Category Archives: False controversies

Friendship

I wrote another poem inspired by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s short book, Letter To A Hostage. At a time of genocidal fratricidal war in Ukraine, it’s hard to talk about friendship across enemy lines. But some of my friends have family on both sides of the war. Many people in Ukraine do.

From Yana Hurskaya's Odesa photo series, with poetry by Savanna Reid
The picture is from a striking Odesa photo series from professional photographer Yana Hurskaya @Unsplash.

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Filed under Art, False controversies, Poetry

The angel behind my ear

This poem is dedicated to the memory of Russian poet of protest Yevgeny Yevtuschenko, and to his fellow Ukrainians.

If you enjoyed this poem, please consider donating to Nova Ukraine or Razom to help the war’s refugees.

If you’re in the US or UK, please reach out to your lawmakers to demand tighter sanctions against Russia to keep step with our NATO allies, and ask for a ban on importing Russian fossil fuels.

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Filed under Corruption, Economics, False controversies, Poetry

Putin captured Chernobyl

So Putin captured Chernobyl. A symbolic victory for someone who threatens to nuke Europe if he is opposed in his wars of aggression. Do we even have a plan for how to respond if he follows through? Because this is 1939 all over again, only with nuclear weapons on both sides.

For more on how to #StandWithUkraine, read my Medium post here.

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Filed under Corruption, Economics, False controversies, Poetry, Postmodernism

However, we will not inform…

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February 14, 2022 · 3:01 am

These citron trees…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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Filed under Economics, False controversies, Poetry

Harriet

The conversation about critical race theory has gotten so overtly racist and fascist these days that I have to suspect that in the years to come, lobbyists will be trying to prevent gradeschool and even college students from learning anything about Harriet Tubman and the underground railroad. When this movie came out, it broke a lot of glass ceilings in the film industry. And like the message of Martin Luther King, I think it frightened and angered a lot of people who weren’t prepared to grapple with the history of their own country and region.

When I was a kid, visiting Savannah, Georgia, I smiled to see so many statues of horsemen in the parks, merely because their horses were handsome and the bronze was nicely done. In hindsight, I am shocked at how oblivious I was at that age about the use of symbolism to prop up myths about Southern heritage that are totally out of touch with the reality of American history and the Civil War.

One of my favorite children’s authors, Richard Adams, wrote a book glamorizing the life of General Robert E. Lee’s horse Traveller, and I remember getting in trouble for bringing that book to school because it showed a confederate flag on the cover. I reacted defensively, because I saw it as a neutral horse story, and I saw the civil war as an uncontroversial backdrop to that horse story. I didn’t appreciate how distorted Richard Adams’s description of the civil war was at that age. He gave all the standard excuses for the insurrection – none of them were valid, but I bought the story hook, line and sinker. I didn’t believe that slavery was the root cause of the war.

Now that I know more about American history, I can see why people are fighting to suppress the truth. It may have been true all along, but to a lot of Americans, the fact that the Civil War was about slavery is news – and unwelcome news. It challenges what they learned in school. It challenges a lot of their assumptions about themselves and their heritage. And it raises a lot of questions about why that information was suppressed for so long after the war was won.

This poem, based on the 78th Psalm, is about the parable of the Exodus as a story told both among slaves and among freedmen and women, before and after the Civil War, to give context and inspiration to slaves and the children and descendents of slaves. For those who don’t know the movie Harriet or the story of the underground railroad, Harriet Tubman used the name and the legend of Moses when she traveled to the south to free slaves by stealth and by force, both before and during the Civil War.

