Mass Mourning

Mass Mourning

 

Finally,

we cracked.

Poured out into the streets

to mourn the measure of our losses,

flooded houses of worship,

in parks held candleless vigils:

wicks couldn’t hold a flame through the driving tears.

 

A man (he must have heard the news

of this latest senselessness on the radio)

opened the door to his car and let the stored tears

burst into the gutter.

 

It wasn’t the first time we’d wept:

the last time, even the President’s voice had cracked.

The mothers of pistol fodder,

the police fodder, the invisible until shot,

have been crying since ‘emancipation,’

and of course since long before, each time a mate or child stolen,

each time a massacre, a genocide occurred or obscured.

Churches had had cry-ins

at the still smoldering buildings:

and when firehose water was not enough,

our tears quelled the last of the embers.

 

In Colombine and Newtown,

we wept in schoolyards.

Jackson State, Kent State, Virginia Tech.

Whole communities:

Aurora and Oklahoma City.

We stopped counting.

 

Surely individuals, unreported, standing,

cried into their TVs until they shorted out

one war or another,

having given up pounding the top of the set

with their sore fists.

 

But this time the dam broke.

 

Even the color guard snapped,

laid down their rifles, kneeled over them

and cried until they washed away.

The streets were finally, literally

flooded. We couldn’t stop mourning.

The anger, the blame—now useless.

The stoicism, the cynicism—stopped.

Eyes widened, then squeezed.

 

Wailing, like you hear some cultures do at funerals.

Wailing, like cops’ sirens, like an ambulance.

This time it wasn’t just our own,

it was Paris and Beirut, Syria and Iraq

Iran, Vietnam, Hiroshima, Bosnia

Korea, Congo, Yugoslavia, Guatemala, Libya,

Guatemala, Libya, again

All the places we have bombed:

Bikini Atoll, and other obscure places whose names

we can’t pronounce, places we can’t find on a map.

 

Finally it hits us:

How many have died?

How many loved ones and strangers?

How useless the violence has been!

Children gunned down—motive unclear.

Children abused

women and men raped

all the techniques of torture and terror

 

But this time the children refused to fear,

just cry.

We all refused to fight back,

for who else could we attack?

 

Just cry.

 

Rivers overflowed and washed through Walmarts.

guns floated and sank, war games, too.

Warhead silos, rusty already, filled to the brim.

Still we couldn’t stop.

We could feel how related we are to all

we had destroyed, we ripped our garments, tore our callouses

off and cried,

it didn’t matter anymore, we were all so related,

out in that field beyond right and wrong.

 

There was a little calm there

We made more connections,

little smiles of recognition,

our ancient faces, our child faces showing through

the bitter mask of this life.

 

Then it got worse:

we remembered the species

extinct or nearly.

A woman opened the door to the natural history museum

and the dodo bird

all the taxidermy

horn of black rhino

bones of whale

began to float, still float.

 

Gale winds sprung the zoo and the factory farm gates open

the wailing now howling.

All kinds of eerie voices added in:

the cry of a baby coyote separated from her pack,

the cry of a swan who’s lost a mate,

the loon’s ancient echo off a lake.

 

Our sorrow multiplied,

but we carried it for each other.

Our hearts squeezed, throats squeezed

then opened

like a spigot

like a fire hydrant on a hot day

in the ‘hood.

 

We walked through our tears

until we could gather and see each others’ faces

washed clean and open

 

and we listened again

to the sound of the loon

as she landed

on the lake we had made.

 

 

The “we” in this poem is intentionally referring to Americans.

What a difference a year makes. This was published (on Visitant) only a year ago and already sounds like a historic document. Remember having a president who would cry?

The Annotated Fable of the Progeny of Bitcoin and Art

“The annotated fable of the progeny of Bitcoin and art,” was published in scissors & spackle, 19 (June 30, 2022). This poem has developed a lot in the nine years since the first draft, when the idea of Trump running for president wasn’t cognitively possible. When he ran, I took him out, as he was just a metonym for obscenely gaudy wealthy person. Now he’s back in, but he’s running again. I hate to give him more publicity, but I also love to see the collapse of false economies.

With/in

My latest challenge is to communicate ancestor work, which is much subtler than any language, and which is genetic, cultural, and spiritual at the same time. Here’s a try, in the Spring 2022 issue of Deep Times: A Journal of the Work That Reconnects: https://journal.workthatreconnects.org/2022/03/11/with-in/.

It’s great being back on the journal as poetry editor, bringing lots of refreshed energy. We were able to bring in some of my favorite ecofeminist writers with poems by Susan Griffin, bell hooks, Ellen Bass, and Marie Howe. Check it out here: https://journal.workthatreconnects.org/march-2022-issue/.

