Thursday, February 5, 2009


Writer's Note: This, "Friends," is an old poem, written in New York in the 1980s, about friends taking a trip to Washington for a public event; and I thought of it again during President Obama's inauguration. I write with diverse inspirations, for various reasons; and this poem was written, partly, for a friend: it was a way of giving to her an ordered, sensible vision of the world, a vision that could be useful. When she first got the poem, she wasn't sure it was for her (she, like many people, may have preferred something even more crudely sentimental), but as time went on she liked the poem...

(Celebrating Martin Luther King Jr's Birthday)

Soft white winter light licking long black trees

Sky a pale storm blue, air dried of heat and summer promise

You drive, jolted by bumps, turns in the road,
shifts in conversation. I watch your back,
the throbbing neck muscle covered by dark cream skin.
I look at your short curly hair, your green canvas jacket,
but I see a distant yesterday when your hand reached
out to know my hand. Today, I silently thank you. Again.

Next to you, your lover's voice humming the same blues
as when we left our warm southern house,
Desiree, Eugene and I in the back seat,
slim brow hands counting my numbers
thinking I have bowed to mysticism
when I have bowed to his magic--friendship.
Short, small Desiree sleeping crushed
against a door, having fed us with wheat cakes
sweetened with raisins, goat milk, and vitamins.

We are traveling from lush lawns and magnolias,
Louisiana, to the red dirt hills of Georgia,
stepping lightly in thickly dark forests,
to the shining marble of Washington.
We are traveling from a single wish to friends' hope
to communal vision. From Saturday to Sunday to January 15th.
From hope to joy to wonder.

The capital, fresh snow cold, whiteness strangling
the thinnest neck of grass, under an axblade-blue sky.
On stone steps and iced lawn, there is a great rough quilt
of people--silk and leather blacks, sackcloth and satin browns,
velvet reds, lack and cotton whites, stitched together
with smiles, arguments, tears, touching. Anthems are sung.
The wind is blowing, frizzbees are flying.

Our conversations are slashed
by hawkers of buttons, t-shirts, and stickers,
their voices stabbing air:
Breathe revolution cook revolution dance revolution
fight revolution fuck revolution wear revolution
as we wonder which revolution? Our nerves tense
with premonition:
Bombs dropping, caressing flesh with pain,
sharp steel slicing arms and legs with kisses,
climaxing in bullets ejaculated by hung thick machine guns.

Doesn't it all begin and end with pain?

The organizer, a dark man cut of holy cloth,
calls this "a movement to clothe, feed, house and teach all."
The elders delicately unwrap memories
that the young have meshed from black-and-white films
of olden days, of protest streets, dogs, gushing hoses,
bloody clubs, of white and black people, black and white reasons,
white and black fears. We think, One never starts over.
There is no new purity. We stand carved by life,
aware and struggling, hopeful in fits.

My hand reaches out to re-member yours.

Afterwards, to car, we ride train in tunneled earth,
knowing this is the work and the traveling
we are meant to do:
Underground, under skin, under language,
becoming comfortable with rushing rivers,
dank sewers, slender blood veins,
the inner flowing of pain and pleasure.

(c) DG