Political Poems

In the last thirty years of her life, Maxine Kumin bristled at being called “Roberta Frost” because it pegged her as primarily a poet who wrote lyrical nature poems. While it may be true that many of her themes evolved from her life on the farm, her life also included being a voracious reader of the news and keeping up with current world events. She read the New York Times, many news magazines, and watched the PBS News Hour every day that she could. Her world views were also informed by friends and family, especially a daughter who worked for the UNHCR (UN High Commissioner for Refugees).

In an interview conducted by Elizabeth Lund and printed in The Christian Science Monitor on April 15, 2008, Maxine is quoted as saying:

I’ve reached a point in life where it would be easy to let down my guard and write simple imagistic poems. But I don’t want to write poems that aren’t necessary. I want to write poems that matter, that have an interesting point of view.

Specifically in referring to her “Torture Poems” from Still to Mow, she admitted:

Twenty years ago, I thought Denise Levertov was wrong to write political poems, that she would lose her lyrical impulse. But I’ve changed my mind; I didn’t write my poems because I wanted to, they were wrung from me. I had to write them.

Torture Poems

The Torture Poems were first published in Still to Mow in 2007. Maxine revisited the subject in Where I Live and her final collection, And Short the Season. As Maxine stated in The Christian Science Monitor interview, she was deeply concerned that the country was turning “the clock back to the Middle Ages” and her outrage is clearly stated in these powerful poems.

  • Please Pay Attention as the Ethics Have Changed

    tagline, New Yorker cartoon, May 10, 2004

    Four hundred and seventeen pen-raised pheasants
    were rattled—think stick

    on a picket fence—into flight
    for the Vice President’s gun. And after that

    hundreds of pen-reared mallards
    were whooshed

    up to be killed
    by, among others, a Supreme Court Justice.

    Statistics provided by HSUS—
    the Humane Society of the United States.

    The exact number of ducks, however, is wanting—
    this is canned hunting.

    where you don’t stay to pluck
    the feathers, pull the innards out. Fuck

    all of that. You don’t do shit
    except shoot.

    But where is that other Humane Society, the one with rules
    we used to read aloud in school

    the one that takes away your license to collar
    and leash a naked prisoner

    the one that forbids you to sodomize
    a detainee before the cold eyes

    of your fellow MPs?
    When the pixie soldier says cheese

    for the camera who says please pay attention?
    The ethics have changed.

    Fuck the Geneva Convention.

    from Still to Mow, W.W. Norton, 2007

  • Extraordinary Rendition

    Only the oak and the beech hang onto their leaves
    at the end, the oak leaves bruised the color of those
    insurgent boys Iraqi policemen captured

    purpling their eyes and cheekbones before
    lining them up to testify to the Americans
    that, no, no, they had not been beaten. . . .

    The beech leaves dry to brown, a palette of cinnamon.
    They curl undefended, they have no stake in the outcome.
    Art redeems us from time, it has been written.

    Meanwhile we’ve exported stress positions, shackles,
    dog attacks, sleep deprivation, waterboarding.
    To rend: to tear (one’s garments or hair)

    in anguish or rage. To render: to give what is due
    or owed.
    The Pope’s message
    this Sunday is the spiritual value of suffering.

    Extraordinary how the sun come up
    with its rendition of daybreak,
    staining the sky with indifference.

    from Still to Mow, W.W. Norton, 2007

  • Entering Houses at Night

    None of us spoke their language and
    none of them spoke ours.
    We went in breaking down doors.

    They told us to force the whole scrum
    —men women kids—into one room.
    We went in punching kicking yelling out orders

    in our language, not theirs.
    The front of one little boy bloomed
    wet as we went in breaking down doors.

    Now it turns out that 80 percent
    of the ones in that sweep were innocent
    as we punched kicked yelled out orders.

    The way that we spun in that sweltering stink
    with handcuffs and blindfolds was rank.
    We went in breaking down doors.

