I Swear

Along the river,
great white pelicans glide in the air
hundreds of them forming and reforming
into ribbons and tornadoes, gleaming pearls
They land in the shallows of the Mississippi
and form fishing nets
and close in and feast on fleeing minnows
and a band plays jazz I swear
The peregrine falcons at Blue Pool
have mated and are nesting
god help the owl or hawk which stalks the nest
peregrines the smallest predators
are the fiercest parents
The nature photographers at Blue Pool
line the highway
point their long lenses at the falcons
the fashionable falcons pose
Crocuses bloom butter yellow
and trees are budding
you can hear them pop I swear
wild onions sway in abundance and radiate scent
the spongy soil smells of rain
the air smells of fecundity and birth and sex
Tonight I hear a barred owl sing from the back woods
I walk outside to listen more clearly
the owl is the soloist
the chorus on a winter night in February
are spring peepers
a million of them I swear
I think of all the sleepers in houses around me
missing the miracle of peepers the rhythm the pitch
the owl hears and responds with recitative
This libretto I swear
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I have been in the artist-in-schools program of the Illinois Arts Council since 1984. In 1995, I got a call from a middle school in Winnetka, Illinois. Would I be interested in doing a poetry residency with their students. Yes. But, Mr. Baldwin, we need to interview you in person. You may not want to take this on.
A week later, I visited the school and met with the principle, a social worker, and a couple of teachers. They were nervous. Finally, the principal said, Gene, do you remember Laurie Dann?
Seven years earlier, Laurie Dann, a babysitter, had a total meltdown. She had been a sex outlet for the boys at several Northwestern University fraternities then rejected.
In May of 1988, Dann drove to the fraternity houses and delivered boxes of poisoned Rice Krispy treats. She then picked up two kids for whom she babysat and drove them to their school. She told the kids to wait in the car then she entered the school and set off a fire bomb. She drove the kids back home, put them in the basement of their house and set the house on fire. No one was injured.
Dann’s next act put her in the history books. She drove to an elementary school in the town of Winnetka, armed with a .22 caliber pistol and a .357 revolver. She entered the school, waving her guns, and kids and teachers took shelter. She entered a boy’s restroom and shot a kid dead, in a stall. She kicked open the next stall and pulled the trigger on another kid. The gun jammed. She walked out, shooting five other students in hallways.
Laurie Dann left the school and drove to a family home, stripping naked and wrapping herself in a plastic garbage bag. The family inside the house was held hostage for some six hours. A twenty-year-old man in the house tried to talk her out of killing them. She shot him in the stomach. Then she walked upstairs, stuck the .357 in her mouth and killed herself.
One little boy died, six others were shot, and one boy, cringing on a toilet seat, stared at the gun aimed at his head, heard the trigger snap—only to watch the shooter leave him and walk out. The communities were devastated. The North Shore of Chicago, enclaves of well-off people, wasn’t supposed to be unsafe.
I nodded at the principal. Well, he said, the little kids who survived that shooting are now in middle school—this middle school. The boy who lived when Dann’s gun failed to fire, is here. Some of the kids are alright, others are still reliving the tragedy. We don’t want you to encourage the victims to write poems about being shot, but if a kid wants to write such a poem, so be it.
I took the job. I think I was in the school for a month. Nothing dramatic happened. Most of the kids wrote poems about love, or puppies, or flowers, or moms. I easily identified the kid from the restroom—he wrote about it. He wanted to talk. So, I listened.
That’s it. Except, I haven’t slept for a week. I watched on television as young Emma Gonzalez courageously expressed her outrage over losing seventeen friends. I watched that contemptuous, right-wing NRA mouthpiece in stiletto heels as she talked down to parents and kids. I cried. In truth, I hope those kids have started something and won’t let go. In truth, I think the issue will go away.
The kid in the toilet stall is a man. I hope he overcame his fear and grief and is having a good life. I hope.
Don’t bother to tell me that Laurie Dann used a couple of guns, not an assault rifle. If you’re contemptuous over the national pain, don’t talk to me. If you’re can’t or won’t understand the intent of Second Amendment, if you believe in your house that you are part of a militia that will start a revolution, y’all are completely deluded.
Just yesterday, I read some jingoist on Facebook: I didn’t own slaves. The blacks should get over it. My opinion: the gun argument is really about race. People who cowardly conceal-carry are really scared of African Americans. My opinion.
Gun nuts: your time is over. Evolution has produced a generation of Asian and Latino and black and white mouthy kids. I’m proud of them.
Emma Gonzales and compatriots, I love you. Gun nuts: think of mouthy kids as ants. Shoot some, but there’s you and infinite ants who are going to swarm your body and eat you to the bone.
My opinion.
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Forget Me

