The Works of Michael Gregory

An internationally-recognized toxics activist, Michael Gregory has published widely in print and online. He is the author of several books and chapbooks including, most recently, re: Play (Pudding House, 2009). His Mr America Drives His Car, Poems 1978-2010 is forthcoming from Education in Reverse Press.

All Poems © Michael Gregory

This Far

To think we’ve actually made it this far
despite the viruses space dust and dark matter
the missile envy the failed brinksmanship
in Seoul City Ho Chi Minh City
the City of Angels the City of Brotherly Love
all those remote horror movie locations
despite the pills and the Pill the antibiotics
the solar storms traversing us each
eleventh year since they A-bombed Japan
to this end of the second Christian millennium,
this Piscean Age Virgil said would be Golden

Having had our second coming of age
Freedom Summer to the Summer of Love
those delicious years as the world blossomed
on spindrift between the killer waves
of open markets and rightwing populism

Having endured the aftermath underground
coming down to earth to find ourselves
a place to sit out the storm collect our thoughts
tend our gardens and mind our own beeswax
letting our offspring outgrow such makeshift nests
as we were able to piece together in darkness
letting our imaginations imagine
solutions that don’t require sacrifice

Not dying before we were too old to be trusted
or know first hand what gravity does in time,
not completely worn out from making a living,
adolescent in some ways even now
in love more than ever with these ephemeral bodies
(what time looks like in three dimensions
the form it takes in these latitudes)
making up with pointed consciousness
as best we can for loss of faith in a god
(that foregone conclusion) and works of reason
that were supposed to save us from ourselves
by building a post-lapsarian paradise
out of the allocated abundance of goods

Nervous as never before about the failure
of vital organs: kidneys heart brain
Congress Supreme Court Presidency
the rising cancer and morbidity rates
the inner workings at ward and precinct levels

But passing our Saturn returns, our seven times seven
in a breeze, passing fifty-five the year
they raised the limit again, passing gas
more than ever but here, weathering
the unending death throes of Romanticism
the days and nights when rage was all the rage
the dying from sex instead of just for it
the worldwide jump in US arms sales
since the walls came down Berlin to Soweto
the gales of free market democracy
bringing Bretton Woods to Suriname
leaving where the cold warriors had been a gap
the Righteous Right was only too happy to fill

Still torn between the conviction that everything
is predetermined, a matter of cause and effect
(freedom of choice at best only choosing to do
what we have power and inclination to do),
and the niggling suspicion that everything
especially inside where we think we are
is open-ended and subject to acts of will;
still pretty sure that if we could get freedom from
we’d figure out what to do with freedom for;
still bleeding from scratching that last seven year itch;
but fairly fit otherwise, considering,
though more than a little tired at this stage
of all the lines, excuses and other bullshit

—tired of having the public good sold out
to private greed: the woods getting thinned
the air and water thickening, the soil
sterilized, the politics of person
personality and ecstasy
confused with rugged individualism
liberty with state capitalism
world peace with the Pax Americana
property rights with the ark of the covenant
the right to bear arms with the sweet lightness of being

—tired of republics built on slavery
democracies based on ability to pay
cities of God with walls around them
revolutions that end up as only
flip sides of the coin or hit singles
by and for the usual suspects
with clean nails who always seem to believe
in the words of one of our founding fathers
the country ought to be run by those who own it

—tired of lowest common denominator
democracy tyranny of the greatest number
unanimity without amity
calculated without a full body
count of those disappeared without a trace
always having to remind ourselves
the Constitution is not a suicide pact
or writ of servitude to Daddy Warbucks

—tired of watching the fortunes of war trickle down
through the polished fingers in charge of the till
then evaporate before hitting the ground
down here where misfortunes fall like red ink
coagulating in the eyes of children
fermenting in the bellies of misused women
shrinking the dreams of once-virile men

—tired of be bop doo wop hip hop
played in the cadence of shop shop shop
coming into us in pulses and beats
the steady diet of predigested worms
pouring into our ears so we can’t think
in any rhythm or register but cash,
every instrument of every culture
morphed into a financial instrument
every note of every song we sing
a bank note no more than legally tender,
strip-searched at customs and allowed in only
redressed in blue jeans, logos and credit cards