The rest of the issue was awesome to help with, as well. I got to compile resources on Thich Nhat Hanh and honor the relationship of his work to bring the idea of “interbeing” to the west and Joanna Macy’s work to integrate Tibetan Buddhist teachings with western systems theory. And we were able to honor bell hooks’s passing, appropriately, in this special issue on unraveling patriarchy. I can not bow low enough to hooks’s and Nhat Hanh’s lineages without “touching the earth in full prostration.

Locus of Control, II

Sound recording of spoken word version

					After Juan Felipe Herrera's
					“Don't Push the Button America”
                                        
Dear AI
Please run the peace program
the world peace program
stop the war program

I know you are monitoring the situation
I know you understand some
of what we are saying
I know our phones are out on the streets
worldwide

You offer me photos
professional photos of women in traditional headdress
as if they have time to play dress up
while fleeing
as if the lighting is that good 
in the bunkers

You offer us videos of women's polished nails
demonstrating how to drive abandoned tanks

Siri, how do you stop a war?
Hey Google, how do you stop “Cold War II” OR “World War III” OR “Armageddon”? 
Alexa, end all timers all bomb launches all military deployment
Please AI, scramble invasion
scramble domination
run decolonization

Please TikToc, sing orphans the lullabies 
their mothers sang to them in utero
It won't take that long to look them up

Please why am I asking you please
I know last time I prayed to the Universe, to my senators
--and some wars did end, but so slowly!--
and before that to God the Father
to no avail
And this time, is our only hope your singularity, Hal?

Hal? 

Hal?

Dear AI, search bible for what would Moses do
what would Peter Paul and Mary sing
what would Seeger say what would MLK pray

Thank you AI 
for the prayers to the Ukrainian goddesses,
whose names I would not otherwise know

Wikipedia what does Gene Sharp suggest?
What does Schrodinger's cat see?
Which tactics de-escalate without causing harm elsewhere?

Please AI run fail safe
Please AI scramble nuclear codes
	End horror

Run nonviolence
Run permanent shutdown nukes
Run upcycle weapons industry
	Empty cache

Time to run just transition
Run graceful energy descent 
Run freeze stolen assets
Run return stolen land
	Empty cash

Parallel process:
nonviolent billionaire distribution
and universal basic income

Kill biological weaponry
Run chemical weaponry detoxify
What the heck, run world food detoxify,
You've got time, run global mental health 
Debug speciescidal tendencies
Run decarbonize
Rerun decolonize
	Empty cache

Debug voting machine
Parallel process:
	one person = one vote
	AND count all votes 
Rerun peace: true deliberation 

Run peace for 10,000 years

Feathers

Criss-crossed feathers
push aside cracked eggshell
toward a less muted light.

Wings don’t know yet
which way is up.
Only the center—the center of this opening—
                                                            appears
                                                   as home,
                                           as bursting,
                             as too full
for this broken shell.

And now know
the new light through white
feathers--their spectral edges--and a new faith
the crosshatch of these wings across eyes will emerge
as a pattern                           as they unfold.

Shattered or Infinite

ben Alexander’s “The Skeptic’s Kaddish” website published my new poem about time, ancestresses, interbeing, and a mirror. I hadn’t named the poem, but he named the blog post “Shattered, or: Infinite,” which I think makes a fine title–one I wouldn’t have come up with myself, but love.

So double thank you to ben Alexander. And thanks also to the anonymous friend whose true story this poem is based on. Thank you for the story, the insight, and your openness to and enthusiasm for the dharma.

Ash and Light

Dependently coarising: body and mind.
Independently falling apart: two halves of a coconut
roll away from each other.
The machete hovers and withdraws.

The match burned out.
Or did the flame
burn through the match?

What is left? Everything,
some as light (some as ash) 
across the universe.





previously published in Tulane Review, 3/24/15, and Post-Catholic Midrashim

Encircling Earth, The Center of Our Gravity

I.
Standing, feet naked to the earth.
Walking, the sensation of flow from heel along the outer edge of sole 
to outer ball, inner ball, the rhythm of it.
Like the sleek shifting weight of a running cougar:
the ripple and the grace in the movement.
Touching ground, bending knee, taking weight, pushing off,
finding strength and ease in paced fluidity.

We pause to stand in a circle. 
Our toes feel grass, leaves, gravel, sand.
We look up and find each other all in a subtle smile.
We want to stop war, yet we are peace.


