Multi-Cultural Awareness

In Japan, the Japanese write poems
about Japan.
There’s no mention of the universal.

Japanese poets write Japanese poems
about the Japanese weather. Does the sun
shine in Georgia? The girls here squeak
when you squeeze them. Is it true
American women sleep with as many men
as they can before marriage?

The Japanese poet sits at his Japanese desk
using a Japanese pen. As he writes, he sips
Japanese tea. He looks up and asks himself
one last nagging question. Do foreigners
have feelings? Is it true there are no fish
in the Mississippi? Does the water taste like water?

His wife sleeps with him but she always asks first.
She wears pajamas. And she lays out his undies.
His wife’s mascara runs. She tears up.
Do foreigners ever cry? Japanese
shed tears of sadness and tears of joy.
Are foreigners so complex?

The poet leans in to his rice paper. Are Japanese
the only people who write poetry?

The State of Maybe

I began to wonder how I would get away.
I no longer believed I could live without him,
but we were no longer friends.

He’d begun as a vice, then something closer to remorse,
never made it to a love affair. Now, no longer a sin,
my departure feels more and more like betrayal.

I would go but he wouldn’t let me.
I want out. He says go. I will not walk out on this man
who taught me everything I know.

He didn’t invent me but he found me
when I was starving. I was barely living.
He kissed me. He made my troubles disappear.

He fixed the faucet. Now, I’m leaving.
Adios doesn’t quite cut it. I’m never coming back
just about does it. See ya is not the same as good bye.

It’s not leaving but leaving someone, you see.
Saying hello to tomorrow, alone, is not the same
as yes. It’s a matter of welcoming maybe.

Goodbye to all that.
I’d rather be by myself.

Bumpkin in Overalls

—for Les Murray, 1938-2019

Les Murray, the greatest living Aussie
poet, is a sophisticated angel. The poet
was once dismissed as an indelicate oaf.
His tormentor finally said she was sorry.
Murray’s message is this: don’t forget
to say hello. The ignored feel lonely.

Sex wears a swastika,
says the Aussie, a giant
among us, remembering
being belittled; a physical
brute, if not a country bumpkin,
Murray possessed an elegant mind.

He was beaten to within an inch
of his adolescent life, humiliated
by the taunts of little girls who
knew the giant was no stud and
instead made him to feel like a dud.
His marshmallow body was top heavy

And lacked shape even though he worked
the fields with his own two hands. He
was a red-neck by his own reckoning,
Not a man with a mission but a slave to
commission, waiting for an inheritance of land
and the right to be free.

The cruelty of being ignored is easy to remember.
Calling someone a dud is another form of murder.
They make your lack of fire something dire.
“I can’t get no satisfaction.” “So what, fatso,
what’s it to you?” They stepped on Murray’s neck
and told him to shut up.

He was introduced to life’s cruelest fate, saddled
with the body of a boxer and the mind of a ballerina,
a sophistication and delicacy that the truants
in his town exploited. He bled and the smell
of his dread and panic drew them close enough to insult
and degrade, but worst, they sought to annihilate.

Shunning is cunning. They target someone like Murray
who had a fear of being ignored. They attack until you react.
As at a boy who has lost one eye, they stare. How many
incidents of humiliation can one bear? Paralyzed
by his desire to be nice, poor Les hung on for dear life.

The poor lad grew heavy of heart and dismal, never
able to forget them, almost unwilling to forgive them.
His writing saved him. It taught him, too. Words
created the buffer he needed between a tender nature
and the brutal beast of jealous girls wearing jack boots
and ready bayonets.

Hot gets you everything you want.
Some say some are too ugly for love.
They’ll attack you for not being attractive.
You remember but they’ve forgotten.
Don’t believe me, ask Les Murray.
The tyranny of neglect ruled the roost.

People today speak of geeks and nerds; losers
are deprived of attention. The hot then as now
are self-taught. It comes naturally. There is no glamour
in not being hot. They keep their things to themselves.
No one said hello to Les for some fifteen years.

Oedipus and Proust became his friends. Greek declensions
and Latin grammar, French epics, lyric poetry and Racine.
They stood between him and his tormentors, the neighborhood
bullies, who laughed when they made him cry. They waited
to pull down his pants. They hoped he would soil himself.
The Aussie poet instead became a giant of words.

Tokyo Rose Lives

I know her. She’s the one who wants to be famous
for drinking her own urine. She thinks her menstrual
blood tastes like champagne. She tells the reporters
she likes men who are meek and obedient, but once
in bed she prefers to be slapped around.

He wears chaps and carries a rawhide switch.
She likes to be made to bark; she’s learning to meow.
She’d love to be trained to fly, like an Arab prince’s pet
falcon. She’d rest on his arm with a hood over her head.
She’d eat mice and sleep in a cage.

Her grievances are monumental. She’s pugnacious.
She wants to be on Mount Rushmore. She insists a woman’s
face be carved between Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt. She
insists it be a woman of color. Tony Kushner suggests his
family’s maid, Caroline Orchange.

“This Mozart. This Haydn, over and over. Give it a rest. Why
do people keep bringing up these dead white males? It’s settled.”
She wants to know what women were singing. “Don’t they get it?
Women and people of color. Where are the African-American
composers? It can’t have always been this way.”

“There’s a holocaust taking place this very minute. Do you realize
I will owe over $17,000 the year I graduate, and that’s not including
my boob job.” To save money she got one in the Dominican Republic,
but it’s still on her Discover card. $6,715, not counting her week
at an all-inclusive resort, where she went to recuperate.

That alone was over $1,300 each. When her boyfriend fucks
her, it makes her tits hurt. “I don’t know why, so we can’t
really do nothing. I’m not kidding. He makes me suck him off,
which is cool, I’m just saying. But, you know, that’s not right.”
Now she’s in debt, and that’s not so great.

She and her fellow students shoplifted the local confectionery
right out of business. They accused the proprietor of racial profiling.
The cake shop had been in business for over 75 years. They’d go in
in groups. One of her friends is suing the college for appropriating
inauthentic Japanese food, like serving frozen sushi on stale rice.