Visiting Mary’s Mother

Visiting my wife's mother
Does she know?
Mary and I feed her. She opens her mouth 
      as she did to receive communion
 She eats only
      a few bites, 
               as usual.
Her eyes close. 
      A little nap.
Does she know?
She exchanges 
     a few words about a grandchild.
She mentions 
     her youngest daughter's visit this morning.
She almost always recognizes people.
But she is too tired 
     for another Christmas party in the Carolton dining room.
Does she know?
Does anyone know?
Does it matter?
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Power Wheelchair

My power wheelchair,
plus accessible buses 
	and ramped curbs,
equals mobility and freedom!
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Road to Washington

By four the buses stretch along the pike.
The road is darker for their string of light.
The barren fields and snowy hills are black.
The  moon is down; no guiding stars in sight.

To Washington against a war again.
We read or talk or snooze; the hours creep.
The bus, I know, runs swiftly through the night.
And serves our stand for peace in winter deep.

I want to help the dawn.  I want to see
the spring green spread across the hilly dark.
Would daybreak come if we stayed home asleep?
At least each turnpike mile we see a mark.
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Dawn on the Road to Washington

Actually begun on the bus.

Night sky slowly turns to blue.
	We can be sure that the sun will rise.
The growing light is not our job.
	So I can relax and write a poem/

With each mile,
	We see the trees clearer and greener.
The trees stand out in the morning fog
	in the mountain valleys.
The trees stand at attention
	with a motionless salute as we pass.

Any road to change requires listening
	and steady work.
Change requires the active patience of a tree.

Dawn is breaking,
	but the day has mot come.
We listened fifty tears ago when Martin Luther King said,
   “I have a dream ...”
So we go again to Washington to march.
The trees are marching, too.
Fifty years is not a long tome for an oak.

The fields are still green and growing.
	They need no guidance 
		to rise from the ground.
The fields and trees of social justice
	are watered by our sweat:
		many years, many tears
In season, the harvest will come.

When Dr. King told us,
   “I have a dream ...”
Was he sleeping?  No!
   He was very wide awake.
      He spoke as a prophet, 
When we heed his wake-up call.
   We are his dream.
   We are dream.
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Report of the Bus Captain

This is a report of the bus captain in Pittsburgh Bus # 4, 
	in the Cherry Blossom Festival and Stop the Violence 
		Against Women bus tour:
Another rally in Washington.  Some people ask, “Did it make any difference?”
	This is what I saw, and heard, and learned.

There were thirty three people on this bus bound for Washington, D.C.
Nothing remarkable happened when we boarded at 4 a.m. 
Meticulously, I counted the passengers after every time the bus stopped.
	That's why a captain is appointed for each bus: to make certain 
			that no one is left behind at a rest stop.

The convoy of buses on the Turnpike was the usual line of lights.
Phyllis Wetherby's face was unchanged.
	She has been organizing buses for NOW since I don't remember when.  
 		since before she retired from U.S. Steel (before it became USX)
The Post House in Breezewood hadn't changed much.
I'm glad to report that the hills and long valleys going into Maryland
	also have not changed.
"This is a beautiful country," as John Brown remarked long ago.

Many of the buttons are the same.
There are some new T-shirts.  One sported women cavorting
around a flag with the caption 
“.. and to the republic for witches' dance.."
The chants always seem the same.
	I wish we did more singing.

The signs and the slogans have changed slowly.
Our concerns are now even closer than Cuba.
	Viet Nam is in our children's history books.
Slogans for civil rights, however, are still current.
	Our dreams are still deferred.
Abortion Rights we won, but the struggle continues.
The Equal Rights Amendment we lost, but the struggle continues.

Union locals at the rally have their own signs
	And recycled Solidarity Day banners.
Union signs were rare in the Sixties, 
	especially official ones, professionally printed.
Now unions see that they are threatened, and not by kids with long hair.
The Coalition of Labor Union Woman is an important addition.
	You could say that the trade union movement is no longer CLUWless.
The lesbian and gay communities used to be invisible, even to us.
	Now they bring new signs, new demands, and new constituencies.
One organization has multi-purpose signs that proclaim,
	"Hadassah is proud to be here."
One sign tells us: "We are the leaders
	we've been waiting for."