Rain and more rain. Crocuses poking through the black soil. The river splotched with contrails of thick fog. Redwing blackbirds trilling along farm fences, the American Bottom. It is February, it is spring. I’d feel easier if these portents were in March.

February, fecund, febrile. Forget me not.

The patrons at the songbird bar and grill. Hummingbird sightings to the south. Cloud chains like train cars lumbering along. One eccentric magnolia tree ready to bloom.

My name on the bottom of Carol Allen’s sneaker. She wrote my name, Eugene, in marker, she loved me. Keith Nesbitt and I followed creeks to their upstream origins, bumped into an electric wire strung across the water, zapped and falling.

The light. The sunlight through cloud light field light through cat’s eye light. Rain and more rain, ice storm tonight, they say.

And that field covered in cow parsnip, we were dumb enough to run across it, stinging barbs in the skin and shallow breath, the bright red rash on our legs, the terrible itching, the vomit, the falling.

Paul yells: Kiss her, goddammit: and she smashes her braces into my lips and she runs inside her house, and I am sixteen spring fire.

Rain and more rain rills the streams cold tea steeped in autumn leaves–

she loved me.


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This afternoon, in the grocery store parking lot, I saw a tiny mouse huddling and shaking next to a car tire. People were making jokes, along the lines of how to eliminate it. I knelt and picked it up by the scruff and petted it then I carried it across the highway to a wood and let it go.
If the hawk catches it, that is Nature. If a person kills it that is human nature—a pale stepbrother of the way of the wild.
Two afternoons ago, while driving home, I saw a stunning red-shouldered hawk perched on a dead rabbit in a field and tearing it into bites. On either side of the carcass stood two vultures, like guards, waiting patiently to clean things up. The next day, there was no record of the ballet I had witnessed.
My pal Ranger L., acting on a tip, raided a home on the Illinois River and discovered eighty stuffed, dead great-horned owls lining four shelves along the kitchen walls. The owls were killing the man’s fish in his pond—so his story went.
Nature versus human nature
The only animals on earth that kill for fun are chimpanzees and us, their DNA-linked cousins. Chimps wage war and deliberately kill rivals. We cousins, over half a million years, seeking ever more efficient means of killing our own, advanced from clubs to stones to swords to primitive muskets to rifles. . . to machine guns.
And now well-meaning people work at upheaving evolution, as if any human can go back “to the garden,” and now some people, armed with those machine guns, just plain like to kill other people. The kid in Florida, the man in Vegas: brothers. Our brothers. The first whites to invade this New World and bring along their slaves (“Slavery is in the Bible”): Brothers. Our brothers.
My brothers steeped in blood, your brothers steeped in blood. Our brothers Andrew Jackson and George Rogers Clark, red with the blood of destiny. The modern killers even have a union fighting for their right to kill other people. No other animal on earth is in any way devoted to killing its own, subjugating its own.
The deaths of teenagers are no more or less tragic than are the deaths of the elderly lined up and shot, in Cambodia, in Germany. The synonym for “human” is “killer.” If you believe God made us in his image (some patriarchal humans wrote that treacle—of course; the whole damn holy, full-of holes book is written by humans for humans about humans), then prepare for war. And stop bitching about it.
Nature versus human nature. Not an alliance, not even an unholy alliance. A war between two truths. One and only one of them will win, one by will, one by instinct. And yes, you have to choose.
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My fellow fellows, run while you can, gather in groups and make soup and tremble. Cement your mancaves shut and brew your own beer and eat roots and berries.
Scientists have discovered a female saltwater crayfish which clones itself as opposed to bumping uglies with male crayfish. Thousands of these girl crayfish have been discovered around the globe, and they’re uh, spreading.