    Was that the Pyrrhic moment when
    we herded the sobbing women with guns
    as punching kicking yelling out orders
    we went in breaking down doors?

    from Still to Mow, W.W. Norton, 2007

  • What You Do

    when nobody’s looking
    in the black sites what you do
    when nobody knows you
    are in there what you do

    when you’re in the black sites
    when you shackle them higher
    in there what you do
    when you kill by crucifixion

    when you shackle them higher
    are you still Christian
    when you kill by crucifixion
    when you ice the body

    are you still Christian
    when you wrap it is plastic
    when you ice the body
    when you swear it didn’t happen

    when you wrap it is plastic
    when the dossier’s been there
    when you swear it didn’t happen
    for over a year now

    when the dossier’s been there
    for the ghost prisoner
    for over a year now
    where nobody’s looking

    for the ghost prisoner
    when nobody knows what
    you do when you’re in there
    where nobody’s looking.

    from Still to Mow, W.W. Norton, 2007

  • The Beheadings

    The guillotine at least was swift. After
    the head pitched sideways into a basket
    and was raised to a thirsty crowd that roared
    approval of death from above, the sun turned
    a garish yellow and froze on the horizon
    raying out behind the jellied blood the way
    it once stood still over Jericho at Joshua’s command
    and the day held its breath. . . .

    After they sawed through Nicholas Berg’s neck
    with an inadequate knife while he screamed,
    after the heads of Daniel Pearl
    and Paul Johnson were detached
    in midthought, in terror but
    caught alive on a grainy video, what
    did their stored oxygen enable them to mouth,
    and Kim-Sun-il who danced his last lines
    declaiming over and over on worldwide television
    I don’t want to die what rose from his lips?

    It was always night behind the blindfold.
    Like bats in midflight at dusk
    scrolling their thread messages come
    words we can never capture, the soul
    perhaps flying out from whatever aperture?
    —a pox on belief in the soul!—and yet
    there’s no denying we are witness to
    something more than
    involuntary twitching going on

    the air filling with fleeing souls
    as it did in 1790, and filling again today
    this poem a paltry testimony
    to the nameless next and next—
    Turks, Bulgarians, Filipinos whose heads
    —severed, it is said the head retains
    several seconds of consciousness—
    will roll, reroll as in revolution
    a time of major crustal deformation
    when folds and faults are formed

    time enough, in several languages
    to recite a prayer, compose a grocery list
    as the day holds its breath.

    from Still to Mow, W.W. Norton, 2007

  • Waterboarding, Restored

                      Carol Houck Smith 1923-2008

    Let’s take this one out, my editor said,
    my wise old editor, who rarely invoked
    her privilege, two years from now
    (it takes that long to go from manuscript
    to print) no one will even remember
    the word
    . And so I did.

    It began:
    You’re thinking summer, theme parks,
    a giant plastic slide turquoise and pink,
    water streaming down its sinuous course
    and clots of screaming children pouring past
    in a state of ecstasy, while you sip gin
    and tonic with friends.

    Now under the shellac
    of euphemism they’re calling it
    enhanced interrogation.
    It follows on the heels of
    extraordinary rendition.
    Only the mockingbird is cleverer
    Warbling blithe lies from his tree.

    from Where I Live, New & Selected Poems 1990-2010, W.W. Norton, 2010

  • Old News

    Medic Recalls Detainee Chained to Cage
    Like laundry, draped in neat pentameter.

    He tended bullet wounds in the teenager’s
    Back twice daily in a five-foot square

    Crate at a U.S. lockup at Bagram.
    The Pentagon defended what was done

    To the chained and hooded prisoner
    As sanctioned punishment of young Khadr.

    The medic didn’t object; chaining was approved.
    He borrowed him to translate for other captives.

    He didn’t inquire how long they let him hang.
    Shackled, the boy soiled himself. Beatings.

    Threats of rape. Solitary. Prolonged cold.
    It only makes page 6. The news is old.

                                  The New York Times,
                                  May 4, 2010; July 11, 2008

    from And Short the Season, W.W. Norton, 2014

  • Red Tape and Kangaroo Courts I and II


    On this tropical refrigerated paved-over island
    where banana rats are rampant

    endangered species iguanas dine on
    McDonald’s and Subway discards

    and the list of things that are prohibited
    in the camps is itself prohibited

    —not Kafka but George Clarke, a tax lawyer
    working pro bono at Guantanamo

    where special clearance and special papers
    required to reach this “theater” are months in coming

    where Arabic-speaking inmates are pressed to serve
    with no skilled translators available

    and capital cases are heard with no
    capital defense attorneys allowed


    Soundproof glass between
    the accused and observers in the courtroom

    shields what cannot be said
    what must be interrupted if the detainees

    speak of the dark acts at the dark
    heart of what took place during their confinement:

    for interrogation they held his head in
    the toilet and flushed it over and over

    for hunger strike they forcefed him until he vomited, then
    fed him again until he vomited again

    and when he passed out, they doused him awake in a cell
    with a steel bunk, no mattress, no blanket

    if we don’t talk about the torture
    it never happened.

