All my closest friends remained
behind in the Hell Zones.

And I understood.

There were shortages, yes,
lockdowns and supply-chain disruptions,
but a Hell Zone retained the glow
of a drive-through heaven
and a backlit plastic menu
with only a few of your go-tos
blacked out by electrical tape.

Yes, there were shootings,
but not in your neighborhood, not at first,
and when you saw online,
when we still could go online,
there had been a rape,
it had happened on a date gone wrong
or in some underground garage,
but not to anyone you knew.

And the music!
It never stopped.

Not in the bars, and not at the street fairs
where artists took cash, when we still had cash,
for watercolor cityscapes
rosy with romantic light
and scrubbed of scabrous encampments,
of bodies on the nod,
the new millennium’s urban crust.

It never stopped.

It was so easy to trust
the game would never run out of chairs.


Señor el Presidente, leader
of an unnamed republic,
had the whitest of white teeth, starched white
cuffs and a spume of white tufts
bubbling up from hair plugs suggestive
of the Bellagio Fountains
at rest between scheduled eruptions.

He’d purged his predecessor
under cover of an election,
then crocodile-blubbered through
an unarmed insurrection. But, oh!
Those choppers! Alabastrine,
like the capital itself before
the new regime wrapped it up
in black concertina wire, before
the helicopters and troops
in woodland-pattern camo mounted
their watch on the treeless streets.
All hailed the Presidential dental
offensive, its sheer wattage
bioengineered in a cottage
industry of plastering
veneer over rot and corruption.

Yet if el Presidente’s
white-hot smile blinded his chamberlains,
it failed to fire up the coal
dust bowl, where a mere headlamp could show
the people how the wind blew.

And they knew. The regime’s flotilla
hugged the shore, far from amber
waves. But out on the life rafts, the proles
heard those party boats bang on
to beat the Titanic band, they felt
the slice of Black Hawk blades, shiv
in the ribs, as el Presidente
beamed away, his bright ordnance
black rain falling sea to shining sea.

The Day the Press Stood Up

One fine summer day in the capital
Jeff Bezos instructed his reporters
at the Washington Post (Democracy

Dies in Darkness™) to lob some sharp questions
for once at the Commander in Chief as
that babbling kleptocrat deliquesced in

the hot mess he’d made of Afghanistan,
so the pack of plucky stenographers
stood right up on their hind legs and barked through

their baby-blue three-ply surgical masks,
but to no avail, since the President
turned his back and left them holding the bag

of spew brewed up by his true-blue mouthpiece,
and the Fourth Estate’s investigations
quickly settled back down into features

about riojas and Bluetooth speakers,
though all was not lost, for the cameras
built into civilian smartphones made by

Chinese slave labor had caught images
of the goings-on at the airport in
faraway Kabul, photos of Afghan

mothers passing or hurling their babies
over coils of barbed wire to waiting troops,
and those photos, repeatedly tweeted,

scooped the Post but nevertheless gladdened
its reporters, who recognized those coils
as the same concertina wire lately

rolled out in the streets of their capital
and knew the wire had been recycled and
all was well in the heart of God’s green world.


Scene: a southwestern city,
dun and stunted in the common way
of such places in those days,
the era when the people lost touch
with the depth of their holy
terror and its taproot snaking down
below the Permian shale.
And so the citizens carried on
in squat stucco districts of
instruction and trade, dredging the silt
riverbed on ATVs,
pledging themselves to the sacred oath
the latest moral panic
commanded, taking their medicine
and tequila-fueled leave of
their senses. In the lavender air
at dusk a tattoo parlor’s
lightbox sign or some gas station’s pink
neon might seize the throat with
a clutch of notes for an extinct scale.
Meanwhile the mountains, rogue waves
collapsing in geologic time,
advanced on the city as
always. The mountains had heard it all,
they could see it all coming.