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Four Political Poems


I distributed this poem as a free broadside at the Peace marches in San Francisco, February 16 and March 15, 2003. Many say the marches did no good, but that’s not true. Any time people get together publicly in huge numbers it is making a statement. Besides, it was fun.

After the march we found a group of Zen Buddhists and sat with them to do zazen. Someone had given me a sign that said “Make LSD, Not Bombs.” I’m not sure all of the Buddhists welcomed my presence. With all the clamor and noise zazen was challenging, but we’d had practice at Burning Man.


They stand before us and speak half-truths or bold lies,
proud of their power to deceive and prosper.
They will hide the corpses.

They have betrayed us, and even victory will bring
no honor. Rumsfeld equivocates, Rice dodges,
that poor warrior, Powell, serving a man beneath him,
covers his face with shame.

They fill their pockets with our stolen wages.
They poison the wells they leave behind.
They say it’s for our “protection,” but it’s us
they would kill to protect themselves.

If this were a land without prisons or poor,
there’d be no nation on earth we would fear.


This was written in 2005. Will a good theoretical physicist somewhere please step forward and use scientific principles and the mathematics of complexity to write a convincing critique of capitalism? A Nobel Prize awaits. So far the mathematicians seem to have taken jobs with hedge fund companies, finding yet more ways to build pyramid schemes. Kevin Phillips stated several years ago that only severe economic hardship would awaken the political awareness of those who work. I hope he wasn’t being optimistic.

How the Market is Not Like A Tropical Forest

Where layers of leaves, high canopy, mid-level broads
and fans, short shrubs below, where herbs and
moss on the floor, catch light.

Fungi, in the soil, recycle it all back to the top.
Every conceivable niche is filled, or over-filled
with “divinely superfluous beauty.”

In the “market” everyone targets the center–it levels
to a three-body problem with strange attractors
looping in useless eddies.

Work is taxed, capital let free to accumulate and be
skimmed off–more like an over-grazed pasture,
where each generation of forb is poorer than the last.

It’s an act of conjuring-the only real product is money
shaved from the margins of the future.
The invisible hand is in your pocket.


I’ve expanded these ideas in the last couple of years by adopting a shamanic context. In the western tradition, our three principal shamanic models are Eve, Orpheus, and Faust. Eve represents the visionary path. She was the one who dared, and the one who shared: the patron goddess of the “poison path.” Orpheus represents the poetic tradition: braving the realm of the dead and singing to wild animals and even charming the winds. But Faust remains our most distinctive and characteristic shaman.

All shamanism is ghost work, but Faustian magic is conjuring: giving a body to a ghost. Or, we could say, to an abstraction. The pretas, or “hungry ghosts,” were originally the “departed ones,” spirits who had not received the proper rites. They represent unceasing craving that can never be satisfied, that can never have enough. Buddhists offer them bits of food at every meal out of compassion. But to give them bodies, “corporate bodies,” and then to release them from the magic circle is black magic. And to put them at the center of a society is madness. They will consume everything: the forests, the air, the plants and animals, and the people.

Unbinding spells are the acme of the magical arts, and in all cases the most benevolent. If we do not dissolve the corporate “body,” easily enough done through magical writs in the legislature and the courts, none of our attempts at reform, such as voting for the more progressive of two candidates, will do much good. Even the campaign finance reform was thrown out by the Supreme Court because, according to the Court, money is corporate “speech,” corporations are persons, and therefore bribing politicians is protected by the First Amendment. This by those who call themselves “strict constructionists.”

The Ballad of the Hungry Ghosts

They have no breath, nor bones, nor blood;
They appear, and then dissolve.
Their only drive is for more and more
Until they own it all.

They have no children or family,
Neighbors, or sense of shame;
Their birth is a limited charter
Solely conceived for gain.

They’re called a corporate body
And given the rights of men:
Denizens of a nether world
To whom all flesh must bend.


A sonnet dedicated to Utah Phillips, 1935-2008.

And for an officer in the East German army who in 1989 countermanded his orders to fire on the demonstrators at the Wall. And for the “refusniks” in Israel. And to anyone who says “enough” to injustice.

Massive peaceful demonstrations have toppled half a dozen major governments in just the last thirty years. No government can endure a general strike. We should have one once a year just to keep in practice. It could be a day of celebration and dancing, of flowers and solidarity, an homage to direct action which is, after all, the foundation of freedom and liberty. Perhaps on, just as an idea, May Day . . .

This Day Like Any Other

I refuse to obey. I refuse the medal, the bullets, I
countermand, I will not fire, I will not pay, I refuse,
I, we, together, we refuse, we won’t, we’ll sit,
we’ll stand, we won’t work. Sir, I refuse

to obey, I won’t, again, anymore, this day,
any day, a jaguar day, this rattling of winds day,
this bread in the landfill day, this wounded,
this clawing day, we won’t, I won’t, I refuse.

It’s important, Sir, this fine day, this dire day,
this day the books litter the streets, this turning
day when the wall wails from rebuilding, this day
when angels would shudder in hiding, today,

this day, when the dead are too many, this day
like any day, but this day, Sir, I refuse to obey.

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