We’re talking Aunts from Aunts from Aunts from Aunts. Uncles will soon be human dodo birds. Small wonder women are marching all over the globe, proclaiming that It’s Time! A secret report, written by a gleeful Gloria Steinem in the 60s, described the female crayfish clones, ergo the manless future.
The report was printed at a black ops site and dispersed to girls as “homework assignments,” to women as “women’s health advice,” to Miss Manners who has been writing brainwashing advice in the guise of etiquette, to Dr.’s Phil and Oz who were neutered at the black ops veterinary clinic, to Oprah and Ellen who have been disseminating wealth to crazed women all over the world.
These are not lesbian crayfish, guys. Don’t get all hot and bothered, fantasy-wise. These are underwater lady crustaceans who are duplicating themselves without needing men. It brings a whole new meaning to “go fuck yourself.” They have no male DNA, they’re ladies all the way. And it is but a few steps from crayfish to mammals, and then men won’t be required to sire.
Have you noticed the current generation of high school students, the girls of which travel in friend packs, the boys of which are softening year by year, the… new virginity trend? Remember the other night when you entered your daughter’s bedroom without knocking and she slammed her tablet shut? You were worried she was showing naked pics of herself to ravenous boys on Snap Chat. Bad news: She WAS sending naked pics… to other girls-in-cloning!
A friend’s son told me that the word “penis” has been banned from Alton High School, not because of the old “boys will be boys” culture, but because the word “penis” is no longer recognized by kids. Boys now refer to their penises as “water pipes” because their female Sex Ed teachers called it that and the Sex Ed book, written by one Gil Sanders (read Gloria Steinem in code) refers to “outdated mating methods.”
Is it any wonder why frustrated, disenfranchised teenage boys are eating Tide pods? Why Republican men are paying for sex? Regular guys are not getting any, and they won’t be getting any… unless, say an undersea volcano wipes out the March of the Cloned Crayfish which.
Consider: Israeli actress Gal Godot as “Wonder Woman.” And now King James versions of the New Testament refer to Jesus as “Gal.” “Gal wept.” “Gal said unto the mousey, mannish disciples…” Gal was betrayed by a jerk slut shamer named Judas and crucified. Men: do you know Gal Godot’s real first name? Shirley! And Shirley Godot isn’t “Waiting for Godot,” she is EATING Godot AND Vladimir AND Estragon with a side of fava beans.
I finally get the Conceal Carry movement. Men are becoming loving fathers to their boys not because they have evolved. Men are packing heat because their lady friends and wives and daughters are staring at them the way a guy stares at a cold beer. They’re retreating to the wilderness and building survival compounds because WOMEN ARE EVOLVING TO REPRODUCE WITHOUT SPERM.
Thirty pounds of frozen crayfish arrived at Genehouse this afternoon. I had ordered the thirty pieces of crayfish months ago on Amazon, and now my freezer is full but my heart is empty.
I surrender. Tonight, I will thaw the lady crayfish, and I will lie on the floor in supplication, and my lady cat Scout and her crayfish gal pals will eat me. I deserve it. I’ve been groping girls since First Grade (sorry, Susan Schmidt). The chickens have come home to roost.
The lady chickens, that is. The rooster crowed at the break of dawn and the farmer’s wife shot him dead and cut off his head and testicles with a carving knife for good measure.
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Late January

It rained last night. My blood was stirred. This morning’s air was sharp and fresh and fragrant. Fog as thick as oatmeal held in the sounds and compressed the echoes. I stood outside and breathed and listened to the chickadees and titmice scold me, for being late with the bird feeder. What do these tiny balls of color and song make of me? Gift giver? The god of birds?

The ground perspired, and the sun burned through and the sky became blue-gray and I was grateful to be alive. The golden remnants of last year’s corn harvest gleamed. The cellphone tower three houses east up the highway hosted six perching turkey buzzards, huddled together at the top of the tower and waiting for the slightest exhaled breath of wind.