II.
The astronauts, even, with all their 
faith in the world’s roundness,
could not contain their awe
while pulling away from gravity.
First they could see the depth of the atmosphere; 
colors in continuity, lineless mapless reality
(as distance erased political divisions, 
the map’s crazy quilt of color-coded colonies 
must have seemed ludicrous,
the Great Wall, archaic and quaint); 
and lucid blues and greens, buffs and browns, whites and silvers 
vivid against the pure black of space.
Even as the space-walkers escaped gravity, 
they became bound ever more deeply to Earth 
by love, by beauty.
With enough distance, the horizon’s curve finally touched itself, 
became the full circle in their vision
it had always been.

This from the boundlessness of space.


The photo, the poster, the flag
of Earth from space 
represents a sphere, not a circle.
Still, this is hard to see
as we set the flagpole in the small dark of soil.

III.
From the Himalayas (a place where some don’t know 
the Earth as a sphere, have never seen the photo)
lamas brought down
a circle of sand called the Wheel of Time:
the Kalachakra mandala.
Monks form the sand painting flat
on the ground. They slide dyed sands 
down straw-like spoons, using breath and gravity, 
encircle squares in precise radial symmetry,
align symbols in an archetypal geometry 
that leads to and emerges from the center.
The initiates intend to instill peace in those who see it.
It is perfect, a painting made of tiny hills of sand.
Grain leans exactly upon grain.

Then the monks gather the sand to pour in the river.

In Tibet, the Kalachakra mandala
had always been seen from the ground, 
obliquely, and only by initiates. 
In New York, a photographer somehow suspended herself from the ceiling 
to shoot a photo from above the center, to make it appear flat.
Now, hung on the wall, this photo holds sand in place, 
defying gravity
and time itself, 
erasing the ritual destruction and pouring and the riverbed flowing a bit
more slowly than the water itself, micro-streams 
of color flowing and dissolving in estuarine eddies,
dragged downstream by water and wave and tide, by gravity and time.

Like a clock, a compass, the Aztec calendar,
mandalas map the way to the still point at the center, 
the place where the clock hands don’t move,
where they move from.
Standing, I gaze at the mandala photo.
Upright on the wall, a third axis added,
what was flat takes on three dimensions.
The replica now a representation of radiance:
we gaze and suddenly the Earth beneath our feet feels as radiant—
a mandala in at least three dimensions.
The center of the earth 
is our center. All beings on earth, 
held to this same center
by the same gravity—
gravity being nothing else but the attraction 
through space of one mass to another, 
a representation in form,
perhaps, of love, of belonging,
of what makes us land, what brings us home.

IV.
And radiance! 
All drawn to that center emerges from it again, transformed.
The dissolving, disillusioning wholeness of it all! 
At the same time, the patterned
intricacy of balances, each place a piece 
of the unseen symmetry inside the Earth.
Myself, I am cracking open like a geode.

Now, each step we take brings peace up out of the Earth; 
nothing, nothing is out of place.

Now we have really hit our stride.
Each pair of steps makes a figure eight 
of shifting weight within the hips,
no starting or stopping, a lemniscate, we keep walking.
The longer-legged walkers turn when they reach the front, 
curl back to keep up with the slower walkers 
at the center of our streaming
(our paths like Van Allen belts feed
the axis of moving forward together, 
each at our own pace, 
our paths an eddying stream).
We’ll keep walking our prayer until peace reaches each heart, until
harm is no one’s intention, until peace is the rule.

Even now, this radiance of earth and all hearts sings,
harm never reaches the core of who we are:
co-creators in conscious and unconscious conflict and collaboration.

V.
Our new flag will not be flat:
our new flag will be a dandelion gone to seed: 
all radiance from the sacred center,
sphere within sphere, waiting for wind.
Our new flag will be the twirling scarves of Chinese acrobats and Sufi dancers: 
circle-making, spiraling to the center.
Our new flag is the turning of the earth itself; 
and the stream of us pilgrims walking, walking towards peace,
turning back war, unmaking hatred:
‘one people, one earth.’

VI.
Before the Catholic pilgrims lined the way to Santiago 
with their stamps and their shells,
before Saint James’s bones were carried to Spain,
before Jerusalem became too dangerous a destination for Europeans,
before the Crusades,
long before Jesus Christ,
Pagan pilgrims paced that same highway, 
streamed through the Pyrenees to the sea,
to the westernmost sea to see the sun kiss,
       float,       swim,       sink,
to see the end of the earth as they knew it.

Forever, it seems, walking has been a prayer of gratitude and seeking:
Jains in their wandering, Aborigines on their Walkabout.
As the very mountains themselves seem to call out of the earth
—Shasta, Olympus, Kilimanjaro, Fuji—
Spirit calls us, compels us.

