Well, we enlarge the grown-up table for
the far-flung fragments of our Family.
Here’s our current Winter spent in agony,
here’s our disrespected Sister, here is War
that mushrooms undiminished, glibly tears
our global Soul to slivers. And here We are;
and here’s a Brute beside us so bizarre
that nearly nothing else we’ve known compares—
as if we’d acceded to some greater Hell.
Ah, but here’s what’s left of human Dignity.
Seated here’s Resolve to trample Travesty.
But there’s our Greatest Fear that’s hard to quell….
Hey, this isn’t fatalistic Falderal!
We must make sure the table’s set for All.
—first published in Writers Resist (May 3, 2018)
—for Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School,
Parkland, (Fucking) Florida
Fourteen chairs loiter, emptied, no young bodies
adjusting for the next lesson, hand-raising,
class-clown antic, contemplative talk, pat show
of teen contempt, rhythm beaten with pencil, palm,
bouncing knee, jouncing heal, wise-crack, step
in the impossible problem never to be solved.
Instead, more of the same news, the same vows
taxiing the hellish hallways of feigned intention
but never taking off—the same dazed moments
of the dead. Perhaps their freed spirits now see
through the coal-black tunnel of some eternity
right into the next school’s beehive of victims.
Perhaps they still shadow their three steady mentors
who stood staunch ground in the slow-motion flow
of high-speed ammo. The clip of names shoots holes
clean through law’s callous gut—
Aaron, Helena, and Alex,
Carmen, Peter, Cara, Chris, and Meadow,
Scott, Alaina, Martin, Alyssa, and Nick,
Jamie, Luke, Gina, and “Guac” Joaquin—
whose roll call
claims only an absurd third of a minute, while
their totaled lives witnessed nearly 5 thousand
wheels of the moon through some 75 trillion miles.
But unlike the pull of that implacable moon,
the glib fever of ‘prayers and condolences’ can’t
turn the tide of memory’s radiating its fixed
fissures scored by shards of glass and bone.
Here, we’re left to settle the moonscape of Too Late
for those whose expelled footsteps befuddle us.
And lauding immortality soothes no better. We
know we relax at our children’s peril, run rash risk
of shoring up the open/closed-carry-frenzied fight,
take false hope in the bundles of white-washed bills.
Anthony Borges took five bullets to shield twenty
surviving friends, sacrificed his soccer stardom
because somehow he knew what he had to do.
His lacerated back and shattered femur scream
in a language we now must teach across America.
—first published in Bullets into Bells (July 10, 2018)
The tragedy of profit is sexy,
the campus or supermarket a web
of tentacles. We endeavor to breathe, yes,
protest with an elbow here, fresh petals
or a nylon rope there, but our inheritance
is a fake. It might as well be a beggar
you discover playing cello with a hairbrush,
each movement mysterious but then again
predictable. Yesterday, in the divide
between our planet and our honeyed being
a chorus of insolent windows reflected
six shades of flags that only the valley
of the shadow of laughter would engender.
The noise came alive with the spirit of labor,
but it too was just another gesture, another page
poised on the cliffs of state. Better, practiced
scavenging. Better, craning your zippered neck.
Better, squeezing sunlight for a drink or burn.
Recently retired from nearly 40 years of teaching college writing, literature, and peace studies, D. R. James lives, vegges, writes, bird-watches, and cycles with his psychotherapist wife in the woods near Saugatuck, Michigan. His latest of ten collections are Mobius Trip and Flip Requiem (Dos Madres Press, 2021, 2020), and his prose and poems have appeared internationally in a wide variety of print and online anthologies and journals.