Something about America

It’s crazy, like
this country my country
that I am a part of, that is a part of me

I see my small personal dysfunction
in your big wide panic
I see your desperation to live up
to what you say about yourself
in the pages of my own journal
And that fear
of being suddenly without comfort
lives in a closet
I don’t like to open
but I know
is down there

So I can’t help but feel
your wound

Your shadow is my shadow
I carry a scrap of that
disowned dark
here in my own heart

For you after all are nothing
but my heart and theirs and theirs and theirs
You are nothing
but us

Each of us in all our complexity
each of us ourselves and also you
each of us ourselves
and somehow one

And I
with my thimble
of memory
becoming an ocean
as I sip
I can’t
look out
on those waves
and say
I don’t see
the water

American flag over liquor store

Who or What

Who or what is this thing called God?
God is the one who directs my studies,
who nods and smiles approvingly
and pats me on the back and says
Job well done
while another of God’s countless hands
is pulling the rug out from under my feet.
And as I go down,
hitting my head on every sharp corner,
and somehow finding with my heart,
exposed and open in my moment of accomplishment,
the one long slender thorn, hard as steel,
growing up from below,
and managing, as though destined, to run myself through,
I look up, bleeding, and see God
smiling and nodding, and saying
with infinite kindness,
Very well done.

More art from the Althea Center for Engaged Spirituality.

Vocal Medicine 1

O friend
when my heart is in pieces
and I hear your voice
those waves
enter in where
I am splintered
and all my feelings
flood out in tears.
Just the trusted voice
vibrating in the air
becomes a temple
where I am safe to fall apart.
You have held me there
maybe without knowing
that this weeping
this freedom
is because
of your love.

At Althea


I Pledge 

They tell us
Don’t focus on the negative
Look for the good
Share THAT
Talk about THAT
Promote what’s going RIGHT
Yes
Yes
What we give attention to, grows
Yes
Yes
But
When black men are being shot
Lying down on the ground
With their hands up
Surrendered
And EVERY SINGLE PERSON DOESN’T KNOW ABOUT IT
How can I not
Use my tiny platform
To say
PLEASE
LOOK AT THIS
PLEASE STOP
PLEASE STOP
PLEASE
STOP
PLEASE

If I’m telling the truth
It seems so pointless
To write about
How racial minorities are targeted
And killed
In the US
In a thousand fast and slow ways.

If I’m being honest
I actually doubt
Whether anyone’s mind
Ever was or ever will be changed
By anything I say.

But
This is my channel
And I get to say
What I want
And
I
Will
Use
It

If nothing
If nothing
If nothing else

I am saying
To someone else out there
Who is finding it hard to stand up
Under the weight
Of all this grief

You’re not alone
I see you

It’s breaking my heart, too
And because I can’t stand
To be represented
By my country
In this way

I’ll rise
With you
I’ll carry
Some of the load
If you’ll let me

I have energy
And strength
And will
And heart
And I
Am at your service

Some people look around
At oppression in other countries
And say,
We have it so good here.

I
I am grateful
For all the innumerable blessings in my life.

And
I know
That although we appear to be separate
We are one being.
And what we think we’re doing
To someone else
We’re doing to ourselves.

I know a lot of you
Don’t feel it
When another vulnerable human being
Is killed
By the state
At home
In front of their neighbors
In the Middle East
Or anywhere.
Yes
We’re numb,
And that’s no accident.
Unbelievable resources
Go into keeping us from feeling
The grief
And shame
And rage
And frustration
We would certainly feel
If we weren’t carefully shielded
And distracted
From the pain
That some groups
Must carry
All of,
So that the rest of us
Can
Keep
Working
And
Paying
Our
Bills
Like
We’re
Supposed
To.

Well
I don’t know
If I can do anything
To change it.
But
I’m looking
Hard
For ways
To try.
I know
Other people
Are out there trying too.
And I know
That there are good things happening.
And I’ll celebrate them.
And I hope
I’ll be a part
Of something
That helps.

And if
Until it’s better
I feel
Some waves
Of grief
At what
This country
Does
To itself
I won’t deny them.
I’ll cry out.
It’s what I was made to do.
I’ll cry out
Just because
I need to say it
Or my heart
Will
Explode:

AMERICA
WE
CAN
WE
CAN
WE
HAVE
TO
DO
BETTER.

All I want to say about Orlando is

All I want to say about Orlando is

Here in America we have so many mass shootings
It’s kind of our thing
By one count, we’ve had 136* of them
In just 164 days this year.
And most of them …
Well, the ones I hear about, which is a small percentage …
They don’t necessarily
Shake me.

Like Sandy Hook, for example.
I remember friends who are mothers,
How their hearts broke
For the parents of those kids.

Or the Aurora movie theater
Right here
In my own metro area.
So many people I knew
Worried about going to the movies.

But me
I was just
Not thrown

And I wondered
About my lack of grief or fear

Mostly
I felt frustrated

I wanted
To shake
The whole country

I wanted to yell
That it wasn’t about gun laws
It’s about our culture

That these shootings
And the predictable debates
About regulating firearms
Are such despicably handy
Distractions
Everybody gets emotional
Everybody takes a side
We yell at each other for a while
We move the needle a hair
And while no one’s paying attention
A bunch of bullshit gets passed in Congress
And it sort of seems like
That’s the plan

Who does it serve
When we kill each other in this specific way?
Because somebody sure benefits …

And that’s
What I wish
We could focus on

Because
All around the world
People are profiting
From distractions
Just like these

A lot of those people who are profiting
Are Americans

And THAT
Is what makes me
So upset

Because this is our culture
It’s written into the contract
By any means necessary
Profit
Power
Control

And I want
Us to see this

I want
Us to change

I want
Some new values
Here

Well
What’s different about Orlando?

