Poetry: The River

by: Jack Michaelson

Dead Sea Scrolls

I.
Scripture says
what has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun.
Are we the listless passengers of Charon,

passing time and passing away
languishing in our cruel stream of

undying wraiths drowned in fetid violence,

disfigured souls mired in a swamp of torment,
unable to escape the muck we have made?
Or are we adrift on Heraclitus’s river

fixed in flux
facing brutal new worlds alone,

turning a bend on a strange bed of reeds

to discover that we
don’t know where we are
or where we’ve been
or where we’re going?

Why is this pain happening anew?
Why does this pain keep happening?
II.
A young man reached out his liver-spotted hands
to midwife a murder

from a birthing canal that overflowed
with dried blood and stale water
like a river into the sea,
nitrates and dioxin swoosh and swirl
past deltas of change
and tumble into the frothy tumult,

yet the sea, foamy with foment, is never full.
His withered young face bore
raw wrinkles with age;
taught skin, fresh flesh, stretched
over the dry bones of Dorian Grey
in cracked oil on pliant canvas.
Stuck adrift in this stagnant river
flushed with fresh water
and green from algae plumes,

this man is the same as a boy.
Now, past an end of a world,
the boy within me is broken hearted,
but today I am a man;
I am too strong to keep from crying.

III.
The supersonic impact of a lone gunman
whirling through time
corkscrewing through space
with no narrative, no reason,
tearing through the flesh of fact
and sending a shockwave that
stops our heart,
numbs our festering wounds with
the anesthesia of amnesia.
This maniacal balm is our American anodyne of
narcotics, hypnotics, and opiates

to soothe pain,
lessen sensitivity,
and deaden thought.
This is not the time to reflect on our past,
Doctor’s orders.
Nerve endings shredded; synapses stopped short;
white hot metal pumped into the body politic
to distract us from the ongoing onslaught of
private pain in public spectacle.
Every killer makes his pain another’s problem.
Only those mired
in the favor of their birthright
can conclude
their private pain is the entire world’s problem.

IV.
When King James was learning to crawl
and known as Jim Crow,

and the supple breeze blew through poplar and cotton,
poplar filled men’s nostrils and

cotton filled men’s wallets;

the southern wind cut through the calico and thistles
which cut through white men’s hearts and
bleach-blackened white men’s souls.
From stage coaches to station wagons
and Choctaw horses to Chevy pickups,
black folk paid dearly for the hurt of white folk.
How many nations were birthed,
and mockingbirds killed,
and Mississippi’s burned
in the engraving of white hot anguish
on ensnarled black flesh
through the calligraphy of the whip,
that blood tipped quill that seared onto skin
the dreams and aspirations of white folk
to own faces?  To own spaces?
To become a leviathan of the huddled masses
of their slaves?
White men used to hang little slave boys for fun.
Scripture says there is nothing new under the sun.

V.
When AIDS was coming out
and known as gay plague,
and salty air splashed on wharves and backs
of men at work and
men at play,
hate filled men’s hearts and
fear filled men’s wallets;
coins clanged in collection plates and
checks cashed in coffers
for men who played Delphi and screamed
DON’T LET THEM DO THIS TO YOU!
From disco to dubstep
and Props 6 to 8,
queer folk paid dearly for the hurt of straight folk.
How many lovers were lost,
and children abandoned,
and skeletons made
in the infecting of fear through
black blotch body painting,
that bruising paintbrush that dyes gay skin
with the fears and hallucinations of straight folk
to obscure faces?  To avoid places?
To blot out the blight on their shining city on a hill
of their queer neighbors?
Straight men used to beat little gay boys for fun.
Scripture says there is nothing new under the sun.

VI.
When the world’s oldest profession celebrated six thousand years
and was known as free choice,
and condoms broke like promises
and hearts
and dreams,
blood filled men’s dicks and
pussy filled men’s wallets;
twenties rained on asses and
pimps reigned on assets,
merchant kings of flesh who
profited from the improprieties of propertease.
From gods’ temples to gentlemen’s clubs
and brothels to Bangkok,
women folk paid dearly for the hurt of men folk.
How many bodies were broken,
and wills unspoken,
and eyes glossed over
in the penetration of power through
the chipping away at consent,
that caustic chisel that cuts women’s skin
with the natural needs of men folk
to win faces?  To win places?
To surpass their fellow men in the competition to
own their most intimate of partners?
Men used to rape and kill sex workers for fun.
Scripture says there is nothing new under the sun.

VII.
What then for us,
the modern huddled masses,
clinging to debris of our lives blown away,
after another volatile face chose a public space
to make his voice heard,
make his presence known,
make his pain felt?
Can we ever escape our eternal visit
to the emergency room?
We may soon deplete our American anodyne of
narcotics, hypnotics, and opiates
to soothe pain,
lessen sensitivity,
and deaden thought.
Is it not now time to reflect on our past?
Every killer makes his pain another’s problem.
Only those mired
in the favor of their birthright
can conclude
their private pain is the entire world’s problem.

VIII.
If you own the economy, the mall is your space.
If you own the culture, the theater is your space.
If you own knowledge, the school is your space.
If you own God, then the church is your space.
Thanks to our American anodyne
we don’t have to think about these things.
Our gun lust can only answer how this pain happens.
We may never know why this pain happens.
Only the inheritance of the owning class can answer
“where this pain happens,
who this pain happens to,
and how many suffer.

IX.
Why is this pain happening anew?
Why does this pain keep happening?
In the collapse of time,
in this eternal frozen flow,
Scripture asks
is there anything of which one can say
“Look!  This is something new?”
Or was it here already, long ago;
was it here before our time?

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One response to “Poetry: The River

  1. Pingback: The River « Jack Michaelson·

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