    The titles and key phrases embedded in these two Sonnets are excerpted from The Guantanamo Lawyers, Edited by Mark P. Denbeaux and Jonathan Hafetz (New York University Press, 2009).

    from And Short the Season, W.W. Norton, 2014

  • The Pre-Trial Confinement of Private Bradley Manning

    To drive a man to suicide you put
    Him on suicide watch, you take away
    His sheet and pillow, all his clothes except
    His underwear, you shine a light in day

    And night, you confiscate his eyeglasses,
    Then you deny that he’s in solitary.
    You say he lives in his own cell. Sightless.
    Each day he gets to walk around an empty

    Room for an hour. No pushups, no jogging in place.
    He’s not the first one held as an example.
    Amnesty reports it seeks redress
    As month by month both mind and body crumple.

    The Marines treat every detainee
    Firmly, fairly, and with dignity.

                                        The New York Times, January 26, 2011

    from And Short the Season, W.W. Norton, 2014

Social Injustice Poems

The Social (In)justice section below includes poems from the early ‘80’s to her final collection in 2014. Early on she was relating her experience as a young woman during World War II and the dropping of the A-Bombs and life under the threat of a future nuclear war. She touches on various subjects, some ripped straight from the headlines, such as capital punishment, genocide, child rebel soldiers, refugees, a Bulgarian revolutionary poet, and climate change.

  • Remembering Pearl Harbor at the Tutankhamen Exhibit

    Wearing the beard of divinity, King Tut
    hunts the hippopotamus of evil.
    He cruises the nether world on the back
    of a black leopard. And here he has put
    on his special pectoral, the one
    painted with granulated gold. This will
    adorn him as he crosses over.

                                                                I shuffle
    in line on December seventh to see
    how that royal departure took place.
    A cast of thousands is passing this way.
    No one looks up from the alabaster
    as jets crisscross overhead. Our breaths
    cloud the cases that lock in the gold
    and lapis lazuli.

                                                                The Day
    of infamy, Roosevelt called it. I was
    a young girl listening to the radio
    on a Sunday of hard weather. Probably
    not one in seven packed in these rooms
    goes back there with me.

    throughout this exhibit arranged
    by Nixon and Sadat as heads of state
    is an adamantine faith
    in total resurrection.
    Therefore the king is conveyed
    with a case for his heart
    and another magnificent
    hinged apparatus, far too small,
    for his intestines, all in place,
    all considered retrievable

    whereas if one is to be blown
    apart over land or water
    back into the Nothingness
    that precedes light, it is better
    to go with the simplest detail:
    a cross, a dogtag,
    a clamshell.

    from The Retrieval System, Viking/Penguin, 1978

  • How to Survive Nuclear War

             After reading Ibuse’s Black Rain

    Brought low in Kyoto,
    too sick with chills and fever
    to take the bullet train to Hiroshima,
    I am jolted out of this geography,
    pursued by Nazis, kidnapped, stranded
    when the dam bursts, my life
    always in someone else’s hands.
    Room service brings me tea and aspirin.

    This week the Holy Radish
    Festival, pure white daikons
    one foot long grace all the city’s shrines.
    Earlier, a celebration for the souls
    of insects farmers may have trampled on
    while bringing in the harvest.
    Now shall I repent?
    I kill to keep whatever
    pleases me. Last summer
    to save the raspberries
    I immolated hundreds of coppery
    Japanese beetles.

    In some respects,
    Ibuse tells me,
    radiation sickness is less
    terrible than cancer. The hair
    comes out in patches. Teeth
    break off like matchsticks
    at the gum line but the loss
    is painless. Burned skin itches,
    peels away in strips.
    Everywhere the black rain fell
    it stains the flesh like a tattoo
    but weeks later, when
    survivors must expel
    day by day in little pisses
    the membrane lining the bladder
    pain becomes an extreme grammar.

    I understand we did this.
    I understand
    we may do this again
    before it is done to us.
    In case it is thought of
    to do to us.

    Just now, the homage that
    I could not pay the irradiated dead
    gives rise to a dream.
    In it, a festival to mourn
    the ritual maiming of the ginkgo,
    pollarding that lops
    all natural growth
    from the tumorous stump
    years of pruning creates.
    I note that these faggots
    are burned. I observe that the smoke
    is swallowed with great ceremony.
    Thereupon every severed shoot
    comes back, takes on
    a human form, fan-shaped,
    ancient, all-knowing,
    tattered like us.

