Ode to Slippers in Times
of Homeland Security
Mo-ca-zee-nin to the Ojibway,
mukluks to the Eskimo,
handmade fleece lined sheepskin slippers
to the shopkeeper—cheap at sixty dollars.
Cradles of comfort to my feet
collected in an ordinary day.
I never travel without them.
The Feds, after elections,
pumped extra money
to the red states
for "Homeland Security,"
twenty to thirty extra people employed
in every small town airport
are eager to keep their jobs at
the metal detectors and
The Walla Walla
informs us we’ve been chosen,
perhaps she said selected,
for the deep search
into the shoes, the pat down
over the body, a scrutiny of driver’s license,
and her partner, who also
does not know us,
looks around with such fury:
I have a post office box on my license.
“WHAT IS YOUR PHYSICAL ADDRESS?!”
I explain New York
does not require
physical addresses, that if he tried to find
fire number P-18 on the apple tree
on Grove Road,
Fed Ex can’t do it, UPS can’t do it.
He scribbles it into his black book,
hands back the license with such
disdain, I wonder if it’s us
or the life-style he imagines
we have that he despises.
At the luggage wheel, upon arriving,
we find the book bag
completely torn apart, the zipper
a mass of spaghetti, beyond repair.
In the smaller bag the slippers,
benign cozy artifacts,
have been carefully
slit along the entire sole.
Searching for what—a car bomb?
A diamond mine, a kilo
When the x-ray machine had
shown him nothing
what had he been looking for
with his precise vivisection,
his dismemberment of an object
whose sole attraction
was its evident value to the owner?
Come here, little girl.
Let me smash your dolly’s head
against the wall.
See how the eyes pop out?
That’s how things are done.
Now follow along quietly
you stand in line.
The third bag, not on the wheel at all,
showed up the following
at the improbable fire number P 18
on the apple tree, on Grove
only the lining
had been destroyed.
Eastern C.F., New York, April 2005.
Ice Boom America
I wait for that day in the Almanac
the sun feels warm to the lumberjacks
the ground it thaws and the ice it cracks,
the time we’ll take our country back.
The Ice Boom, a necklace of steel cylinders
strung at the eastern end of Lake Erie,
the ice chunks from pummeling down the Niagara
damaging docks and the power plant.
A joint effort by Canada
and United States,
the Ice Boom
is dropped into place after winter solstice,
and pulled out again in early spring.
Whatever ice is left in Lake Erie
or flows downriver without mishap inside two weeks:
hands across the border join to benefit all people.
In 1972 I was traveling east through the Andes
in rainy season, a journey they said would take
“anywhere from twelve hours to two weeks.”
One way traffic east on odd days, one way west on even,
a single line of overloaded trucks and buses snaked its
across precipices to the first washout. The roiling
had taken over and there was no road, just
a water channel three feet deep. The people got down
from the buses and trucks, they got to work bringing
stones and boulders, building a makeshift bridge
in the current, nobody’s legs dry below the knees.
A hundred men and women hauled stone, piled it
loosely so the water passed through,
until the line leader said he’d try it.
The top-heavy truck with the scarlet pompoms
and God is My
Power on the grill
creaked forward. Four hundred sets of eyes
willed and pushed him on.
He faltered, almost bottomed out,
then clawed his way up the far bank, the crowd
roared over him with one voice, our arms raised in
We were a people bridge then, hand over hand crossing
on foot so the empty buses had a better purchase,
all trousers and skirts soaked up to the thighs,
all babies and children were handed and carried
to the far bank, and we made it,
and behind us the others, the brightly painted buses
and ancient semis groaning slowly down the hill,
and that is how it worked, the power of people.
The ice arched up at the mouth of the Niagara
melts or bobbles downstream, and no one is hurt.
Now think of the glacial freeze
over the hearts and minds of America:
The Condoleeza Rice igloo, the black ice verdugos—
Gonzalez and Negroponte—their shadows
rising behind them like torture racks over Honduras
and Abu Graib. Think of us as a people
lulled into a cryogenic sleep by TV, suspended
like Walt Disney in his ice cube under Disney World.
How can we get our country back
from the ice blocks and floes of corporate fists?
How can we break up the freeze on democracy,
bought and stolen through voting booths,
our gaze hypnotized by the media away from the unholy
and the hundred thousand dead, from Hitlerian tactics
of the emperor nobody wants to acknowledge
as their elected president? How can we unfreeze
the freedoms we’re supposed to have?
Wake up America!
The ice boom has been removed
like cataracts from a sightless nation,
the water is running free.
We can unthaw the airwaves, we can hammer away
at the ice gates of Valhalla, we
the frozen mammoth of greed to the ground,
we can point to the weapons of unspent uranium
maiming generations of Iraqis and our own soldiers
We can raise our voice like the folks at the river:
We are one, we are a river, and we want our country
Willow, New York, March 2005.