I walked across the road to the neighbor’s house and freed Ruby Puppy from her pen, and we romped north across the fields, Rocky Fork Creek winding just below and full of ghosts of black folk escaping from slavery. And I heard the Song of Langston: I do not need my freedom when I’m dead. I cannot live on tomorrow’s bread.

I held the squirming herder dog in my arms, and I wept.

The cozy, drowsy cat on the afghan, ears pointed at my mouth. The box of breakfast cereal sans bowl and milk. The oval framed photos of Great-Grandfather Homer and Great-Grandmother Selinda hanging on the walls. A small rectangle of wood on which is etched “Mr. B.,” a gift from a former student. Indian artifacts and fossils filling shelves. This single room holds three hundred million years of animals turned to stone, twelve thousand years of stone points. A cup of cold coffee. A framed poster of “Moonlight Daring Us to Go Insane,” my second play, the story of my Grandfather Red Jones standing in church and brandishing his pistol, refusing to let mourners bury his dead, drowned baby son.

Below the bluff top, barges could be heard chugging east and west on the Mississippi.

Kestrels hovered over the field, ready to drop unannounced into a birthday party for mice. A red-tail hawk perched in the notch of the Kentucky coffee tree. The woods behind my house were being drilled by red-headed and red-shouldered and pileated woodpeckers. In the roots of trees, tiny frogs stirred in their sleep. The den of ribbon snakes in the dirt underneath my shed flicked their tongues and dreamed deeply.

Thawing January soup of drips and puddles, a murky, fecund bullion of soil and roots and bark and leaf rot, wild onions the seasoning and soon dandelions and violets and asparagus the meat. The coming sun-warmed feast, the choir awaiting the conductor.

It rained last night. My blood was stirred.

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Guess who got a $130,000 check just before the 2016 presidential election? According to the Wall Street Journal, one Ms. Stormy Daniels, porn star (so I read), was the lucky recipient of the money. Michael Cohen handed Ms. Daniels the check. He is a head Trump organization lawyer. He says of himself, “I am the fix it guy.”

Since I am not cynical like most of you, my first thought was that Michael Cohen did the nasty with Stormy, and that he was protecting his most famous client from embarrassment. Turns out, Stormy Daniels met Donald Trump at a celebrity golf tournament in Lake Tahoe in 2006, the year after our leader married Melania. Michael didn’t row the Republican boat ashore, Donald did.

It could be entirely innocent. Stormy might have made a hole in one, the bet was $130,000, and the Donald lost the bet and uh, paid her. She might have bought a set of Trump Golf Clubs, with gold shafts, which cost $130,000. Sadly, for those good friends—the porn star and the soon-to-be President—there were holes and shafts, alright, according to other golfers who were at the tournament. Stormy, observers said, was more “licky than “lucky.”

Remember the character Preacher, in John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath?” When our hero Tom Joad meets up with Preacher, he asks if he’s still preaching. No, replies the broken man. He used to drive women into a religious fervor, and when they’d fall on the ground, speaking in tongues, he’d look at those writhing women, God help him, and he’d lower himself on them.

Fundamentalist Christians, all Erskine Caldwell “Tobacco Road” and humping like bunnies, are the most oversexed Americans. Which explains why they love Mr. Trump, warts, shaft and all. Jesus God, Republicans are randy.

Other porn stars at the golf event in Lake Tahoe said Trump touched them inappropriately. Other porn stars? At celebrity golf tournaments? Are there no wives at these events? Certainly, Melania Trump wasn’t there. I’m not satirically outraged, I’m full blown outraged, that rich men get to, uh, play, uh, golf.

Moral depravity has set in. And since the evangelicals won’t rise up—well the women won’t, anyway—I will. I hereby invoke John Paul Sartre’s “Credo of Existential Malefaction Entirely Not Titillating,” or CEMENT (see-men-t). My motto: If I can’t have Stormy, you can’t.