    This means
    we are all to be rescued.

    Though we eat animals
    and wear their skins,
    though we crack mountains
    and insert rockets in them

    this signifies
    we will burn and go up.
    We will be burned and come back.

    I wake naked, parched,
    my skin striped by sunlight.
    Under my window
    a line of old ginkgos hunkers down.
    The new sprouts that break from
    their armless shoulders are
    the enemies of despair.

    from The Long Approach, Viking, 1985

  • Photograph, U.S. Army Flying School, College Park, Maryland, 1909

    Wilbur Wright is racing the locomotive
    on the Baltimore and Ohio commuter line.
    The great iron horse hisses and hums on its rails
    but the frail dragonfly overhead appears to be winning.
    Soon we will have dog fights and the Red Baron.
    The firebombing of Dresden is still to come.
    And the first two A-bombs, all that there are.

    The afterburners of jets lie far in the future
    and the seeds of our last descendants, who knows,
    are they not yet stored in their pouches?

    from Nurture, Viking/Penguin, 1989

  • Identifying the Disappeared

    The exiles have returned from safe cold places
    with their resistance to forgetting, returned
    with brush and spoon, sieve and dustpan
    to bring back the bones of a child, which are become
    the bones of a nesting bird; the lip of a clavicle
    transformed into angel wings which want to be
    its mother; skulls for uncle, father, brother
    who soiled themselves and died in the Resistance.

    It is another day to walk about
    testing the earth for springy places to insert
    their tools, another day to see what the dead
    saw in that instant after the machete
    severed the critical artery,
    after the eye went milky and the soul
    flew away in horror and the flesh retreated
    in narrow strips, like ribbons, from the bone.

    The exiles have come back. They are breaking
    the sleep of earth, they are packing the dry shards
    of the disappeared in cardboard cartons
    Relief provides—wood is scarce here—
    and still they store up the names of the murderers
    who have put away their uniforms and persuasions
    under the landmine of respectability,
    the trigger, God willing, one day they will trip on.

    from The Long Marriage, W.W. Norton, 2001

  • Capital Punishment

    On the way to his death Benny Demps
    complained about what had happened
    backstage: when they couldn’t raise a vein
    in either arm they went to his groin
    which also refused to yield and then
    cut his leg open. It was bloody
    said the 10 o’clock news on TV
    but they finally made connection.

    We are shown only the flat
    uninhabited metal stretcher
    but as the black curtain oozed upward
    Benny went on calling for justice
    from his tidy blue-sheeted gurney
    demanding an investigation
    into the pain they had caused him
    the botch they had made of his exit.

    Now we are given pictures
    of victims in Sierra Leone.
    The thing about the machete
    is how quickly bone and gristle
    will dull it, how often
    you have to sit down and hone it
    to hack off those hundreds of limbs
    above or below the elbow.

    One village elder was spared his thumbs.
    On camera he holds out his arms
    to show us what you can do
    with two thumbs. Some
    of the armless dripping blood
    ran into the bush after their attackers
    crying, come back, I implore you!
    Come back and kill us, please kill us.

    The newscast goes blank. Silver
    streaks jitter across the screen
    which finally fills with merciful snow.
    Why are we shown mutilations
    and denied execution? I long
    to go back and hear out Benny Demps
    taxing this vengeful world of slash
    and burn and inject, I want

    to be there for the last act
    in his ruthless life, the scene
    we were not permitted to witness,
    his naïve six-minute diatribe
    against the state, the vitriol
    of his soliloquy running down
    like a windup toy:
    the gentleness of his exit.

    from The Long Marriage, W.W. Norton, 2001

  • Mulching

    Me in my bugproof netted headpiece kneeling
    to spread sodden newspapers between broccolis,
    corn sprouts, cabbages and four kinds of beans,

    prostrate before old suicide bombings, starvation,
    AIDS, earthquakes, the unforeseen tsunami,
    front-page photographs of lines of people

    with everything they own heaped on their heads,
    the rich assortment of birds trilling on all
    sides of my forest garden, the exhortations

    of commencement speakers at local colleges,
    the first torture revelations under my palms
    and I a helpless citizen of a country