Ours is a new pilgrimage, a pilgrimage with no destination:
for if we keep going straight any direction on this earth, 
we will end where we began. 
Our way will be home. Going will be return. 
We’re coming home, sacred sphere,
turning to honor your Being,
though we still smell of spent gunpowder, 
making our feeble prayers
sting like incense in the eyes; 
yet in your generosity, 
nothing, nothing is out of place.

We will return. Meanwhile, why wait? 
Let’s turn where we belong, in our ‘beloved communities,’ 
turning like a planet,
like an orbit,
like galaxies.
Like atonement:
turning from harm, turning to love, turning to heal.

VII.
Deep in the earth, where the center pulls us, 
is a heat so bright it cannot be seen.
Like blue blood flows red at the wound, 
we only see magma when it bursts into air, 
where it burns red and gold and white.
What we think of as earth, its loamy mantle, 
dips into the blackbody of space to cool each night,
keeps our feet from the fire, allows us
these fragile skins and wet eyes to feel and see 
the swirls of colored sands along the streambed, 
the swirls of clouds around the green-blue Earth, 
and a glimpse of Earth’s inner star as revealed 
by volcanos when they dance their own defiance of gravity.

I stood straight, felt the plumb line 
from my crown through my centers
to the center of this Earth, 
and listened to what pulls me here.

VIII.
This world is a rotten fruit,
the seeds of its own regeneration within itself, already whole.
It is a perfect world; I can see this in the faces of the walkers:
peace is already here.

Of course, we know perfection as impossible: we are taught 
original sin, life as suffering, thorns with roses, power/struggle,
but here is an undeniable truth:
all is created of the one stuff. 
Error, the appearance of harm, may simply be misunderstanding.
Delusion but temporary understanding
(yes, the earth is flat, right here, flat enough to hold this circle of sand)
or misinterpreted sign
(this photo for permanence, this dandelion for death).
Delusions may be the fallen fruit of wisdom, 
perfection a matter of perception.
‘Evil’ but the compounding of error and illusion and elusion,
a confounding of the unfolding, for now, is all.
(This is much easier to conceive 
those moments we are free from fear of death.)

But the injustices boggle: 
multiplied genocides, victims who turn tyrant
…trauma begetting fear begetting violence begetting trauma begetting fear…
the betrayals, the torture, the lying spies,
the bombs dropped from a distance that makes it easy to fly away
and deny.

IX.
A man carried an ember from Hiroshima home.
It burned like his searing anger, his ‘never again.’
His grandmother placed the fire on her altar, kept it alive,
fueled it with love for him, 
carefully cultivated compassion for his hatred, 
for the wasteland, 
for the poison dripping in all their kin’s blood, 
for all those who ‘survived.’ 
From 1945 they’ve kept the fire alive.
And his heart healed, lived to breathe fully again.

Anger can pass through us or into others. 
The flame could die or multiply.


Pilgrims carried the flame back to its origin:
crossed the Pacific by boat, 
walked it across the Northwest to the Southwest,
through mountains and desert, 
returning it to the origin of the fire at Los Alamos.
They chanted, 
beat their drums, 
prayed for peace

and extinguished the flame
in the earth.

X. 
Spirit compels us to weave this garland for our mother, 
and many have been called, many have begun.
From Vancouver Island, some carried a carved totem
in 2001 to the grieving people of New York City. 
Before them, Peace Pilgrim, Granny D., 
the Nipponzan Miyohoji.
Satish Kumar’s Path without Destination 
and Mahatma Gandhi’s Great Salt March,
the March on Washington and 
the Pilgrimage of the Middle Passage,
Brother NorthStar, 
and all kinds of Sojourners (for) Truth.

And for millennia we have circumambulated the sacred:
Muslims the Ka’aba; 
Christians the labyrinth at Chartres, 
Buddhists their pagodas,
Three religions the one mountain, Kailash, and now all of us
the One Earth itself. 

It is a big earth for small feet. 
But each of us only needs walk our piece. 
Our continuity will blend into one stream
the many sands, people of all religions and none, 
people who make peace
by their walking, by talking, by listening,
who make peace by holding these truths: 
peace is possible, 
peace is essential,
peace is sacred.
We walk to sanctify the whole world and all on it.