—tired of the political can’t whenever
we mention economic democracy,
for what it’s worth
universally understood
as the definitive Americanism,
everyone sucked into the cash nexus
fighting each other for left overs while millions
are given to players to play with little balls,
showing their perfectly eager bodies on screen,
of being told that driving someone to ruin
is rational and moral that nature’s law,
divine law, requires that some of us
suffer poverty and inordinate pain,
that karma means reward and punishment,
a contract between a feather’s weight and our heavy
hearts, so afraid of losing what little
we’ve got we spend our lives as good consumers
addicted to endless growth and acquisition,
willingly buying ourselves into bondage
to corporations programmed to replicate cancer
unable to answer the question How much is enough

—tired of trying to end the war by electing
one lesser evil after another
in one popularity contest after another
ignorance and venality in high places
sadistic cops and corrupt justices
the same Business Party always in power
the equation of democracy
with business class neoliberty,
a nationalism that makes people believe
what’s good for Bullmoose is good for us all,
fundamentalist religious figures
in bed with fundamentalist economics
the top one percent worth more in dollar terms
(what counts, as they say) than the rest of us together

—tired of born again candidates slicked up
with that old time religion, testifying
that freedom of means freedom for not from,
that faith is morality’s sole source, that those
without that faith aren’t fit to run
for office and are in fact the main reason
our great nation is headed for perdition
and ought to be made to see in faith-based schools,
battalions and prisons the error of their ways

—tired of consent and consensus manufactured
by international conglomerates
that twist, spin and fluff-dry public opinion
in cyberspace brainwashing machines,
headlines that say the majority think
the opposite of what the majority think,
justices who rule for injustice,
landslide victories claimed for slim margins
(if that) in elections where fewer than half
the voters eligible to vote bothered

—tired of being told by those who believe
a little bit of tyranny is ok,
that privacy is a luxury in times
like these when crime is rampant in the streets,
market, boardroom, pulpit and White House,
that if we have nothing to hide we should be happy
lying in bed with the bugs, more secure
for the cameras on streetlamps,
the webs of information homing devices,
the greenbacked obelisk looking over our shoulders

—tired of genocide ecocide suicide
king of the mountain and queen bee mistaking
technological and financial for moral,
social, legal and lately even genetic
superiority, misconceiving
ability as imperative (based
on nothing more than the drift of words
toward their own realization), reducing
religion to platitudes dogma and lines of credit,
the nostrums and tribal notions sold from pulpit
bench oval office and ivory tower,
silvery things with wings like angels and missiles
packaged in holier than thou condescension
patriotic gore and the rule of gold:
freedom narrowed down to product choices
equality put off till the danse macabre
big money and laser minds controlling
the triple threat of schools / media / work
the tiger biting its own tail become
Saint Economy, Urobouros, Mater
Magna and Paterfamilias rolled into one
big enchilada on our merry-go-round
altar to what passes for sound reason

—tired of all the mystical mumbo jumbo
crackpot theories and haywire revelations
propounded in the wake of each of our lost
generations and failed revolutions
by backlot philosophers barroom prophets
drugstore geniuses and self-help hucksters
the specialists in public righteousness
the psychedelic snakeoil salesmen
recycling the greatest stories ever told:
transcendence, participation at a distance,
unification by analogy,
salvation by sanctified imagination,
love by subscription and pie in the sky when you die,
the fossil record devolved to deluvial silt
deposited by the sick notion of sin,
trying of all things to talk us into it
as if words were more than residues of desire
as if they could save us from mortality

—tired of the Serial Goddess model
this theater of cruelty and farce:
the knotted string of Beggar and Fisher Kings
the game show winners celebrated each spring
toasted all summer plowed under after each harvest
bearing their brothers’ blood and fathers’ guilt
twined like ivy and snakes around their arms
served up the following fall as fond object lessons
for Our Lady of Perpetual Orgasm

