POEM: State of the Union – Barack Obama

The State of the Union

In come in equality
Barack Hussein Obama
Raising a question
Of will he deliver
His second state
Of the union
Different than the first
Shot from Chicagoland
Now addressing
From 1600 sumpin’
Pennsylvania Avenue
A White House
Supremely courting
Separate but unequal
Early childhood education
Ivy league schooling
Whether constitutionally a lawyer
Or a product of a miscegenation
A black community organizer
A white Harvard lawyer
Finessing Goodwill industries
Racking the Gap™
Lust but always found
His customary locution assured
In custom HeartMarx suits
In trademark blue
Navy blue
Projecting power
No longer caught
In the wrong hoodie
Or his name isn’t Hussein
And what race winning
Between time and money
Soul and intellect
Vulnerability and power
Weather fair skin in the game
Or black ass on the line
Given the can
And the will
The eternal questioning
Lying in the fold
The gap
Between Barack and Obama
In-creasing
And yes
De-spite the rhetoric
We can
And we will

I heard on the news that President Barack Hussein Obama will address income inequality and early childhood education in his state of the union speech today.  Given Obama’s presidency thus far, that’s all the rhetoric I needed to launch this poem.  This poem is a play on the tensions between who we want to be, who we think we can be, how others view us, and what expectations others may have of us.  From many angles, the inescapable tension present in the body politic and the body of Barack Obama is a race question.  For a long time now, I’ve found it puzzling that a biracial person in America is quite universally identified as the minority race.  In America, if you are half black and half white, you are black.  Is being black some type of pollutant that defines someone?  Is this some type of white fear that black is actually stronger than white, posing some inherent threat?  No doubt, culturally, for bi-racial people, it makes sense to identify with one’s minority status, since this defines ones external reality quite pervasively; thus framing to a large degree one’s own experience.  Of course, this is really a cultural question because the genetic foundation for racial differences is as flimsy a foundation in science as profoundly dangerous a reality on society.  Put simply, race is a social construct.  Race is a lazy and prejudicial classification of humans feeding our own biases.  Racism distracts us from the deeper realities of our oneness as a human family.  Racism is a tool to divide and conquer others.  Racism can no more be won than war can be won — it only creates more lost human potential.  I empathize with President Obama who must daily face the many powerful contradictions or tensions in his life and America.  However, I see class trumping racial identity.  I find it a much more coherent view that Obama is a Harvard lawyer than a black community organizer.  His high social and economic class seems a much better explanation for his actions than his racial and ethnic heritage.

Fortunately, my aim in human relations is infinitely higher than merely explaining, or even predicting, human behavior.  We can, and likely will, argue about the extent of human freedom, for any particular individual or “class” of humans.  Still, we are always at least somewhat free.  And it is in this space, whether narrow or wide, that we define our humanity.  This is true for the President of the United States of America, the presumed leader of the “free” world.  This is true for me and you.

If you follow politics at all, you cannot escape that even the most powerful person in the world, presumed to be the President of the good ole USA, is plagues by limits on his freedom, or perhaps more appropriately, his ambitions.  Personally, I revel that lowly me can do things that the President could not fathom; such as living without an alarm clock, or truly taking a week off.  Politics is said to be the art of the possible.  I’d like to think so.  However, it seems that politics is captured much more accurately as being the art of the probable.  The art of the possible is about acting out of an idealism ever-appreciating the stark reality that we can choose to act freely within reality present or looming.  Shrewdness is not well served by fixating on mere probabilities at the expense of our freedom, that defines us as human.

Of course, in this poem, I hope to raise the “race” question to a higher level, not bound by mere particularities, especially racial identity.  Ah, yes, the quest of a poet to tease out eternal themes and universal truths from our particular lives.  In this poem, this is framed as various races: between time and money, soul and intellect, and vulnerability and power.

Still, I am not, nor wish to be, immune from particularities.  I relish in the deliciously punny and serendipitous particularity that Obama wears custom Hartmarx suits.  I have taken the liberty of spelling this brand (probably trademarked!) with my own trademark style: HeartMarx.  The tensions and irony run deep as it can imply a (hidden) heart of Marx for Obama, or the pinnacle of a personal capitalistic brand perhaps too well-suited to speak authentically of income inequality.

May your state of union with reality be harmonious and joyful.

POEM: Navy Yard Killings

Navy Yard Killings

In these crazy times
Of senseless killings
Nations seek a return
To sensible killings

There are many levels of crazy.  There are perhaps even more levels of crazy when it comes to killing.  I am not surprised at all that mass killings by “crazy” shooters rip the heart out of a nation and its citizenry.  I am more surprised that killings as part of an industry, a solemnly premeditated projection of military power unparalleled in human history, are accepted as routine, “business as usual.”  Even as these crazy shootings rip our hearts out, as a nation we seem stuck in a place where such crazy killings seem to be a new normal.  The most recent mass killings happening at a Navy shipyard juxtapose these two seemingly separate realities with some irony.  Is the convergence of accepting as a new normal, as unavoidable, crazy mass killings within our borders in “civilian” settings somehow related to our longstanding societal acceptance of war and other “extrajudicial” killings.  I suspect that they may be.  Nevertheless, I hope that our experiences as victims of violence helps us develop compassion and empathy for those routinized military situations where we are the perpetrators of violence.  President Obama, in the memorial service for the twelve people murdered at the navy shipyard, quoted the ancient Greek poet, Aeschylus:

“Even in our sleep,
pain which cannot forget
falls drop by drop upon the heart until…
in our despair,
against our will,
comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.”

May we gain a wisdom through our awful losses, a wisdom that transcends violence.  As the dead continue to speak to us, through our grief, let God’s awful grace remind us that every one of us is loved — by family, friends, neighbors, God — regardless of our status as victim and/or perpetrator.  And may this unconditional love, the awful grace of God, reigning on the just and the unjust, transform us into a peaceful people, at home and abroad.

I dream of the day when the violence of war will be as unacceptable as slavery/human trafficking.  Only when nations lay aside their weapons will the peace where one side fits all become a reality.  God’s awful grace demands it.