Sisters, will you join me? Will you sit across the dining room table tonight and glare at your husbands? Will you bury their golf clubs in the cold, cold ground? Will you spit out the word “stormy” with vitriol and venom? Will you whisper, “I know what you’re thinking?” And watch the hubby squirm with guilt.

The rich don’t suffer guilt. They buy. They burn. They bandy about. They ogle teens. They ooze oil. They orate and obloquy. They disgust me.

Unless one of them sends me a check for $130,000 and arranges a date for me with Stormy D.

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Song for Sunrise-Girl Child

We buried Xach’itee’aaneh T’eede Gaay sister of Beringia today at our summer camp she could not breathe we took her lifeless body from her straw bed and laid her in ochre and stone points The Mother’s bosom and covered her with dust her spirit journey unfolding even as we wept

All of us take the journey skybound from the Upward Sun River it is one thing to know quite another to grasp when the loved one is a horripilate child SunriseGirl-Child we held at night from Sabretooth from cold from Brother Wind.

11,500 years the teachers from the future say our girl was First Child from genomes born and passed to Athabaskan and Algonkian peoples of the south the Valley of Water born of the Valley of Ice and teeming life and Xach’itee’aaneh T’eede Gaay loved birdsong

I carved my daughter a flute from reed and taught her to blow her sweet breath across the mouth hole and she played for the owl with horns and teased Bother Wolf until the cay echoed with cries and calls and Crow joined in until the perfect silence of Grandmotherset

Sunrise Girl-Child’s tiny bones minus her heart returned the ochre had protected precious arms and ribs and skull and there was reverence of the finders for First Child she heard their whispered awe the mothers among them fighting back tears we came from you Flute Girl sister

Xach’itee’aaneh T’eede Gaay Sunrise Girl-Child of ancient Beringia of First Firerainsnow the New World the Old Asia the frozen journey the thousand stories around campfires the dances beneath Coyote Moon and Grandfatherrisen night star oh

We loved you.

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I stopped in at Orville and Quilt Queen’s house, for coffee and homemade cookies. They glanced at each other. Something was wrong.

“You best sit,” Orville said. “Reba died last night, in the pole barn. I went out to feed her and Ruby Puppy, and Reba had crawled away from the heat lamp—to die, I guess. Her body was froze stiff. Ruby was pawing at her.”

The three of us sat at the kitchen table and wiped tears from our faces. Orville had dug a grave in the nearly frozen ground, carried our dear Reba and laid her in the hole, and buried her.

We did find some humor in the situation. Acres of voles, moles, snakes and mice could rest easy, as old Reba, who daily in spring and summer caught those creatures—tossing them into the air and swallowing them whole—was gone. But Ruby Puppy had completed her apprenticeship, so rodent safety was temporary at best.

All the best things in life are temporary: young love and lust, tomatoes, wine, starlit nights, wilderness, wild things, music. The millennial generation seems to me to be more obsessed with taking smart phone photos of beauty, rather than immersing themselves in beauty. Our best fiction is about characters breaking out of mundanity and diving head first into beauty, into sin, into flesh, into depravity, into all fruit and nectar of the world.

Quilt Queen said she wanted to go that way—freeze to death. Orville opined that fire was the way to go. Many of you know that I came within minutes of freezing to death, in 1985, as friends and I walked across the frozen Illinois River on a twelve-below-zero night, and the ice broke, and three of us plunged into the river. It took over an hour to pull me and the other guys out. I lost all feeling and sank into a deep sleep, my eyes freezing shut, a light glowing and pulling me to it, to my mother who was sitting on the ice in a summer dress and holding a wolf on a leash.

“Oh, to be a dog,” Quilt Queen said. “Reba didn’t know about death.”

I saw my father cry but two times: on his deathbed (he was terrified), and when our family dog, Candy died. I was only thirteen, and I watched this man of men sit on the basement floor and press the lifeless animal to his chest and sob, and I was fascinated.

Ruby Puppy and Reba are a hundred yards from my house. I have full run of the farm and permission to set the dogs loose and run with them. Reba has placed countless bodies of critters and songbirds on my shoes, for my approval. She has rolled in decayed bodies and dung of all types and then embraced me.