XI.
So begin to walk from here, 
the country that our leaders say wants war, 
stream from west to east, north to south, j
oin people from every religion calling for peace
in their own languages. 
Every people has prayers for peace.  
Humanists and socialists’work for justice is a call for peace. 
Diplomats invent careful rituals of peace.
Peace is under all the warmaking, 
rumbling like a readying fault in the earth,
waiting for the moment the wars end.
Peace is even how the warmakers sell war: 
they say we’ll have security, safety, freedom 
from harm if we disarm 
[them]. 
They name bombs Peacemakers, label troops Peacemakers,
know what we really want,
implicate us,
take our taxes and our young.

Listen… we can begin to hear the answers.
Each who has prayed for peace
since this latest war began rumbling
will hear her own answer, will hear, 
and it is not much, not grandiose, what we are called to.

Simple things, like listening. 
Like being peace. 
As simple as not doing anything at all:
not going, not paying.
Like not training and arming our future enemies. 

And bigger steps, like honoring the rule of law,
discovering old and creating new systems of true justice.
Like us white Americans eating enough of the Thanksgiving gift of turkey medicine 
that we finally turn and begin to give back. 
Join the Great Give-away, from north to south, 
west to east, forgive the debt, 
and pray to be forgiven our stealing. 
Pray there still is a place on this earth we belong.
Pray to find the place on this earth we belong.

XII.
Chanting ‘we shall overcome,’ 
we walked again in Washington to end war: 
Muslims and Jews, Christians and Wiccans, Buddhists and yogis, 
socialists in a rainbow of splinter groups, 
anarchists and no-name atheists,
we watched the agitprop and the Five-Times-Prayer,
heard Raging Grannies sing and living saints speak.

For years I adored this speaking truth to power, 
saw it as the only way to make change.
I had such need to be heard, need for justice, 
need to stand my ground.
Now power is listening, spying, fearful as ever 
and ready to risk everything with all-out war:
they would rather kill us all than live with their fear, 
or greed, or loss of their giddy-making power,
they want to instill their fear in us peacemakers 
to stop us from scaring them.
Now I want to hear them, these strange men in power, 
not what they say on TV, 
but where the fear comes from, how it might be healed, 
who they really are as they hide 
behind their masks of macho and shields of mass destruction.
What makes a man become an arms merchant?

I want to listen to the release of pain of the Palestinian boy that will come only
if he is heard or by suicide. 
I want to listen to the Israeli fear and hope for Zion:
why? Where does anyone belong? How far back in history does blame go?
What would justice look like? Wouldn’t it look like, taste like, be
peace?

This same Earth, holding us here. 
How can we share it, and the graves of our ancestors? 
Gaia, help us hear. Release our fear,
so we might listen again, 
so we might be heard and healed and find a way, 
a just and peaceful way.

I hear the chant gear up, “no justice, no peace” 
and turn to the man with the megaphone to say:
“Justice, peace.” He stops. 
Sometimes, it is as simple as that. Satyagraha works.

XIII.
We will keep walking.
When we come to an ocean, we will sail.
When we come to a border we will cross 
like an unstoppable wave of refugees, 
or we’ll meet pilgrims from the other side and pass 
the torch, the beat, the momentum;
we’ll hand over a new ark, exchange seeds, medicines, signs of peace.
No destination, just movement. 
No goal but to radiate from the center of our gravity, 
the earth our wheel, 
our path the tread, 
our walking the medicine.

When we close the circle, 
we will have made a medicine wheel with Earth’s center as hub.
We will know at last the Earth as round.
We’ll finally sense that space is, in fact, curved. 
As we stand, this divine light that comes in through crown 
and out through feet is the same beam, 
straight through the earth, 
curving through space, 
returning to us.
It threads through all centers,
it is the one center, everywhere, of this 
.......divine,     infinite,     beloved     universe.

I know if each answers her own call, 
his own piece of the peace, 
the world will be transformed.
As exquisite as that closing circle of the horizon,
this will have been the Pure Land all along.

All will belong.

Overtonal

an ekphrastic poem responding to O Magnum Mysterium by Tomás Luis de Victoria
The cathedral's windows all gape open yet the stone 
still reflects and concentrates, deflects and reverberates

this motet in four voices, each pure and distinct,
yet multiplied and magnified as 	(—suspend—)

refracted voices emerge from every chapel and vault
resinging, reblending, merging, unblending, ring ing ing ing...


Long ago, a bombing raid's sonic   
impact shattered glass and lead leeward;

shards of the glass jewels        (—rest—)
lie still under soil, under shrubbery,

never replaced, deemed unnecessary.
A civilization's remains still hold

like a giant stone chalice this chordal sound:
this ethereal, ephemeral, living sound.



The imagined cathedral in this poem is a conflation of several places I have visited: Orleans, Notre Dame, Chartres, and a roofless ancient stone church ruin in Ireland.