Come near to your teachers, children, listen.
Open up your minds to history.
What I have to tell you has been passed down,
generation after generation,
and those who learn this story come to know
what our parents, and theirs, and theirs, went through.
We would not have you live in ignorance,
or raise your children without having known,
what wonders our own people worked for God.
They fought so you and I could be born free!
We, too, are descended of Moses;
his teaching was passed down to slaves,
and our ancestors raised up their children,
in secret they taught the commandments,
so that, in their hearts, they would uphold real laws,
for the sake of you children, their yet unborn,
that you might teach your sons and daughters
to place their trust in justice, truth and love,
and not forsake the miracle of freedom,
abiding by the righteous laws of God.
That they not join the lost generations,
rudderless and headstrong motherless boys,
as listless and as feckless as the damned,
and stripped of all religion – naked bones.
Such courage as they had in petty crimes
availed them little in the bitter south,
for they had no higher laws to live by,
and never thought to fight against Jim Crow.
And they forgot the war their parents fought,
and never looked on Moses as their own.
Before their ancestors were taken slaves,
another Moses led the way to freedom.
To part the sea that held his people back,
God held the waters fast – the waves stood still.
Beyond the land of Egypt, by a wisp
of cloud by day, a flame by night, He guided them.
This Moses showed them where to find cool springs,
when they believed themselves undone by thirst.
He shattered a great stone deep in the waste,
and water gushed free, clear as mountain streams.
And even then, his people challenged him,
unable to believe in a just God.
They mocked his gratitude for miracles,
demanding whether next, it would rain bread?
Among themselves, they bantered about God.
They joked, “Can He lay a feast in this desert?
If indeed we should thank him for this drink,
and He alone gave us this gushing spring,
why does He not serve bread at our table?
Where is the meat He has roasted for us?”
And God heard them well, and He answered them,
His people felt the heat of His wrath,
and their children, and theirs, paid a price.
For without belief and trust in providence,
they placed no value on their own salvation.
As easily as clouds scoot through the sky,
God brought to earth the bounty of the blessed,
a grain as fine as coriander seed,
for bread as white as hoarfrost, just for them.
This was a feast fit for Pharaohs and kings,
and it covered the desert surrounding their camp.
He drove the flocks of wild birds forth on storms,
the wind whipped from the east and from the south,
and pheasants and wild geese collapsed, exhausted,
and feathered feasts spread everywhere among them,
all the camp was littered with fresh meat,
and Moses and his people dwelt in plenty.
That day, they stuffed themselves without scruples,
for God had gratified their appetites.
They hiccupped, bellies strained against their belts,
when, even as they chewed the last morsels,
the force of God’s reproof struck in their midst,
and strong men in their prime were robbed of breath,
the flower of their youth snuffed out as one.
Yet even then, they heckled bitterly
against the thought of miracles and fate.
Thus in exile, without lands or laws, they went
their ways, remorselessly cynical, lost.
At times, at the point of the sword, they prayed
for help and looked to this God of old.
In these moments, they remembered their roots
and the works of Moses and Abraham.
These things tripped easily from their tongues
and they they spoke not true – although they prayed,
They made other pacts on the side, spread their bets,
and paid short shrift to the covenant.
Even so, the Lord had mercy for them,
curbed His anger toward them easily,
And sought no retribution in the end.
for He did not forget man’s frailty,
a creature born to die unrecompensed.
For men who have been slaves know only hate,
and cast into the wilderness, they doubt.
Of God they knew but little, trusted less,
and seizing freedom, cast aside all yokes.
What did your forebears know of miracles,
of holy intervention in men’s crimes,
of wonders done in Egypt, or on Sinai,
of water churning with slaveholders’ blood,
and poisoning the Pharaoh’s great estates?
Their Moses stole through riverbanks by night,
the cries of frogs and crickets masked her calls.
She led her people north, and left their crops
to feed the birds and wither in the fields.
If God had struck their cotton down with hail,
and sickened their moss oaks with mistletoe,
had robbed them of their livestock with a plague,
and bled their wealth, he could not have done more.
She roused freed slaves to fight the southern states,
to burn with the indignities they’d borne,
and raised and army to confront the whites.
Was Egypt’s Moses more war-like than theirs,
who called the wrath of God down on his foes,
and watched the seven plagues denude their wealth?
The Civil War, too, claimed the slavers’ sons,
a generation died on those bleak fields.
and Harriet, their Moses, led the way,
shepherding her flock to Canada.
She listened to God’s signs and quelled their doubts,
and led them where no enemy would find them.
And she delivered them up to freedom,
far from the slave-holding southern states.
And when they went south again in arms,
they fought for the right to their own land,
and won the right to see their kin again.
Yet the whites would not be reconciled,
and the terms of the peace they rebuked.
They went back to their old ways at once,
like a rifle that always misfires.
Their fiery crosses offended God,
these men who idolized whiteness and hate.
And the God of Moses reacted swiftly,
cutting off the Jim Crow whites from grace.
God withdrew from their homes and their hearts,
the spirit no longer shared their travails.
He turned His back while demagogues and crooks
assumed the reins of power in the south.
Even those He had freed felt him absence,
for his wroth no longer made distinctions.
The youth of their cities burned out, took drugs,
children had children, unmarried, alone.
The statesmen who fought for justice were slain,
and their legacies died with them, unmourned.
Now you must stir yourselves from this stupor,
like magicians freed from an evil spell.
You must fight the corrupt, pandering shills,
bring the ignorant poor out of their thrall.
The old ways will not serve you in your task,
the hesitancy of the middle path won’t work.
You must take new vows, invent new values,
true to the past, but not bound by its errors.
You must retake the commanding heights for love,
before the earth and all that’s in it burns.
Be able to lead those who only follow,
a shepherd to the lost, not the lucky few.
For if you cannot lead manind, the rest
will go to ruin from their ignorance,
and the elect will go without in turn.
Do not silence your conscience in this task,
but do it well, with statecraft and with nerve.