Most of the demonstrators today are as young as ever.
I myself am older.  For a major march.
	I rely on neither overextended public fountains
		nor overpriced vendors.  I bring a canteen.
I know that no quick solution will be enough
	for the mending of our shattered community, for Tikkun Olam.
Now I plant seeds, together with young friends and strangers. 
	As I dig and plant and water, I often know
		that I myself "will never see
			red fruit hanging from the tree." 

So I feel a loss of immediacy in this demonstration,
	a change, subtle but profound, and not just in me.
Once we marched for withdrawal of our troops from Viet Nam,
Our demand was simple: "Bring them home!"
	We expected success, and quickly.  
Once we thought that civil rights could be won
	With just a few big demonstrations and a few new laws.
Once the ERA had a deadline imposed by Congress - 
	we almost made it.
Today we still demand justice now,
	freedom now, peace now.
But we know our struggle stretches
	beyond our own lives,
		forward beyond our sight, forward beyond our imagination,
and also back into the past
	into the deeps of time. remembered only
		by the stars above and by our songs.

"Stop the Violence Against Women":
	the rally slogan in the spring of 1995.
The Clothesline Project fills the middle of the Mall, clotheslines on loan
	from cities and suburbs and small towns around the country.  
The clotheslines are hung with shirts, each from a victim,
	of rape, incest, bigotry, domestic abuse, murder.
		There are little shirts, children's shirts.
The shirts are bright and grim with decorations, slogans,
	messages from the owner or her surviving kin,
		re-affirmations of hope and of vengefulness, brief histories.
Many shirts bear a name. They remind us:
	"Unto every person there is a name." 
Each name is a word
	for a spell of summoning.
The Clothesline is heavy with this power, 
	potent, like the Quilt and the Wall.

The clotheslines tie together the victims, and display
	the interminable sameness among all the variations of violence 
		which our society neatly categorizes
as if there were a difference 
	between beating up a woman because she is a lesbian
		and raping a woman because she is 'your' wife
We witness violence.
	We learn how power can employ violence.
Our rallying cry is new, our insights are new.
	But violence against women, violence itself, is old.  

We spoke of the attacks on abortion rights,
	yet another variation on violence.
The murders at the clinics are new.
	But there is nothing new about regulations and repression
		for women who would control their own bodies.

Speeches and slogans also addressed economic violence.
Signs decry the 'war on the poor'.  
One speaker asked whether "Women and children first" had a new meaning.
The targets are plain: school lunches, medical care, Section 8 housing,
	public housing, public transportation, and, in the bull's-eye, AFDC -
		Aid to Families with Dependent Children.
The broad sweep of these attacks is new.
	Their remorseless speed is startling.
But poverty is not new, poverty and women, poverty and children.

Not even the high school students at this rally hold any illusion
	that one victory in Congress or one election victory
		would be enough to bring us justice, would free us
			to go home, to relax, and just cultivate our gardens.

	we do not focus on any short-term goal.
We lack a demand more specific 
	than "Stop the Violence Against Woman".
We know that violence has no immediate solution, 
	especially at this level where economic violence, political violence, 
		and physical violence are seen as one sickness.

In the Sixties we had peace walks:
	San Francisco to New York, Quebec-Washington-Guantanamo.
Measured in miles, the distances were great.  But the objectives
	seemed nearer and clearer than ours do today.
Now we have intransigent problems, not just intransigent governments.
Now we know that the responsibility of finding solutions
	does not rest with those in authority, with experts, 
		or even with our own leaders, to bring back  
			from the mountain top or from the national conference.
Finding solutions is our work,
	is "the work that we must do,"
		our work, individually and collectively.
We must do more than make demands.
	We must make programs;
		We must remake structures.
For this Long March
	we make the map,
		we are the compass.

May our compassion be as inclusive as the meanness that we face.
May the depth and radicalism of our love match the depths of hate.

Phyllis Wetherby titled this trip:
	"Cherry Blossom Festival and Stop the Violence Against Women Bus Tour".
		That was to give us special tour bus parking privileges.
Now our bus will return to Pittsburgh.  We are all
	in need of Spring, in hope of Spring, bearing Spring.
Posted in History, Politics | Leave a comment

Where Are We?

Where are we?
About halfway to Ft. Benning, Georgia,
	the “School of the Americas.”