—tired of the I Am That I Am version:
the magic delta hand / eye / mouth
intoning the holy strictures of thou shalt nots,
the parade of daughters sacrificed on the smooth
stone of patrilineal reproduction
or cast in the runway treadmill fashion
sex upstaged by sexuality
disporting themselves in various modes of undress
their lovelives self-censored simulcasts
digitally enhanced for viewing pleasure,
or turned into sexless workers for hire and hive,
their labor a red mark in a two-column ledger
a hymn to piety and drudgery
so He can be on top of It and Her
as if Lilith weren’t there from the first

—tired of love that isn’t honest allegiance:
a sacrament of mind body heart
(loving enough to let each other be
whatever we need to be to be free)
but pay-on-demand obedience, a ripoff
numbers game circus act perverted
into abortive productions in a ring
that doesn’t liberate but binds in fear
and abject co-dependence: marriage
as rape and mutual assured destruction
sexual politics a state of affairs
Big Brother and Big Nurse in our bedrooms
enforcing the law of diminishing returns

—tired of poems about poetry and poets
ink blot exercises and gut-spilling
in spurts of breath all over the page,
phrasemakers egging each other on
the morts-petits of post-modern hindsight
propped up for viewing in the lebensraum
the inner dialogue of Logos and Eros
expressoed into stand-up comedy
community as a literary conceit
the pursuit of novelty as a way
to get out of thinking through the given,
titillation and shock aping those arts
generated closer to the heart

—tired of the line thickening,
the coarsening of sensibilities
idiom and civil discourse,
freedom of expression abstracted
into the blob that ate the city of angels,
experimenting with the furniture
as a face-saving for nothing to say
beyond look how sincere I am,
extravagant metaphors expedient motives
irony and fluorescent graffiti-figures
outrageous caricatures grotesqueries
this month’s disordered psychology
surreal juxtapositions superlatives
ironies and inane images
obligatory symbolisms supreme
fictions houses of cards we enter
sales pitches of any frequency
snow jobs of any kind obfuscations
deliberate misdirection and outright lies:
each life is too short and all our lives
together still more too short
to hoard or falsify any information
that might be to the point or otherwise useful

—tired of trying to figure out the meaning
of meaning, of being as being, of being-
here or -there, this in terms of that,
you in terms of me and vice versa:
sympathetic to the search for things
in themselves, the essence of being at home
with ourselves at one with ourselves
having the time of our lives this time but not
forgetting the suffering our words bring
or the inhumanity that comes
from thinking of things as ideas, of real people
as characters, allegorical figures,
categories in some double-blind scheme,
mere statistics examples of something else

—tired of infinitive expectations:
to know, to understand
, to have and to hold,
the putting off into the subjunctive
at best the ablative absolute at worst
all we could possibly want in our desire
for instant gratification here where we are
now: infinity and eternity
getting lost in one another at this
intersection where metaphor and fact
cross each other while all the traffic lights
are flashing all their colors all at once

—tired of incremental strategies
that lockstep into Zeno’s paradox,
leaving the poor poor, the hungry hungry,
binding the feet tighter and tighter till leaps
become impossible, the promised land
unwon, desire unrequited forever,
landfall never made where love might flower

—tired being enthralled to the ruling eye
the mess and clutter of life as lived
edited only by turns of the head or shutting
of lids, sight without insight,
wit absent that agenbite of inwit
our ancestors in crime charged us with,
seeing the world turn into the sun
each morning, rising to meet the step of the one
turned toward her, petals blushing in
these cryptic hands we cup them lovingly in
even knowing the slightest touch will bruise
the perfect cast of their unfolding complexion.

Over-educated well-read almost
terminally hip and p.c. tuned in
to sub-text pre-text nuance double entendre
hardly ever missing a bet a beat but still
dumb as stones about whole universes
inside, still at a loss about who we are
what this is where we are what we’re doing
ought to be and might be doing here
what our work together here is
—how to open the heart without so much hurt
—why Venus still finds us in the dark
—whose horse that was that ate the blue rose of Sharon
—where Sylvia is and what comes next