaline meadows and brown bag corners

            ideoblastic parks of cities & cherished wilderness

                        midnight cemeteries

            ancient barns gypsy fiddle lofts hustling coffee houses

            saxophone woodsheds swimming in clear light

            atop godlike mountains down by the everyday water side

Everyone was a celebrity

            all was genius

 

I know the jobs you had were not easy

            more than once humiliating dreamless

            underpaid unpaid health destroying boring

                        as all get out

You learned mammon has reality

            on its side at its side

Nothing has a sharper blade

Nothing has colder penetration

Nothing has the concentrated will to ruin

            like legal tender

Even history & scripture & medicine must consult the mighty

            dollar (Or is it Euro?) before they write themselves

 

You decided to aim your poetic flare at merchandise

            advertising promoting sometimes the best

            sometimes what you knew was bunk

            toting grief & guilt a million miles

         purchased at Walmart

You battled forest fires, battled erosion

            battled environmental stupidity

            and grew old growing asparagus & beans

            & catnip with home grown fertilizer

            muttering, "Everyone loses...and it doesn't matter."

You opened hip rare vision & user friendly bookstores

            the brightest came to browse and carouse

            Wagner & Dylan in the air

You had eclectric transrational record shops

            and sold posters of Anarchy & rent short artists

            and went to work for Barnes & Nobles

            Bertelsman Seagrams & Rupert Murdoch

You haven't yet taken off your clothes

            and walked thru midtown a saddhu

You haven't yet gone for the rope

            the razor the pistol the pill bottle

            or 10th story window

You Here

            hand fashioning jewelry, scented candles & mirrors

            doing massage color gem & aroma therapy      

Late at night in the 7-11, Quick Stop, U-Totem,

            down on Cumberland Farm

At dawn cleaning houses & toilets too

            delivering papers

            hanging drapes in blocks of condos you could

            never afford or want to live in

You voyaged to foreign lands went native

            started sending exotic culture home

You could no longer afford America

You toiled for disrespectful pitiable wage

            before and after parole

They wanted you to work scared

            & act like you loved it

You were told to consider yourself fortunate

 

Everything you collected was consumed in the fire

Everything you knew washed away in the flood

Like the sword of Bhairav

            amputating ignorance

Like Jesus put a sword between parent & child

A sword dissolving with the torn pages

            of composting calendars

            and grandchildren pointing at pages

            yet to be

And the old anthems seemed only old

Even though you did puberty in the projects

You became the beaucoup gardener of wanton

             celestial flowers, ghetto flowers, neon bouquets

             immersing into the Waters of Life

             precious everyday Water

You were born again

            yet suffered the afflictions

            of begrudged repetitive motion

            sitting on the unjustifiable boils of Job

            yet rode his horses when they jumped

            Nobodaddy's fence-- abandoning a deity

            who'd gamble away your loved ones

You guided the inhibited to the primordial pools

            sailing the pre-Adamic seas laden

            with contraband jazz & duty free Jai Shambeau

Days melding into endless novenas

            of house car medical payments

Your Lord's first name was Land

You dug the sod with back & plow & pen

            aiming, clicking the carnal camera

            with excess joy inevitably

            leaking sanguine droplets

            of gleeful sweat

You could still dream

You could still grin

You had a mother guru

            a father guru

            a child guru--a consort guru

You made love with your guru

You took the mountain side for your guru

You sought refuge on Tamalpais the Flat Irons

            Denali Overlook Tremper Fuji Kilanmajaro

            El Capitan Sagarmartha Nose Mountain

You sought primitive therapy in atavistic pubs

            the outlaw rock and roll of your sexual awakenings

            & came that close to biting the dust

                        in a bath tub of ice cubes

            with neglect came denial, false romance & viral grief

You are still here

You can get off the floor

            on one knee, get the other foot on the ground

Rise Up O Uprising O Insurgency

Forget your solipsistic woes

Let your voice be heard!

Without Bombs! Let it be heard!

 

Are you here only to witness

            every aspiration

            every shred of decency under siege & corrosion?

The sustainability of mothers of earth of the stars & beyond

            all the eye can & can not see, desecrated?

What it is to have choice, persecuted & condemned?

Every scintilla the poor have to protect themselves

            against the whims, follies, and privilege

            of the rich being snuffed?

Every religion worshipping the One God

            invoked to justify killing human beings?

 

Every industry governed by Mammon Urizen Moloch Dog Eat Dog?