I guess
For me
This is one of the
One of the ones
That hit me
Hard in the chest
Though I didn’t know any of those people
And I’ve never even been to that city

Is it just because I am a queer person
Too?
I have questioned

I don’t feel attacked
And I don’t feel defensive
I honestly don’t even feel
Like gayness is really the point here
In some ways
It’s just another flavor
Of the same shitty medicine
And gayness
Homophobia
Is just
The excuse
There’s nothing new here
Nothing really different
From any other
21st century
American style
Mass shooting

But
Irrationally
I feel
Responsible
For those people
At Pulse nightclub
I feel
Like they were
Part of my family
And honestly
Even if they were my real distant cousins
Who I’d never met

I probably would not feel
So sad

I didn’t know any of them
And who knows
If their experience of queerness
Was ever anything like mine
Who knows
If any of them
Would have felt a connection
To some random lesbian
In Colorado

But I do

And the loss of these lives
I feel
Like a light going out
I feel
Like a sandbag
Hitting me in the chest

It doesn’t make sense
That I should care
Like this

But I do

And I want to say
That the majority of these people
Were also
Not white
I don’t want it to be lost
In this conversation
That these people
Who were chosen
For elimination
Were vulnerable
In multiple ways
In most situations
In life
Not just at the gay bar
But in a society
Where it’s ok
To talk about
The growing proportion
Of the population
That’s Latino/a
Like
That’s a danger
To some
American way

Like they
Were the danger

I want
Us
To be different

And although it will seem to some
Like it’s none of my business
Like I’m getting worked up
By focusing on the negative
Like I am always
Picking a fight

Today
Right now
My whole body
Is full of sorrow
Still

For these lives sacrificed
For the friends and families left behind
And for the knowledge
That this
This
Is what we’ve created
After two hundred and almost fifty fucking years
Of nationhood
This is what we’ve done
With the land
We massacred
The previous occupants
To get

Oh
Fuck
That came out too

Well

It’s part of the same problem.
Mass killing is written into our contract
USA
And we’ll never change
Until we can know that
In our hearts

I keep thinking I’m out of words
But I keep not being

I keep thinking I should shut up
But I keep not

I keep thinking I’m too sad
To talk
So I write instead
And I feel a little better

I’ll quote again
One of my favorite poems ever,
Allen Ginsberg’s “America”

There must be some other way to settle this argument …
America I’m putting my queer shoulder to the wheel.


———-

*That’s defining “mass shooting,” as The Gun Violence Archive does, as “any incident where four or more people are wounded or killed. That number can include any gunmen as well.”

On Standing Up and Opening Your Mouth

You try things
and sometimes
they work in real life
like they did in your imagination
And sometimes they don’t
The material is
shavings from your tender heart
mixed with tears of insecurity
and the fear
that you’ll never be loved
And you’re there
on stage
throwing that clay on the wheel
with everyone watching
and you hope
the pot you make
holds water
But sometimes it doesn’t
and everyone
can see your feet
getting wet
as the bottom falls out
everyone can see
what you missed
You have to be strong
to make your mistakes
in front of everyone
But sometimes
it works
and the vessel you shape
with your own shaking hands
is big enough
and tight enough
to hold
everyone.

A shot from last December’s concert with Mosaic Gospel Choir

Sacred Sciences

I’m like
Do you see how beautiful that is?
Yeah that, over there, that old
electrical tower, so tall,
so graceful, so simple,
a thin black outline
against the pink-orange sky.
Look at those angles,
how they keep their shape,
their straight lines,
even as the whole thing
maybe leans
a little to the south,
those triangles and trapezoids
still distribute physical forces,
still hold up wires
that connect
power source to power use,
origin
to purpose.

I’m like
Wow
That’s some hard stuff
you’re going through,
sister, brother. That’s some
down-deep hard trial, that’s
really gonna take you
into the shadow,
gonna test you, gonna take
all the grit you can muster,
man, I see that discouraged
look on your face and I
understand. That is a pile,
that is a wagonload of the smelly stuff
they’re heaping on you, oh yes,
I see it, I don’t think you’re
making it up, you got
a real challenge right here,
it’s gonna take exactly
as much
as you have
but no more, trust me,
no more.

I’m not like
everything’s fine.
I’m not like
force yourself
to see how this is actually good.
I’m not like
it’s all what you make it.
I mean, it is.
But that’s someone else’s
line, not mine.
Not always.
Prevailing taste?
I’m here to show
whatever’s outside.

I’m like
This life is hard
when you go heart-to-the-wall,
no overcoat into
the hurricane of egos
crashing into each other
like thunderclouds,
throwing electricity in moments of passion
and flooding all the earth with tears.
When the hail hits
your soft unprotected parts
that bruise will hurt like hell.
But you’re tough – you
can take it. There’s this
secret chamber,
a heart inside your heart
where the raw storm energy
collects – only if the door is open.
And one day
when there’s something
you need to do
and there’s a wall or an army
or the Devil himself in your way,
you’ll go to this reservoir,
you’ll cast down your dipper,
and up will rise in you
like liquid starlight
the power that comes
from living life, only.
Your courage in facing
whatever tried to hold you down
becomes brilliance,
becomes boldness,
becomes beauty.