    I used to love, who as a child wept when
    the brisk police band bugled Hat’s off! The flag
    is passing by
    , now that every wanton deed

    in this stack of newsprint is heartbreak,
    my blackened fingers can only root in dirt,
    turning up industrious earthworms, bits

    of unreclaimed eggshells, wanting to ask
    the earth to take my unquiet spirit,
    bury it deep, make compost of it.

    from Still to Mow, W.W. Norton, 2007

  • On Reading The Age of Innocence in a Troubled Time

    I read this curious Victorian novel
    in the suspended bliss of a mid-July night.
    Moths storm the screen, longing to plaster
    their frail dust against the single bulb
    that lights my page. It’s 1870,
    Old New York. Under the orange tree
    Newland Archer kisses his fiancée,
    May Welland, for only the second time
    in their prescribed courtship and presses down
    too hard in his ardor. As Edith Wharton tells it,
    the blood rose to her face and she
    drew back as if he had startled her.

    Reading in bed before sleep, the luxury
    of entering another world as if from above. . . .
    I set it against the realities
    of the breakfast table’s news. Today
    the New York Times unravels
    the story of Mukhtaran Bibi, a Pakistani
    woman who was raped as retribution
    for something her younger brother
    was said to have done, while the tribesmen
    danced for joy. Gang rape. The definition,
    several attackers in rapid succession,
    in no way conveys the fervor,
    the male gutturals, the raw juice as
    the treasured porcelain of her vagina
    was shattered. Splintered again and again.
    And after, to be jeered at.
    The shame of it.

    What could Wharton’s good virgin say
    to this illiterate, courageous survivor
    who dared to press charges?

                — As if in her day
    there were no tender girls turned prostitutes,
    no desperate immigrants, no used-up carthorses
    beaten to the pavement, their corpses
    ravaged by dogs in Old New York. Look away,
    May Welland! Turn aside as best you can.
    Even defended from life on the streets,
    from all that was turbulent, ragged and rough,
    even unacknowledged, May, history repeats.
    You must have seen enough.

    from Still to Mow, W.W. Norton, 2007

  • The Map of Need

    On my laptop, terse as a police log,
    the monthly list of where
    the equine investigator’s gone

                   and in my lap, a catalog
                   of child amputees, photos where
                   the darling arm is gone,

                             the perps mere boys who brag
                             they’re rebel soldiers now, Sierr-
                             a Leonans, machete-clad for lack of guns.

    How can it matter, then, a dozen
    Horses underweight? No water
    no shelter, winter coming?

                   Zambia. Dozens on dusty dozens
                   in line for food and bottled water.
                   When is the shipment coming?

                             Through zoom lenses CNN pans
                             Babies at breasts empty of milk, whether
                             the shipment will really come. . . .

    December. Three horses barely able to stand
    —even the hard-nosed sheriff concurs—
    are trailered to hay, water, welcome.

                   Relief work’s always moment to moment.
                   How wide is the map of need? Measure
                   the bellies enlarged on bark and roots, the maimed,

                             in the merciless heat and yet it soldiers on,
                             this rage, this will to live consumes, abides
                             wherever flesh is: everyone.

    from Still to Mow, W.W. Norton, 2007

  • Revisionist History: The British Uganda Program of 1903

    A paradise in Africa?
    How generous of the British
    to offer a new Jerusalem
    to the conference of Zionists,

    an ample chunk of fertile land
    to plow and plant, that the wandering
    Jews might wander no more.

    Dispatched, the three-man delegation
    returned wild-eyed with tales
    of lions, leopards, elephants
    roaming the yellow veldt at will.

    Also a warrior tribe, the Masai,
    handsome as statues, whose cattle, given
    to them by God, are their Torah.

    In the words of Theodor Herzl:
    The natives are to be gently
    persuaded to move to other lands.

    So far, this is history.

              But what if the Masai,
              Proud lion hunters, laid down
              their spears, became willing partners?

    First a trickle, then a torrent.
    They came with wheelbarrows, seeds and hoes.
    The proud Masai helped gather cow patties,
    watched as these Jewish blacksmiths and tailors

    devoutly turned them under the soil,
    watched as grasslands gave way to gardens
    heavy with peas, cabbages, melon.

              What if the Jews grew browner,
              the Masai grew paler until
              the plateau was all café au lait?

