POEM LXXVIII: “OSMAN I”

A six-year siege is hard on the eyes.
You spend so much time
standing and squinting through wavy summer air
and flurries of snow
trying to discern movements in, movements out.
New points of vulnerability.
(There are never any new points of vulnerability.)

It’s hard on the stomach, as well.
You eat the same food the soldiers eat,
because you have to set an example,
but soldiers eat extraordinary amounts of meat.
You long for oranges, and raisins, and tea.

A six-year siege is hard on the mind.
You go over and over and over it again.
How are they still alive?
Have our tacticians grown complacent?
Is there an end in sight?

Sometimes, you wonder if the city is even real.
Or just a shimmering mirage
against which you have been pitting all your energy for years.

So when it falls,
if indeed a mirage can really fall,
the news comes to you like the ending of a play;
a faint amusement, a sated curiosity,
before you rise and shuffle out into the night.

POEM LXXVII: “NACHTHEXEN”

Here’s a secret to winning war:

You don’t need to be the fastest.
You don’t need to be the biggest.
You don’t need to have the best equipment.
You also don’t need aluminum wings,
an engine larger than a lawnmower’s,
guns,
or parachutes.

Here’s what you do need:

An engine so weak and cold it won’t show up on infrared.
Canvas wings so ancient they don’t reflect radar.
A speed so slow that, in turning,
you can stall out every other fighter in the sky.

And a woman so brave that she will bet these weaknesses
against every other country’s strength
sixteen times a night.

So dedicated that she will lay on the wings of that plane in a snowstorm
for twelve hours at 54 degrees below zero
to keep the winds from overturning her plane.

So selfless that she will draw spotlights and fire
in the slowest plane in the skies
so another in her regiment can slip in unseen.

And so daring that when she approaches her target,
she will cut her own engine and glide,
so as not to be heard.

Imagine that moment
the slow thwacketa-thwacketa of the engine coming to a stop
the whistling in the wires of the wing braces.
The night air is cold and fresh.
Everything is peaceful.
A secret is in that silence.

Listen.

POEM LXXVI: “JIM DUGGAN AND HOSSEIN VAZIRI”

This is how success in America works.
First, take the place you came from.
What’s that you said? Really? God, what a nightmare.
We can work with that.
Is there a costume?
Good. Bring it in.
Can you play it up a bit?
More.
Good—that’s good. Now, you’re gonna get spat on.
A lot.
This is part of the job.
You might need to think about getting a bodyguard for the parking lots.
You might need to think about making your kids stay at home.
You might need to think about a lot of things,
when you’re standing there in the middle of the ring,
giving Americans something to spit at.

Now, you—you’re going to have a different angle.
You’ll be the flip side,
endlessly beset upon by dark forces.
Grab something to defend yourself with—I’m not kidding, by the way.
You’re not immune,
just insulated.
Just like America, if you think about it.
Try not to think about it too much.
Most of the time, the parking lot will be easier for you.
Most of the time, you won’t resent the audience.
Most of the time, you won’t wonder what the fuck you’re doing here,
getting hurt again and again and again,
giving Americans something to cheer for.

But here’s the thing about America:
it’s full of Americans.
And Americans know something about getting up every morning and playing a role.
Deciding to be the person
that the people around them need,
instead of the person they were back in the old country
of dreams and nightmares.
Telling themselves that every minute is bearable.
Working through the pain,
only to discover that when their work is done,
they haven’t made enough money
to fix the shattered knee,
the torn cartilage,
the hamburger that used to be a shoulder
before it got fed into the machine
called America.

Americans can see that pain in anyone,
and they will love you for it,
no matter who you used to be.

And that’s how success works,
in this bitch of a country
full of beautiful people.

It breaks your back.
It makes you humble.

POEM LXXV: “SARAH AND ANGELINA GRIMKE”

There is a special misery
in being born ahead of your time
able to perceive a reality
several hundred years
before the world puts a name to it.

Used to be,
the single woman
who found herself in this unenviable position
was burnt as a witch.

But two are harder to try,
harder still when they are white and rich and can argue like lawyers,
even though they were stuck arguing
hermeneutics;
last refuge of every village idiot.