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Filed under Acting, Corruption, Directing, Dream Ensemble, False controversies, Poetry, Roll Credits

Man of Steel

This poem, based on the 70th Psalm, and in the voice of Lois Lane (pining for help from Superman), was actually fun to write. It felt naughty, because it lets me vent about a bad habit of mine – looking to others for rescue. It’s a tendency we’re pressured not to acknowledge in ourselves, because it’s so trite and self-evidently self-defeating, but it’s a powerful undercurrent in the psyche, the notion that someone is just about to intervene on our behalf, if only we can hold on for one more instant… I associate this feeling with treading water, escapism, and internalized victim-blaming. But it is also a vote of confidence in someone, anyone – there is a shred of faith left in humanity there.

Someone unlikely is coming for me –
help me, for this is impossible – quick!
No one supported me – shame on my friends.
When they see for themselves they’ll lose face,
and regret having tried to hold me back.
They’ll take back their jibes and their pedantry,
the same friends who scoffed at me all along.
The world needs to know someone’s here for us,
the news will bring hope for all mankind.
Like me, they will see Clark is trying to help –
they will welcome this stranger, our savior.
And I know, in this, my hour of need,
he may come – I have hope – hurry to me!
My rescuer could free us all from fear.
I shout for help – our time is running out…

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Filed under False controversies, Man of Steel, Poetry

After the flood

In the wake of yet another series of terrible man-made storms, it seems fitting to write about Noah again. Some people are building Arks for wildlife to survive extreme heat waves these days – the time for desperate acts is already upon us. And they can only save so few – the tragedy unfolding around us is relentless.

I’m lucky to live in a part of the country where the electric grid is already almost carbon-free, and where the public transit system is robust enough that I don’t need to use a car to get around. I remember how helpless and resigned I felt when I didn’t have all these advantages of place. Now it’s easier to feel angry, and impatient with the rest of the world for not changing fast enough.

Is it really enough, in a global economy, to, “think global, act local”? My “local” goal for this year is to further reduce my carbon footprint by eating more local organic produce and cutting back on internet shopping. My “global” goal is to focus my retirement investment portfolio on financial products that have divested from fossil fuels. What’s yours?

This poem is based on the 69th Psalm.

God of my father, pull back these waters,
for the deluge now robs me of breath.
I have sunk to the basins of the damned,
on my knees in the slime – now all is lost.
I embarked on your voyage, my calling:
the frailty of my own heart failed you.
I am hoarse from prayers of supplication.
My strength gives out – I cannot lead on.
My very eyes dim in this gloamy hell
from straining after signs, bereft of hope.
Harried the whole of my life by the damned,
inexplicable hatred pursued me.
The men who intended to slay us drowned,
yet I see their weakness still, in my sons.
What Methuselah smuggled from Eden
bore fruit – how can I root out our line?
My weakness is not so different from theirs;
though I withdraw with shame, love stayed my hand.
Let these souls hope for grace in spite of all.
Creator, your Word decides each struggle.
Let my reluctance not condemn my sons,
for you are the father whose help they need.
In their eyes, in your name, I stand to blame,
and they turn aside, they avoid my face.
My wife has turned her back on all we once shared –
I became a stranger to my children.
The courage to attempt to do your will
has branded me a traitor to mankind.
I turned from the fruit of the earth and wept –
my own person seizes me with disgust.
I rolled naked in sand upon the beach
to the shame of my sons, who looked on.
Their talk then could only be of reproach,
for the vine and the press left me helpless.
And I – dare I offer another prayer?
In this afterworld, dare we mortals hope?
Creator, the kindness you showed us once
gives me courage – I ask again for help.
Wash away my fault, for it bears me down.
Pull me back from the riptides of despair.
I fear being swept far from those I love,
naked as driftwood on a barren rock –
the alien shore of death would have me.
Answer what poor remnant I am, O Lord,
out of your strange and perfect compassion.
Bare your face to your weary messenger,
for what I built for you is not enough.
Time runs short, and I would be near you.
Those that seemed vanquished corrupted us all.
Only you can plumb the depth of my fault,
I who have failed all those you sacrificed.
My very being stutters from the shame;
I look for a reprieve where nothing is,
and though I would be understood, none can.
Instead I suck on vines, eat bitter fruit,
and slake my thirst on dry, fermented dregs.
Just so, I longed to see Cain’s huntsmen choke,
who dragged each other down when all were drowned.
All this, that men blinded by greed see no more,
all this that men raised without shame should quake.
Torturous anger moved heaven and earth,
a convulsion of hatred engulfed them.
All the inhabited earth is stripped bare,
that of mankind nothing should remain.
The descendents of Cain are now wiped out,
long having hunted the innocent down.
To men who disowned their own guilt, add blame,
deny them the earth, and all that’s in it.
Their ways and their writ are rubbed out for good,
and their wickedness must be unlearned.
But what am I, save wretched and forlorn?
What shelter can I seek from works undone?
How can I sing my grandchildren to sleep,
whose heritage was meant only for God?
Theirs now the oxen, the flocks and the droves –
the innocents under them shy and stamp.
Those that survive now warm to the sun,
yet I cannot tell if they still trust the Lord.
But God alone hears us cry out in need;
when we quaked in his power, he softened.
The gray skies, the blue earth, stir at his touch,
green mountains, sea meadows – all life responds.
The Creator gave warning, saved our line,
to us gave the stewardship of all life,
to husband the fields and preserve the wild.
Perhaps we are equal to this great task,
and can ready the world to turn towards love.