And now she is gone.

And now Ruby will run in the pasture at sunset, and she will follow her nose to the newly dug grave, and she will smell her loved one, and she will lie still and quiet. And one day she will be laid to rest in that field. And, so shall I lie. And, so shall you.

In a field of stardust, in Milky Way, riding the next wind or terrible storm to the stars and back again. And all around us are the story tellers, keeping the dark matter, which is memory: alive, fiery or frozen, still or leaping, drenched in tears, drowned in laughter.

Warm, so mother’s breast warm and perfect, is memory.

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This summer, Madison County Sheriff John D. Lakin appeared at a democratic rally in Alton. He seemed direct and empathetic. He told the crowd to call him personally—personally—should the need arise. When deputies refused to charge a man for punching my car’s hood at the Nature Institute, I remembered the invitation and I called my Sheriff. Tried to call. Subordinates asked, why do you need him? I was put on long holds. I was reconnected with the deputy substation in Godfrey. John D. Lakin, it seems, was just kidding. For whom does he work? And that’s just a local lie.

This morning, a gleaming and triumphant Congressman Paul Ryan appeared on camera. We won! When asked by “The Today Show,” what about all those billionaire CEOs who said the tax plan is crazy, Ryan shrugged. He said the CEOs didn’t read the literature. When asked to comment on billionaire Republican Mike Bloomberg’s op-ed piece denouncing the tax plan, Ryan said Mike doesn’t get it. When asked about a huge majority of American voters opposing the plan, Ryan talked down like a school superintendent to his district teachers: I know something you don’t know. No, he doesn’t. He is a comfortable liar. Mrs. Ryan, take note.

A few years ago, beloved democratic Senator Ted Kennedy, on his way to a tryst with Mary Jo Kopechne, accidentally crashed his car on a bridge and let the woman drown. He did manage to make it to shore, to tell a lie, to pay no price for killing a ‘nobody,’ because he was needed in the Senate, to be a voice for Progressive policies, to be revered for his courage at overcoming cancer, and to die with honor and accolades.

Lying to one’s self is a category of lying. A lot of priests and preachers and self-proclaimed evangelicals denounce the ‘sin’ of homosexuality then are found with underage boys in motel rooms. Bigoted cake bakers call themselves artists so that they can refuse to serve gay and lesbian and transsexual people. You just know what those people would have done to black people a few years back. All in the name of God. Not all in the name of you or me, because we would quickly deny them their excuse. But patriarchal God, Zen master that he is, keeps his mouth shut while his flawed constituency spouts bigotry and hatred.

Now, facts are lies because Bannon, Trump et al, relying on uneducated, unwashed white zealots, have not heeded the wisdom of George Orwell’s “1984” (originally titled “1948” until the publisher got cold feet) and invented a whole new reality. The truth is bigotry crowd got their start with rightwing windbag, Catholic and ‘Jesus is a White Man’ proclaimer Pat Buchanan. My father nearly shit himself with joy when he found a TV outlet for his hate, in Pat B. and his sister Bay. Hate became legit.

Patriotism, jingoism, nationalism: these are the ‘last refuge of a scoundrel,’ essential to slavery, Manifest Destiny, mass slaughter. A few notable scoundrels: Andrew Jackson, George Rogers Clark, Henry Kissinger, Pol Pot, Stalin, Hitler, Blackwater Inc., the KKK, Idi Amin, Augusto Pinochet, Father Charles Coughlin, Pat Robertson, The Crusades. The current nutjob sycophants: Sara Palin, Mike Huckabee, Michele Bachman, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, Trumps, Kennedys, Bush’s. The list is endless.

Now we find we can’t even trust the people we vote for. We have endured a year of selfish, lying, hypocritical, rich sons of bitches who give not a flying fig for what Steven Colbert snidely calls ‘ordinary people.’

My fellow ordinary people: what are we going to do? A lot of people my age say they don’t really care—they won’t be here for the coming chaos. They won’t? So, their grandchildren aren’t their responsibility?

Excuse me while I touch the lie.

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