South Durban

I.
The British are here,
the British call this place
the land of one thousand hills.
A cascade of
the greenest Earth,
rolling grassy meadows bounding East
to the Drakensbergs, as far as
the eye can see.

If they could only be here today.

Fishermen on the shores, casting
their lines for a morning catch.
An ocean before their eyes,
smooth sand at their feet.
The picture is angelic
’till you turn and see
some sinful assortment
of industrial high rises
behind them:

A paper mill, an
airport, a refinery
and smokestacks rising like
burning cigarette butts:
three hundred and eighty
across the skyline of
South Durban.

II
The stench is incessant and
invasive; what is it today?
Benzene, acetone,
petrol, sulphur…

The people live in squalor,
poisoned daily and
suffocated.

III
This is racism.

And it’s not just about
the job they didn’t get or
the school they didn’t go to,
or the opportunities
they will never have.

It’s about the home they
could not afford,
so they might
escape this sickness.

It’s about the attitude:
we will put a refinery
a hundred feet from their homes,
a landfill in their backyard,
we will put the pipeline
beneath their houses and
swimming pools.

And so what if it leaks,
so what if we’re dumping
chemicals in to their body,
so what if the children
have asthma?

The cards have been dealt.
This is the way things are
and what will they do?

These people have jobs to find
and bread to buy and
rent to pay and
they’ve no time in the day
to rearrange the order of the world.

With what spare time there is,
they will sit evenings on their stoop,
sighing,
and watching the plumes rise from the smokestacks,
making the sunset
a most vibrant, orange inferno.

“America”

America, the days of antiquity are now,
still there is a frontier,
still there is mystery beyond the Mississippi
still all the wild West is rolling endless and volatile:

Sierras rising jagged sawtoothed in to the sky
furious cold Colorado running through
lonely Arizona desert, and cavernous
Utah canyons, pools of air in the Earth,
the palm of God scooping the dirt,
he wrought scripture through the landscape.
Then of course where it all ends,
the ghostly Pacific looming beneath
the suddenness of California cliffs,
holding all the promise of
land that could have been but
instead was drown.

America, this land is my land, it’s
your land, too.
America, your cities are sick
the buildings are tall, I can’t see the sunset.
the lights are too bright, I can’t see the stars
and forever I hear the howling traffic
barreling through the empty night,
and laying down in bed I feel
poisoned, mad, dizzy
claustrophobic.

Don’t say I don’t know what’s best for me,
that I need to buy what you’re selling.
America, what are you selling?
I don’t need so much.
I don’t need anything you can make;
I am wealthy already.

The Scientist

The Scientist

Check out another cover tune I recorded…

A Thanksgiving Poem

For what are we thankful this November?
In our daily days, oft we don’t remember
the many blessings with which we are bestowed:
food and water, clothes and roads–a home.

Oh, all our trials, our tribulations!
We curse the rain when it drowns out the sun.
But troubles exist, ne’er we seen before;
yes, there are places where rain always pours,

where folks can’t find a job, a bite to eat,
or sleep each night with the security
that safely they will wake, come the dawn,
that their lives should be fruitful, happy, long.

Oh strange whirling world, please explain to me
why we allow such foul disparities!
I sit warm and wealthy, to feast today,
while my brothers and sisters starve away.

Thankful, I am, for my simple, kind life,
for an existence free of want or strife.
Content? I am not, with the world as it is:
food, safety and health should not be privileges.

Yer Daily News

Strange news in the papers these days:

Corrupt African leaders buying homes in Malibu, normally we wouldn’t let them in, but Exxon and Hess have big investments in Equitorial Guinea, so the State Department turns a blind eye. Whole populations living in absolute squalor and this fucker has bought four Ferraris and a jet plane.

Ra, ra, Sarah Palin wrote a book, who gives a shit? Who knew she could even write…

Conservative rage over health care continues, while they bemoan the socialist assault on individual liberties, the insurance companies jack up their rates, anticipating the coming regulations, yessur, they’ll squeeze every dollar they can out of sick America while they still got the chance…

22 Republicans and 20 Democrats had statements that were submitted in to the Congressional record ghostwritten by the goddamn health insurance industry. Who are these people? Have they no spine whatsoever? Do they not care enough about one of the most crucial issues in American history to form a goddamn opinion themselves? Cowards.

Still no international deal on climate change.

Obama appoints a high profile member of the Pesticide industry as chief Agricultural Negotiator as US Trade Representative. Yes, yes, change you can believe in.

50 million Americans are struggling to eat. Still people are starving & dying the world over.

California state universities are on the verge of collapse.

Government fucked the bailout of AIG, but the same pasty, graybeard Suits who orchestrated the whole debacle are getting up on TV talking about unemployment, inflation, economic growth, trying to divinate the behavior of the economy as if they were astrologers reading the constellations. Fools. The economy is a fickle beast, and it will vaporize us all in a monstrous, chaotic, apocalyptic eruption.

Saddest of all–and I think we all stop and wonder at the truly strange cruelty of the world when we hear this story–after one week, five year-old Shaniya found lifeless in the bush north of Fayetteville, NC, her mother and one other arrested for kidnapping and human trafficking. What brings people to these things?

Heard the updates on NPR day after day, in the evening coming home from work or school, and I said little prayers hoping maybe she would turn up still alive, maybe there was still a chance, but no. Not this time. And I don’t know why, you hear every day on the news someone’s been murdered or died so unfortunately, but this one got to me in a very particular way, really it made my chest go tight and I had trouble breathing and all the sudden there are tears on the steering wheel and I’ve got to pull over, the person behind me must think I’ve gone mad…something about how this little girl had nothing even to do with the madness of the world, the awful and arbitrary meanness of people, she didn’t even ask to be born, she was just here and then all the sudden she falls victim to the awful temper of chance and has her life taken before its even been lived…

I know the world is not always full of tears and anger, that there are things to celebrate and there are good people, but sometimes the darkness is overwhelming.

Poem for the Leaves

The leaves are coming Down now,
and I’m sure they’ll all drown in the coming November rains.
Their colors cry out to me, saying,
“We are too colorful to drown in such Ill Ceremony,
is this really how a Leaf should die?”
Little do they realize that they’re already dead,
having fallen from the tree,
and it is just their Ghosts talking now.
I can imagine one morning
when the sun cracks over the horizon,
their specters will finally look
and actually see themselves, brittle and lifeless,
sopping wet on the soggy ground.
The sheer shock of the sight
will Rapture them up to to the leaf heavens.

Who will remember them?
Only the trees
from which they once hung,
now naked and cold in the New Winter.

Berkeley

I met a fellow in San Francisco with a sign, “Poems for sale: Pick a subject, pick yer price.” I gave him $5 and told him to write me a poem about Berkeley. He wrote me this:

Berkeley is the place where the sunshine meets the
bay
Some many folks like San Francisco
It’s all right but everything San Francisco
takes credit for Berkeley has had at one time or
another
If you listen down the halls of the
library sometimes you can still hear the howling
If you still look you can see the flowered children
running in the trees
and if you need it there is still a park for the
people
Below El Cerrito and above Oakland
You can see the sun
You can feel the love
You can go to Berkeley
After all it’s just a Bart ride away


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