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Filed under Corruption, Economics, False controversies, Noah, Poetry

ZZ Packer – a riff on a short story

This gem of a short story in ZZ Packer’s eponymous collection, Drinking Coffee Elsewhere, really took me back to freshman year in college, and all the tensions I felt among my new college ‘friends’. The poem I wrote in response doesn’t do the story justice, but I couldn’t resist trying.

Against Yale’s brick and mortar edifice,
our question marks about ourselves wore thin,
a trying-on, a test that’s hit-or-miss,
the sort of test we’d skipped, to not fit in.
The shabby drills of funerals caught out
the repartee we lived for – cryptic, crabbed
and always quick to hang its hat on doubt –
the rules of death, for us, no less exact.
In the event, one dreams of Istanbul,
of coffee on the Bosporus, away
from childhood’s traps – al through the strain a full
day of mourning puts on you – just to stay
lucid and connected with the future
you still had the day before: you daydream
and you try not to remember her.
I couldn’t say that, without starting to seem
like the sort of person who holds you,
when all you want is to cry and be held.
Nothing I said would have made that sound true,
no matter how reflexively my heart swelled.

This book of short stories is for people who don’t normally go in for literary short stories. Beautiful, compelling, deeply personal and utterly refreshing writing that speaks to the here and now with real scope and clout.

No time for a new book? For a quickie from ZZ, check out her Trump-era essay for NYT Magazine on civility and civil society in an age of polarized politics. Reading this essay alongside descriptions of entire factories of professional internet trolls clocking in to send hatespeech from work in Peter Pomerantsev’s book This is Not Propaganda is really frustrating.

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Filed under False controversies, Poetry, Puppy love

Jojo Rabbit

Taika Waititi’s black comedy about the Hitler Jugend fills a generation gap for audiences who missed Swing Kids, and think they’re immune to the social ills peddled by the likes of Adolf Hitler. But Jojo Rabbit is so infectiously funny, one doesn’t necessarily think about the implications when soaking in the drama, and some critics even claimed it wasn’t dark enough for a topical film, as if there were some things you can’t make fun of without apologizing in sincerest earnest. I don’t think those critics have heard of holocaust humor, the zany stripe of gallows humor known only to holocaust survivors (and those they share their laughter with).

This poem is a twisted take on the 54ths Psalm, in Jojo’s voice, when he calls on his imaginary friend (Hitler himself, played by director Taika Waititi himself), to rid his home of an intruder whom his mother has stowed away in the crawlspace without telling him.

Heil Hitler! We call on our leader for rescue,
his mighty S.S. will come take up our cause.
Dear Adolph, I know you are near in my prayers,
can’t you hear me today when I shout out your name?
A stranger is crouching right here in our attic
and threatens to kill us if I say a word.
She says she’s a cannibal, even a Jew.
But look – I know Hitler’s about to save me,
our leader will stick up for us and our kind.
He will get even with all my assailants.
Demolish their inhuman ways with the truth!
I’ll do my part as a spy, an observer.
“Heil Hitler!” is my manifesto, my cause.
From the worst kind of boredom, my Adolph saved me,
and from him my enemies run in defeat.

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Filed under Directing, Dream Ensemble, False controversies, Poetry