Hilton Obenzinger: 2 poems

  Hilton Obenzinger

  2 poems:
          : The Theft Outright
          : The Gift Outright

  JPR 07

The Theft Outright

Inauguration Day, January 20, 2017

The land was never ours before we became the land’s.

From the first, it was never ours, even in Massachusetts or

We were England’s, still colonizers, buying people, grabbing soil,

Spreading across valleys and plains,

Taking, enclosing, excluding, enslaving, then start again.

The deed of theft was many deeds of war.

It was freezing cold and blustery when Robert Frost recited his gift.

Kennedy requested the poem for his inauguration,

But Frost couldn’t recite the introductory ‘Dedication’

He had composed

To be read before ‘The Gift Outright.’

The glare of the sun was too bright,

Snow fell, the typewritten text blurred,

And the wind tore at the pages.

So the poet let the introduction go

And pulled ‘The Gift Outright’ from memory.

We did become the land, even though

We’re even more vaguely realizing westward.

Does the country contain multitudes?

Or is it just multiples, more and more of the same?

Or will it be a thin strand of someone’s spit, a sad notion of genealogy?

Watching Robert Frost on black-and-white TV,

I was so glad that the New Englander

Gave welcome to a new era with American plain-talk verse,

Even though I was young

And did not understand what was being made manifest.

Hope would come, and then cruelly go,

Speaking of war and Ol’ Jim Crow.

We would become better but also far worse.

We have become storied, artful, enhanced,

More than the crimes

Which have brought us all together, covered with muck.

Today I have no promises to keep

And nowhere to go before I sleep,

Except to sit here, in a dark, frozen time,

Arms linked, wishing ourselves luck,

Until the police drag us away by our feet.

The Gift Outright

Dispatch from the Women’s March in San Francisco

January 21, 2017

The Next Day

Pink hats and cat ears, masses of pink, the flag of our disposition,

Tens of thousands upon thousands of women along with men
filling the streets,

No violence, not a hint,

A world in happy conviviality, families, children of all ages, the old, all swept

Down the street, every atom belonging to them as good belongs to me,

And the crowds friendly and determined possess the meaning of all poems,

Along with every variation of pussy on placards from ‘Pussy Power’ to ‘This Pussy Grabs Back’ to ‘Pussies of the World Unite.’

A grey-haired woman in a wheelchair holds a beat-up piece of cardboard

On her lap with a simple message penciled on it:

I’ve been demonstrating for the same old shit since 1972 and I’m fed up.

We look down from the steps on the side of the Asian Art

Museum, a massive Neo-Classical hulk, and see the very pink heads of old mothers,

Pinker than the pink beards of old men,

So many uttering tongues, together chanting,

So many cat ears,

And all marching with joy sustained by love on a bed of anger and fear. What will this man do?

How can he rip out our guts?

A cluster of marchers stands and prays:

Dear God of Hackers.

Listen to our plea. Find Trump’s tax returns and release them like doves in the air. Slip them out of their program and send them off. If you do this we will know you are real, and we will love you forever and forever. Amen.

Sheets of rain, chants and howls down Market Street to the
Ferry Building.

Can there’ really be three quarters of a million or more marching in LA?

Nearly a million pink heads in Washington?

From Anchorage to Key West, it’s a swelling document of rebellion.

Donald Trump will declare that The Next Day never took place

There are already ‘alternative facts’ nesting on his head,

And this Sea of Pink will be deemed one more piece of ‘American carnage.’

Splashing through puddles, slipping on trolley tracks, singing.

Because we could not stop for Death

We marched on through the rain

We heard a gigantic tiger roar when we were born.

US poet and writer Hilton Obenzinger.

Hilton Obenzinger writes poetry, fiction, history, and criticism. His books include This Passover or the Next I Will Never be in Jerusalem, which received the American Book Award, Cannibal Eliot and the Lost Histories of San Francisco, American Palestine: Melville, Twain and the Holy Land Mania, New York on Fire, and the oral history Running through Fire: How I Survived the Holocaust by Zosia Goldberg. Recently, he has published his autobiographical novel Busy Dying and How We Write: The Varieties of Writing Experience. Born in Brooklyn, he graduated Columbia University in 1969, taught nursery and elementary school, ran an offset press at a community print shop in San Francisco’s Mission District, worked as a commercial writer for business and industry, and taught writing, literature and American studies at Stanford University. He is currently Associate Director of the Chinese Railroad Workers in North America project. Email at www.obenzinger.com.


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