America who gave the world the transcendence

            of the blues

rock and roll, be-bop  hip hop the wobblies

            the Summer of Love, Harlem renaissance & the Beats

America the beautiful reviled by the world

            cast as insatiable bully & glutton

         has become what she hated

A land of Orwellian distortion

            of lethal deceit

            of treacherous anti-sense

Freedom is not free ( 3 times)

Heroism is comparing bombing missions

            to video games & the 4th of July

Whole families explode and burn

            accidently on purpose

The duty bound the poverty coerced

            compare drive-bys in Iraq

            to drive-bys in Brooklyn

Patriotism is denying those who disagree

            free speech

Justice is compiling dossiers

            on what folk read think contribute to

Justice is retribution & revenge

Allah, Jesus Christ, Jehovah the names invoked

            before committing mass murder

The Rapture exonerates lying

            to vast populations

Professing fear of God absolves all bads

Love is anything very expensive

Love is chocolates, a stunning gown, a limo & liposuction

            a new face, a rare breed of mammal

Love is a package dancing on a gilded stage

            it's applause, O show me the love

            it's a whoop for the home team

            four letters on a page

            a slo mo zoom in a manicured meadow

Democracy is not Whitman's, not Thoreau's

            John Stuart Mill's

            not Martin Luther King's

            nor Eugene Debs democracy

            not Thomas Paine

            not Buffy St. Marie

            not Paul Robeson, Rosa Luxemburg

Democracy is a twisted depraved metaphor

            for doing business

America is a code word for get

            the best of any transaction

You were privy to the Way is not the Way

You might have read Corso's The American Way

You know what I know

You've been out sourced

You're paycheck to paycheck

            to other kind of check

And everything is rising but wages

 

Temperatures are rising

Tempers are rising

Rent and Real Estate rising

Threats are rising

Torture is rising

The water is rising

The sewage & effluvia

            of carnivorous slag is rising

It is permeating the fabric

Injuries against nature float

            like greasy seaweed

The pig-out of conquerors

            has upmerged from shallow internment

            like chemical zombies

But wages are not rising

 

What else can rise?

What can come out of the charnel sod?

 

You have religious practice

            your rituals your prayers your solitude

            facing the sun the moon east & west

            in all six directions

            fingers on beads emptying & filling your mind

            from little round pillow to cushioned pew

            and your legs behind your neck

            and counted everyone of the 108,000

            walked the last mile on your knees!

You have access to more information than dreamnt

            possible a generation ago

You can parse the gaits of rare animals & insects

            machines, gold, winds & rain

            that will never touch your face

            at your fingertips

Everyday you affirm faith the path to unwind

            will not lead you nowhere

            not marooned in your cenotaph residency

            in hyperparanoid domains of ravenous

            matter consuming ghosts

You have your departed friends & lovers

            & their indispensable counsel for ephemeral comfort

            & funereal resolve

You deplore the destruction of meaning in words

            of meaning of the old forests

            old buildings & ways

            sitting in a thousand rooms of agreement

            & encouragement sans answer

            without key no window

            outside the war continues

You laud easy laughter

            intoning your motto your rune

            "It's all good."

            like a mortal lock paradigm

            "It's all good."

            outside they are teaching you are the enemy

What else will rise?

What else can emerge

            from this charnel ground?

 

You who hold the driving belts

            to the machines of the world

            in your maybe battered, maybe contorted,

            maybe barely able, maybe atrophied,

            maybe reborn one thing's for certain hands

Call out! O Common Sense Insurgency Organize!

Let your voice be heard! Organize!

Stop the war, let the chimes of freedom flash again

            Be born again! Voice it!

O Land of Beulah how can you be measured

            by numbers?

O Imagination how can your value plummet so?

Politically as one man I ask you how has

            smallbusiness fared under the Republicans

            Nixon Reagan The Bushes

            and liberal republicans like Clinton?

Ask Office Depot, Barnes & Nobles

Ask the radio waves, ask Clear Channel

How has education fared?

Ask the millions who only know a false history

            or no history at all

We had one president who told us to conserve nature's yield

            and withdrew finance to vicious tyrants

One president who did not bomb

            & we saw what & where it got him

As long as the plastic presented consumer good life

            in action & the supermarkets were well stocked

            & the oil flowed into fuel

            you did what you had to do

            you didn't have to think about it

            whatever it was

Insurgency quit working for the war don't supply the war

            don't fight in, don't let your children fight in

                        this profiteering inexcusable bogus war

            exorcise the war from your heart

            this war that is all wars

            this is the war fought on every plane & dimension

                        in every aspect & fiber

            this is the war against human love

                        Human Love

Honest work for honest pay, cry out wail howl organize!

Out of the ashes & flotsam, out of its coffin

It is Joe Hillstrom, Emma Goldman, W.B. Dubois

            Vachel Lindsay, Emmit Grogan & Abbie Hoffman

Let your voice be heard

            in every day in every way

O insurgents, O peace mongers

            don't mourn, organize!