Still, they gamely took the arena,
and, fighting back-to-back,
managed to piss off even the Quakers;
an accomplishment in any era.

When your opponent starts talking about
a woman’s place
her modesty
her sphere in the home
that’s when you know you’ve got him on the ropes
and it’s time to start working the head and jaw.

And as you punch,
you think about all the women you’re doing this for.
The women who can’t,
because they’re somewhere in a hot land,
bent over the work that will eventually kill them.
You keep swinging for them, because their fate is tied up with your own.

This is what’s called “intersectionality”
and if we still haven’t quite gotten the message,
it’s because a woman’s work is never done.

So here are your gloves.
Tie them up tight.

Your turn.

POEM LXXIV: “RASPUTIN”

Nature abhors a vacuum
and there’s no vacuum quite like the mind
of an aristocrat.

All sorts of flotsam and jetsam
swirl around royalty,
like trash around a storm drain.

Astologers, faith healers, experts in palmistry.
People who claim to pull the toxins out of your body through your feet.
Advisors and feng shui consultants and svengalis of all sorts.

The ugliest creatures in a dictator’s menagerie are frequently those at the periphery,
as any amateur student of the Third Reich can tell you—
but pay attention, kids, because history isn’t done with us

You think Tsarina Alexandra was a fool to listen
to a wild-eyed faith healer—
but Prince Charles thinks that water has memory,
and can retain the “healing powers”
of a tincture at 14 parts per billion.

Only inefficacy and an overwhelming interest in gardens and polo—
rather than, say, genocide and torture—
keeps Charles harmless, a doddering family embarrassment at best.

But watch who hangs out around him.
Every unelected ruler longs to believe in magic,
for magic is the only thing keeping him afloat.

Of course, the stars determine one’s position.
Certainly, crystals can heal.
There can be no doubt that the prayer is working.
Pay no mind to the mob at your door.

Close your eyes.
Listen only to me.
The world outside is getting very quiet.
On the count of three—

POEM LXXIII: “CHARLES NELSON REILLY”

At age thirteen, he walked out of a circus inferno.
Things only got weirder from there.

When you deliver the truth slant
everyone thinks you’re joking.

So sure, he was an opera singer.
(Darling.)
He made training videos for the Coast Guard.
(He has the uniform and everything, sooo many medals.)
He works on Broadway and doesn’t ever sit in audiences.
(The view is so much better from the back, don’t you know.)

“I never hid who I was,” he said,
and that was true;
he sat in plain view,
upper right-hand corner,
openly fucking with us,
and nobody said a word,
because a slantwise truth
makes its teller invincible.

So who’s to say he can’t eat coal and shit diamonds?

Stranger things have happened
in his lifetime.

POEM LXXII: “BONO”

“You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.”
–Harvey Dent, “The Dark Knight”

The cracks started to show
around “All That You Can’t Leave Behind.”

If I’m honest, their last good album
was probably one or two before that.
But that’s still my favorite,
terrible title and all,
because it was the last time you could really hear the boy,
the last time he could even hear himself.

In that keening yodel,
you can hear something unleashed, soaring in a high parabola
a barn swallow braving the realm of hawks.

It is a voice only a poor boy could develop
even though by then he was singing about a rich man’s concerns:
getting a place in New York
dealing with a midlife crisis.

It’s never good to look your heroes too deep in the eye
and thankfully,
Paul Hewson has never let us.

From the name to the sunglasses to the alter egos
he’s always appeared to us through a screen,
a color filter,
sixty glaring TV monitors
stacked up the back of the stage wall.

And if we think we see through him, now,
it’s worth considering
that maybe we are simply inside the fishbowl, too,
aging alongside Bono,
hemmed in by our own comfort,
and the boy we miss in him
(fist in the air, triumphant, screaming)
is just the distorted memory of ourselves
passing outside the glass,
a shadow rippling and blue with time.

“And that, I think, was the handle—that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old and Evil. Not in any mean or military sense; we didn’t need that. Our energy would simply prevail. There was no point in fighting—on our side or theirs. We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave….
So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark—that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.”
–Hunter S. Thompson, “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas”