Running Orders

Here’s a poem, apropos of our times, from co-founder of the Institute for Middle East Understanding, Lena Khalaf Tuffaha.

Running Orders

They call us now.
Before they drop the bombs.
The phone rings
and someone who knows my first name
calls and says in perfect Arabic
“This is David.”
And in my stupor of sonic booms and glass shattering symphonies
still smashing around in my head
I think “Do I know any Davids in Gaza?”
They call us now to say
You have 58 seconds from the end of this message.
Your house is next.
They think of it as some kind of
war time courtesy.
It doesn’t matter that
there is nowhere to run to.
It means nothing that the borders are closed
and your papers are worthless
and mark you only for a life sentence
in this prison by the sea
and the alleyways are narrow
and there are more human lives
packed one against the other
more than any other place on earth
Just run.
We aren’t trying to kill you.
It doesn’t matter that
you can’t call us back to tell us
the people we claim to want aren’t in your house
that there’s no one here
except you and your children
who were cheering for Argentina
sharing the last loaf of bread for this week
counting candles left in case the power goes out.
It doesn’t matter that you have children.
You live in the wrong place
and now is your chance to run
to nowhere.
It doesn’t matter
that 58 seconds isn’t long enough
to find your wedding album
or your son’s favorite blanket
or your daughter’s almost completed college application
or your shoes
or to gather everyone in the house.
It doesn’t matter what you had planned.
It doesn’t matter who you are
Prove you’re human.
Prove you stand on two legs.

this looks like a nice area

it sounded more like a compliment
than an inquiry

i felt uneasy

no gangs? he asked

and i’m thinking

no, not really – are you joking?

and then i’m imagining menacing groups of teenage boys in do-rags
through the streets of
the gracefield subdivision

i tell him
no, not really, but of course they’re kind of everywhere

i’m trying to say that we’re all the same
and that nobody is really secure
and that

well, also, gangsters are just people
i mean, if they were around here
i wouldn’t be
uh, terrified, or anything

i drive through some pretty
rough neighborhoods
every day

hey – it may look like we’re doing well
but i’m not like the rest of these people

it’s just good luck at the moment
and it could change

i wonder where he lives
and what it’s like there
but i don’t ask


at his own hands

you people

i don’t know what to say to you

you expect some sort of

or insight concerning my state
of mind

at the time

you can talk all you want
about cries for help
brain chemistry or
family history

and some things being overdetermined

but i swear
to christ

some days i am just

disgusted with you
disgusted with myself

with this world…

but, honestly
mostly with you

the tree of libertarians

god forbid
we should ever be
twenty minutes without some grey haired white guy
casting swine before pearls

the people
cannot be all, and always
well informed

am i right?



you have the right to
remain silent

and pardon my pacifier

but the blood of tyrants
will not be shed
by your update on facebook


empty feeder sways
over the backyard terrace
birds have flown away

In November, We Remember

Red November, Back November
by Ralph Chaplin

Red November, black November,
Bleak November, black and red.
Hallowed month of labor’s martyrs,
Labor’s heroes, labor’s dead.

Labor’s wrath and hope and sorrow,
Red the promise, black the threat,
Who are we not to remember?
Who are we to dare forget?

Black and red the colors blended,
Black and red the pledge we made,
Red until the fight is ended,
Black until the debt is paid.

In memory of the Haymarket Martyrs, who were executed by the State of Illinois in November of 1887.

sunday night

i look up to the heavens sunday night
if there’s a star up there to wish on
i don’t see it

if there’s a prayer
or an incantation
i don’t
know it

if there’s a reason
to believe

in anything

i suppose i believe
in leaving
well enough alone

i solemnly swear
or affirm

i swear

it’s not the tragedies that
kill us

it’s the paper

that awkward thing

that awkward thing where
the woman who calls you her husband
reaches for your hand and tries to interlace fingers
she never does that – not in all these years
and it’s like somebody just tried to hand you a spider or
a bucket of something repulsive
and you pull your hand away and shudder


was that out loud?

also, you’re in the same mall
where you strolled with your lover
just days ago
fingers interlaced

where you had your picture taken in one of those
coin-op photo booth things with the curtain

you still carry the pictures
of smiles and passionate kisses
in your wallet

and you’re coming upon the photo booth now

and the woman who calls you her husband
suddenly gets this great idea

If It Be Dark

If Candlemas Day be fair and bright,

Winter will have another flight;

But if it be dark with clouds and rain,

Winter is gone, and will not come again.

One of my favorite days of the year, Feburary 2nd is a cross-quarter day, falling between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. It brings the hope of renewal, the coming of light. Catholics celebrate it as the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord. In our tradition, candles are blessed and distributed. In some cultures it also marks the end of Christmastime.

In Celtic tradition, it is Imbolc, the feast of the lactating ewes – again, a celebration of hope for Spring to come.

…and of course it was the Germans settling in Pennsylvania who brought the tradition of Groundhog Day to the United States.

Garrison Keillor offered a succinct history on The Writer’s Almanac a few years back.

It is cloudy and foggy here in East-Central Illinois this morning. Dare we hope that Winter is gone?

UPDATE: Bright sunshine here now…

don’t walk – walk

he stands
against a gray sky


it’s loose gravel underfoot
remember one thing
you remember

and then the thing you wanted to forget

the bitter wind
chafes his cheeks

collar raised and
face set

he steps toward the abyss

A Curse For Kings

A curse upon each king who leads his state,
No matter what his plea, to this foul game,
And may it end his wicked dynasty,
And may he die in exile and black shame.

If there is vengeance in the Heaven of Heavens,
What punishment could Heaven devise for these
Who fill the rivers of the world with dead,
And turn their murderers loose on all the seas!

Put back the clock of time a thousand years,
And make our Europe, once the world’s proud Queen,
A shrieking strumpet, furious fratricide,
Eater of entrails, wallowing obscene

In pits where millions foam and rave and bark,
Mad dogs and idiots, thrice drunk with strife;
While Science towers above;–a witch, red-winged:
Science we looked to for the light of life,

Curse me the men who make and sell iron ships
Who walk the floor in thought, that they may find
Each powder prompt, each steel with fearful edge,
Each deadliest device against mankind.

Curse me the sleek lords with their plumes and spurs,
May Heaven give their land to peasant spades,
Give them the brand of Cain, for their pride’s sake,
And felon’s stripes for medals and for braids.

Curse me the fiddling, twiddling diplomats,
Haggling here, plotting and hatching there,
Who make the kind world but their game of cards,
Till millions die at turning of a hair.

What punishment will Heaven devise for these
Who win by others’ sweat and hardihood,
Who make men into stinking vultures’ meat,
Saying to evil still “Be thou my good”?

Ah, he who starts a million souls toward death
Should burn in utmost hell a million years!
–Mothers of men go on the destined wrack
To give them life, with anguish and with tears:–

Are all those childbed sorrows sneered away?
Yea, fools laugh at the humble christenings,
And cradle-joys are mocked of the fat lords:
These mothers’ sons made dead men for the Kings!

All in the name of this or that grim flag,
No angel-flags in all the rag-array–
Banners the demons love, and all Hell sings
And plays wild harps. Those flags march forth to-day!

– Vachel Lindsay (1915)