O artists magnanimously the planet turns

            from the desperate day

Your hand has fashioned represented & glorified

            unrelenting beauty we were born to

                         are entitled to

But we suffer addicted collusion intent on using this

            awesome fecundity to make capital

Capital that begets more capital

Money not even what money buys just money

Money inflicting pain

A society that fears its neighbors

            whose gold is do unto others before they do unto you

A society that fears race & language

            sex & no sex & poverty's karma

A nation that jetsams its heritage

            when push comes to shove

            which is its heritage & its sex

A society that conceives to make reparations

            to the descendants of the ethnically cleansed

            & robbed original inhabitants of These States

            with long shot pipe dreams

            of the poor & working losing

            their retirements at the gaming tables

A society that conceives to make no reparations

            at all to the descendants of slave labor

            survivors of and in defacto apartheid

You saw streams of fish & revivifying drink

            rendered carcinogenic & wept iodine

You saw rain seducing mysteries clear cut

            & waves of stumped Mars like terrain

Orange Walnut Apricot groves bulldozed

            into disposable housing

Beaches petrofried

Acres of abandoned rust

Mountain ranges of plastic plastic plastic

Mountain tombs of radioactive waste buried alive

Winds of depleted uranium & birth defects

            dirging

Hills of crank & pills & lost teeth

            dirging

You saw it from the portholes

            of your rides

You felt it on a train to Secunderbad

            to Budapest to Eugene Oregon

A bus to Cleveland Ohio

            on the turnpike, O Elizabeth!

            boarding a plane in Walla Walla

            O Homeland Security pork!

On the 7 train

Insurgency

Uproar boiling in its bloody cauldron

O insurgents for birthright, laugh loud & proud

            dance like your life depends on it-- it does

            drink go ahead Jesus & Haffiz are with you

            smoke it's your right, your religion

            watch your ashes, notice your anger

            outspoken exuberant generous forgive educate protest

            wail shout out

Let it be heard

You can stop the war

You the woman & you the man

            can stop the war

Who else can stop it?

 

Renounce virtual reality's design on 24/7

            not enough virtue

            not enough reality

            not enough time

Tear yourself from the screen

            go out the door

Insurgency without bombs & poison

            renounce the media of big boy control culture

            hypnotizing cheapening us

O uprising dawn new Unions, Revolutions

            & outlaw outside markets

            bring it to the numbered streets

                        & sylvan roads, the sacred airways

O non-violent heart of Jesus & Buddha

            reach & touch

            overwhelm these malignant cowardly

                        heartless vibes

Whether it be Velvet Orange Rainbow Pink Black Blue

            Red or Green

            by any means possible

This deadly fog must lift

 

Arise Tom Paine, John Peter Altgeld, John Reed

            Jane Adams Helen Adam John Coltrane Etheridge

            Knight Jack Kerouac Allen Ginsberg Black Buffalo

            Woman Crazy Horse Langston Hughes rise

Uprising Debs and Jack London Caesar Chavez Abelardo

            Delgado Frida & Diego Billie Holliday Bessie Smith

            Big Bill Haywood Joe Hill Phil Ochs Malcolm X

            Joaquin Murrieta Chief Joseph rise

Woody Guthrie Leadbelly Cisco Houston Harriet Tubman

            Charlie Chaplin Billy Burroughs Jr. Enid Dame

            David Lerner, Judy Bari, Pedro Pietri arise

Maestro Gregory Corso come with on the point straight shot

            eloquent prophetics

"Know that there are millions of Americans

seeking America...know that even with all

those eye-expanding chemicals--only more of

what is not there do they see"

Isabel Eberhardt show us the New Frontier

            & if need be disguise & attitude

Sitting Bull show us the route

            the method the rudiments

How will we fight the most pervasive

            destructive Empire the Earth has known?

I reach out to all the saints & sinners

            you who are named

& you billions with no names in books

            with no glory but what was

            in front of you

I call to all laborers, the misrecognized

            the great heros the mothers of us all

            the hammer the hoe the rags & sponges

            the lactating breasts & fore arms

            the steel wool knuckles & eyes aged

            beyond this life-- Cold mouth

            declaiming the immortal lines in mortal faces

            the mop & broom, the conveyor belt

            the choker and skid, the will killing pick

            the ovens the ladders and swinging scaffolds

            the tie wire and grill and telephone and trowel

 

I call to guide wire and caulked boots

            the steel toes, the dollie, the ho dad, the lumpers

            the victims of misogyny, the foster families

            broken furniture families

            the jack hammer, the jack of all, the fruit picker

            pearl diver the hacks the seamstress the drill press

            the death bed comforter, the lesson planners

            and underpaid menders of atrocities

To all who did the dirty work

To all who made us clean

To all who were sold short overused

            & deceived yet found time to live

I call on you now

Arise Help Us, guide us

We will make a future together

            fit for you to live again

You shall rise!

You are not dead

O Insurgents

O Pioneers

Let it be heard!

Stop this everywhere everything

            contamination

Stop this war, Organize, rebirth

Come together

            & you'll find a way

            to stop this war

 

Andy Clausen is the author of ten books of poetry, including Without Doubt (Zeitgeist Press, 1991, introduction by Allen Ginsberg), 40th Century Man: Selected Verse 1996-1966 (Autonomedia, 1997), and Songs of Bo Baba (Shivastan Publishing, 2004). A coeditor of Poems for the Nation (Seven Stories Press, 2000), Clausen is a construction worker and teaches poetry in New York public schools.

 


Logos 5.2 - spring/summer 2006
© Logosonline 2006