State of the Union Menu

‘What you need,’ said the Dragon, ‘is a way to eat your poor.’

‘We already have that, but it’s indirect,’
the Senator answered, wiping off his chin.

‘We bleed them with low pay or, better, none.
When they weaken, we brand “lazy” on their foreheads.

Those who die out deserve to. Not insured.

After I left it, we added the middle class
to our menu. Strangely, we have less to eat.

Just you and me, eh, Dragon. Who blinks first?’

A Modern and Unlikely Odyssey

The hero pocketed the money
and handed over the keys
to what had been his family’s home
since Romulus created Rome.
The hero now felt free to roam
having given up his ease.

All his money he distributed
to anyone who asked.
All that he kept hung on his back:
a sword, some cheese in a gunnysack
and a book of prayers most others lack
among the hero caste.

He wandered, loitered, stood all lonely
till he took himself in hand
and, finally finding his own way,
went resolutely to the quay
where a ship fresh in from Mandalay
disembarked a van.

Inside the van a wizened woman
smiled at the hero’s gaze.
He tried to smile – it was not his style –
and after staring blank a while
he asked himself what female guile
put his mind in a daze.

The woman, wistful, watching, wondered
who like a fool stood there,
seemingly vanquished by a van.
Her Odyssey required a man
strong and stupid, a type she ran
into everywhere.

But then he spoke. The woman marvelled
at his honeyed words.
It was as if her van were filled
with raptures queens would have been thrilled
to hear, and as if dragons were killed
by bronze beating swords.

‘Ahoy!’ she cried, rolled down the window.
She trilled, ‘Want a ride?’
The hero, startled, murmured, ‘Rather.’
Stalling so her wits could gather
she engaged him in palaver
to get him stuck inside.

The woman engaged the van’s ignition
so as to hide her zest.
She unlocked the door, cried, ‘All aboard!’
The hero hopped in then she floored
the accelerator. The van roared
like a vehicle possessed.

Away from the quay and through the village
the racing van careened.
The hero, grovelling till that made
him remember he’s the hero, said,
‘I say, let’s call this shovel a spade.’
The wizened woman gleaned

that travel with a hero’s sweeter
when she can’t hear him chatter.
She grins and steers the van and keeps
count of the souls its bumper reaps
while the hero’s story soars and sweeps
unheard in the van’s hoarse clatter.

Bug is the New Thanksgiving Turkey

The turkey that lurked in the lee of the lemonade stand
through the hum of the summer, and most of the autumn, till now,
appears on my plate, and surprised — existentially here.
I’ve had a lot on my plate, but a livid live turkey’s absurd.

Should not slaughter, dissection, and plucking precede being served
like a badminton cock, or a locker-room sock that has swerved
through the air with a flare lit to guide it. I guess I digress.

I open my eyes. Tom Turkey stands still on my plate
and he stands for his conviction that we should, like he does, eat bugs
to stay lean, and less mean, and friendlier to our friends the birds.
He flies off and leaves me with crickets, ants, mealworms, and beans.

Threaded

‘Try to relax,’ says Guide Number 1. We watch the entire world ending.
‘Not all of the world,’ says Guide Number 2. ‘Just all the life that is on it.’
‘Not even all life,’ says Guide Number 3. ‘Only the species depending
on plants for food or for their food’s food.’ To us it is way past ironic

to sit stock still and watch Earth burn. There must be a way we can fix…
‘What you broke,’ say all three Guides in chorus, too-easily reading our thoughts.
‘You began small like birds, building modest nests with found bright stones and sticks
but progressed, that’s the very wrong word, to mess with missiles and dreadnoughts.’

‘Not all of us!’ we shrieked (here ‘shrieked’ is the very very right word).
‘We, and many like us,’ we whined, ‘adhere to the venerable thesis
of live and let live.’ Guide Number 2 said, ‘Do not be absurd.’
Guide Number 2, we knew, when we knew, was actually Lachesis.

She took our measure, of each of us, meaningfully waving the rod
we had hoped she had forgotten to bring. Clotho (her sister, Guide 1)
gave Atropos (Guide Number 3) a weary dooming nod.
Clotho vowed that in times future if any she would shun

spinning life threads for human people. ‘They are irredeemably bad
for themselves, for us and for ‘Gaia’ — whatever you want to name it,’
she said. She looked for an immortal thoroughly hauntingly sad.
‘They inherited the Earth but soon misused their growing powers to maim it!’

said Atropos. She smiled softly then. A Fate’s smile is disarming.
Could it be that our fate that threatened simply disappears?
We smile back. We try to laugh. The planet keeps on warming.
Then we see that Atropos is sharpening her shears.

We forget again, forgetting our Guides’ — these three dire Fates’ — true names,
and then from fright we forget our own. There is nowhere we can run.
The shears’ edges spark. Our threads spew smoke. Our souls go up in flames.
The Guides count down, the last thing we hear: ‘Three’ and ‘Two’ and ‘One’.