    To fatten the cattle the Jew raised alfalfa.
    The Tribe of Masai ate eggplants and greens.
    They blessed each other’s Torahs. Amen.
    The wandering Jews wandered no more.

    from Still to Mow, W.W. Norton, 2007

  • With William Meredith in Bulgaria

    In the grim days of Zhivkov, President for Life,
    you and I flew to Sofia in an old Russian Tupelov
    where everyone smoked and coughed and spat
    and over each window hung a little box marked
    in English and Cyrillic in case of emergency
    safety rope
    . Laughing, we said sky hook, but when
    on landing they took away our passports and return
    tickets, fear whistled down my throat. You,

    ever equable, assured me that as our country’s
    goodwill ambassadors at the harvest festival
    to honor Nikola Vaptsarov, we were safe as sunrise.
    Vaptsar, they called him, this war-hero poet
    and factory machinist martyred in the Resistance.
    Homegrown fascists dispatched him in 1942
    but not before he flung the plume of revolution
    at them. He survives as a park, boulevard, museum.

    They bused us into his beloved mountains
    where girls with fruit and flowers offered
    ripe pears the size of platters, so succulent
    that one bite sluiced our chins. Everyone
    in peasant dress, all reds and greens, and endless
    speeches. No one mentioned Vaptsarov’s life story,
    how his countrymen had hung him upside down
    for hours and beaten him with rifle butts

    before they assembled the firing squad. Because
    you were gay and in the closet (this was the seventies)
    you leaned your shoulder against mine in public
    and squeezed my hand to stay awake through the rhetoric.
    Nightly your new artist buddy Misha
    hoped to be invited to your college.
    Nightly we three drank to this with slivovitz
    and Ludmilla, our interpreter, who did not drink,

    who once had served for the Lord Mayor of London
    and wanted help with amerikanski slang, raised
    a dry glass. They took her from us the fourth day,
    I said it was because we’d been too friendly.
    You disagreed. Misha pulled away and fell silent.
    Two more days of speeches, nights of parties
    and then the hairpin turns back down the mountains
    made queasier by hangover. The firing squad.

    And then the worms, Nikola wrote the night before
    his execution. I fell. Someone else will take my place.
    Balkan Airlines’ engines throbbed, the door
    was latched, we had already fastened our seatbelts
    but how could we go? Sit tight, you said,
    as if we could do anything else. The plane pulsed
    angrily. The heavy seal gave way, a functionary galloped
    down the aisle restoring our identities, our passports.

    from Where I live, New & Selected Poems 1990-2010, W.W. Norton, 2010

  • Going Down

    They call it climigration, these
    experts on vast shoreline loss
    and islands swept by rising seas.

    So far it’s minimal. In Papua
    New Guinea, a string of seven atolls
    are awash. Three thousand souls

    are being relocated to a
    famous island, Bougainville,
    wrested from Japan in World War II.

    The tundra that protects the Eskimo
    village of Newtok from the Bering Sea
    is gradually eroding as the glue

    of permafrost beneath it thaws
    and arctic water levels rise.
    They’re going down and so

    are all the rest of us—
    Florida to Bangladesh
    Malaysia to Manhattan

    where lamplit Central Park will lurch
    with Lady Liberty, her torch
    aloft, Chinatown, Hell’s Kitchen,

    SoHo, Harlem, and the Bronx
    into the Atlantic Ocean.
    Despite outcries of purest angst

    dikes won’t save the playing field
    so blow a kiss to this drowned world.
    The gods have spoken: yield.

    from And Short the Season, W.W. Norton, 2014

  • Just Deserts

    It is agreed that life as we know it must come to the end of its tether
    by global warming or nuclear winter or whatever

    seizure befalls nor will it be humans who watch the sun’s demise
    as it sucks Earth, Mars, and Venus inside

    itself before it collapses from red giant to white dwarf
    and we, supreme products of Darwinian selection, will have morphed

    into what? going backward, perhaps, to the amoebae we arose
    from more than four billion years ago

    up from the cave drawings at Lascaux
    from the slaughter of bison and passenger pigeons

    from Hiroshima and Nagasaki to lie eyes open
    in Keat’s unslumbrous night.

    For however long it takes it will serve us right.

    from And Short the Season, W.W. Norton, 2014

  • This One

    The setting: moonless, pricked apart by stars.
    On the grassy napkin in front of the State House
    a threesome with tripods and telescopes.

    Two guys loping across from the local pub
    stop in midstride. Yeah, says the younger,
    You better be lookin’ for a new planet

    ‘cause this one’s fucked.

    from And Short the Season, W.W. Norton, 2014