How place names come to mean

Place names come to mean

events. New Orleans, Pompeii,
Atlantis, Alexandria,
—come to mean
elements. Water, fire.

Stone, as fire.


New Orleans used to mean Mardi Gras
or a style of music.
Bay of Pigs was a place people lived
and still live.


Normandy, Pearl Harbor, Hiroshima.







To many, Orlando used to mean a week a year

of cartooned humans in sweaty costumes.
But to me it meant—Oh Orlando!

androgyne of my heart, oh tour de force through language’s lips,
shape shifter through history’s pageant, you

“China robe of ambiguous gender
among [my] books,”

you were potentiality incarnate, and incarnate again.

Now death.


(Where on my body

shall I engrave the stone:

“the tsunami reached here

do not build below this point”?)


Stonewall meant a place to stop.

To stop the hiding hatred demanded,

and the hatred hiding commanded.


Orlando, once I read you as Sappho’s daughter

and now you mean hatred’s slaughter.

Let’s take back from that gruesome night
the freedom you meant,
dear Orlando.




Mass Mourning

Mass Mourning



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?

May the child be at peace

May the child be at peace.
May the child’s peace radiate to all in her grasp.
May the child’s peace radiate to all whose grasp she is within.
May the pedophile and coyote be at peace.
May the child soldiers’ commander be at peace.
May the commander’s arms dealer be at peace
and the arms maker
and the investor
and the pensioner
and the inventor of money.

And you and I, my friends, and you and I.



This was originally published by Narrative Northeast.