My father voted for Wallace, but did he mourn
when his man ended in a wheelchair?
How would I know? I had as little to do
with fate as my father. The country summoned
Nixon. That was a sour note. Hubert Humphrey
too bubbly, what we now deem emotional
and cross to the other side of the street.
My father died before the man from Arkansas
took office. His brother said Clinton knew
too much. And I, the nephew, read too many
books. How would I find time to talk, get close
to The People? I agreed. I said it was life
I needed to affirm. Why else read Tolstoy,
with whom I had nothing in common but love?
Dostoevsky’s father resembled Greatgranddad:
Christ struck, he died from a gunshot in the back.
Like his son, named for the itinerant musician
Manuel Romain, my father’s mother’s lover,
played fiddle, Spanish guitar. Dad up and died.
It’s easier to tell the story by now. It repeats itself
when I sit here in the presence of one and zero,
where else do fingers find to add up their own . . .
Where I am there are no political arguments.
It’s all one can do to quarrel with the soul,
what Yeats meant by poetry. Here is prose
masquerading as verse. See the poet shovel
his thought like coal into the enflamed furnace,
listen to the fire take heart with a sudden roar.
Caesura me no Caesar, let my vote be a woman,
Cleopatra choosing the father for her children,
not like sixteen hours punching in and out.
We have no need, still, for a bright American
whose blackness is brighter than dull white.
Don’t ask me why the mind means so little here.
I who know nothing have little to say up there
where no one reads. You can hear them from here,
Babel is back in business (I don’t mean Isaac).
TV without end. I keep shoveling, keep eating,
reading, writing , loving . . . Why pretend
otherwise? It was poetry made Auden happen
to sit in a dive off Fifty-second Street to mark
the end of "a low, dishonest decade." If you stand,
chaos breaks like waves yet always somewhere else . . .
1939 was my first year alive. Why sit out 2010?
Above the ceiling, I remember shadows pooling
across the floor as the Twin Towers of Babel
came down around the walls, missing your kin
who vote for Money’s rule in America’s Nowhere.
(24 October–24 November 2010)