Before we stopped I was reminiscing
	about the first time I was busted.
	My seatmate and most of the others on the bus
	were not born when I was protesting
	compulsory civil defense drills.

This looks like the same place we stopped
for gas at 1 a.m.
I feel disoriented.
This is an island in space and time,
connected only to darkness and sleep.

I wander in to the truck stop.
I want a map on the wall
to tell me, “You are here.”
I search among the racks of t-shirts and magazines and crackers.
At least I find a clock.

There’s an old Chinese curse,
“May you live in interesting times.”
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Transportation and Latent Demand

The developer wants tax breaks
and a highway system 
   for his shopping mall and subdivisions.
Build it, and the developer will come.
Posted in Humor, Politics | Leave a comment

Television Covers Iraq

Quoth the Bush, ‘Let’s go to war.”
	We watch, and listened

The invasion made the six o'clock news:
Bang!     Whoosh!     Boom!
helicopter gunships  -  loud, loud.
Bradley Fighting Vehicles,
tanks, tank, tanks,
	clanks, clanks, clanks.
		Do you hear anyone?  A child crying?
Cruise missiles, Stealth bombers,
	Watch the skies! Look out! Duck!
parts of houses,  parts of people,
	and maps, colorful maps to show our progress.
The line moves.
	The line has crossed the river
		Into the city
			The cross hatches represents streets.
				What are we looking at? 
war pornography,
a gang-rape, live, in living color.
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Taking a Break at the Labor Arts Exchange

I’m at the Labor Arts Exchange.
	Convened at the AFL-CIO Meany Center.
Three days of training, talking, swapping songs,.
	brainstorming, arguing, selling CD’s, tapes, posters and buttons.
Professional organizers, professional musicians, rank and file activists:
	all swapping war stories. 

In back of the dorms a small stream was dammed
when this was still a Catholic seminary.
Stone shrines still stand guard, 
although their statues are long gone.
The old pond is lined with rushes.
	Ducks! Geese! Mallards!  They swim,
		or walk on the strip of lawn 
			between the pond and the pin oaks
				which almost hide the officeplex next door.

The flock honks loudly when disturbed.
	This summer day all is quiet.
		a duck dives for a morsel: listen to the splash.
			Look at the ripples, distorting
				the reflection of the blue sky.

The guitars and the singing is barely audible.
	Some of the songs are new, written this year. 
The impassioned discussions cannot be heard.
	But I know what is being said.
How do we rally the troops?
	How do we reach the kids?
		How do you deal with hostile talk show hosts?
			Where can you put a mural to maximize the impact?
“We’ve been out over a year.
	How can we win this strike?”

The ducks are swimming purposefully.
	The ripples that they make
		spread outward.
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Bella Ciao

Bella Ciao is a partisan song, sung by the anti-fascist partisans fighting Nazis
at the end of World War II. It is well-known and still sung by Italian factory
workers. (You can listen to a version here.) Activist folk songs inspire many
different lyrics, so I just made up some new ones (in English), in honor of
Emergency and Dr. Gino Strada. 

“Bella” means beautiful, in Italian.  “Ciao” means hello, or goodbye.  So I guess
that “bella ciao” could be interpreted to mean “Have a nice day,” said with ironic
We are doctors/ seeing patients./ Bella ciao, bella ciao, bella
ciao, ciao, ciao.
Seeing patients/ under fire./ Bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao.

We are nurses./ Save the wounded./ Bella ciao, bella ciao, bella
ciao, ciao, ciao..
Doing triage,/ dodging bullets./ Bella ciao, bella ciao, bella

We are surgeons,/ operating./ Bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao,
ciao, ciao.
Operations/ done by flashlight./ Bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao.

We are trainees/ from the village./ Bella ciao, bella ciao, bella
ciao, ciao, ciao. 
We survived the/ rape and pillage./ Bella ciao, bella ciao, bella

I am learning:/ First stop the bleeding/ Bella ciao, bella ciao,
bella ciao, ciao, ciao.
I’m still looking/ for my mother./ Bella ciao, bella ciao, bella

See the flowers,/ pretty flowers/ Bella ciao, bella ciao, bella
ciao, ciao, ciao.
They’re still blooming/ in the rubble./ Bella ciao, bella ciao,
bella ciao.
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