"Learning to Suffer," "Forced Intentions," and "Counting"

Learning to Suffer

Open the gates in the city walls
we must get out to tend our
fields, we must cut trees, dig
peat, practice our trades and
walk and run in the sun and shade.
Even if we risk the plague.
After a year in here, we're tired
let us out, we can't breathe, we know:
If we go out, the plague comes in
but it's like a prison in here
provisions low
chocolate gone.
Prison, have you been in prison?
What is a year in prison, or an in-
definite period, is your mind free
or trapped in a let-me-out cycle,
is it really so great out there
in the wasteland?
What have we learned, what could we have learned?
This is education, this is looking inside, finding
weakness and disappointment -- I can
make it through, I am through -- not to mention
our human tendency toward self-mutilation, even suicide --
oh, I wasn't meant to say that word.
The third greatest killer among
young adults (old adults having already failed)
and now in lockdown the numbers drop
as we in suspension drop
we float as in an ocean alone
we drop off ...
But the instinct to open
that door towards freedom
and doom -- that's hard to resist.
Especially, since it leads
as we already know
to the inescapable black hole called abyss.



Forced Intentions

I picked a brown moth off the curtain
held it one second to open the window
and see ya --
in that one second I felt the softness
of its wings as it struggled in my fist
but I liked how it felt, a bit
fuzzy, delicate, warm.
The police in my country are on
the warpath, going into the neighbor-
hoods to teach those black boys and men
a lesson --
mess with us you get shot, don't
mess with us you still get shot
you got guns so do we -- military grade --
and when we shoot nothing happens
to us -- impunity.
The in here, the out there
the both or the in between
glad I'm not a black man or a cop
white privilege so embarrassing
but safe, so far, except that now
we got the virus that's laughing
like a devil at who, when, why.
the moth indoors
needs not a good squashing
but a gentle let-out
mercy please
for all
sentient beings
before it's too late
for us
to heal.




If the matrix is really running
everything and some can see
another dimension of reality
they can lead us to break through
into a new better existence where
like levels of dreams within dreams
or blindfolded multi-tier chess
with freely moving pieces
we can escape from here to go
up or down, in or out
to explore endless scenarios
never satisfied or back home
yet aware, finally aware
that the world we create
is not necessarily the one
the nightmares and ecstasy
fold over one another
like the numbers on the
Karlsson flip clock that change
rise fall or remain the same
telling us nothing
marking so much nothing
1 nothing, 100 nothing, 1 million nothing.
not the national debt
the current body count
or Jeff Bezos' superwealth
minutes left until extinction
not quality nor quantity
of sexual encounters
or anything else.
I'm counting all the times
I'm counting all
in numerical order
base 10 system
this will help
will this help
set things right
it could not hurt
I'm counting on it.



E. Martin Pedersen

E. Martin Pedersen, originally from San Francisco, has lived for over forty years in eastern Sicily, where he taught English at the local university. His poetry appeared most recently in Avatar Review, Canyon Voices, Slab, SurVision, and Helix Literary Magazine, among others. Martin is an alumnus of the Community of Writers. He has published two collections of haiku, Bitter Pills and Smart Pills, and a chapbook, Exile's Choice, from Kelsay Books. A full collection, Method & Madness, is forthcoming from Odyssey Press. He recommends the Pacific Crest Trail Association.


Edited for Unlikely by Jonathan Penton, Editor-in-Chief
Last revised on Thursday, February 9, 2023 - 22:01