Poetry

It has been a month to the day

since I played the mandolin

at my father’s side.

 

The geese that never hesitated

to bite us left him somehow in peace.

Just brushed up against his legs

like cats.

 

In another month

it will be two months

and so on.

 

My son saw ashes from the woodstove

spread around the trees

in front of the house

and thought it was him.

 

I patch up my bibs

as my son looks on

with thread coarse and strong.

 

I thought I was one of the good guys.

I wanted to be one of the good guys.

But I wasn’t.

All along

from the very beginning

I was one of the bad guys.

— Alex Limkin

 

 

MEXICAN GRAY WOLF TO BE DELISTED: NOT PROTECTABLE

Went to the wolf meeting and I want to take this opportunity to recognize the bravery and courage of all those working at building bridges of understanding where there are none. We can not give in to pessimism. We must continue to believe in the power of bridges of understanding to bear the weight of the world. To the guy who ran the meeting, who hired a bunch of cops to line the walls, who threatened to throw us out if we didn’t shut up and listen, who got the cops to harass me for having AB, who then tried to make up with me by telling me, hey, i’m a veteran, too, your tactics worked. I left the meeting early and I’m not planning on going to any more meetings in the future. What I meant to say into the record, but did not have the chance to, is that I am sorry we live in such a violent and bloodthirsty and profitobsessed place that we can see no other species as having similar value as our own and that we can only seem to think in terms of money. It is not the death of the cow, it is not the frantic clawing of her hooves and her desperate scramble across a shallow stream and how another wolf was already in front of her where there had been no wolf before and by the time she cobbled up against the stones and was preparing to bring her legs in so she could kick back the second wolf was already on her haunches and a fourth, where did the fourth come from? was it from the side or at the udders? No, it is not any of this.
It is the economic impact of the death of the cow. That is what scares me. It is the lack of heart, the disdain, the contempt, the willful ignorance. That is why I can’t attend any more of your hearings. And why I have to sit here and just breathe
for a minute. -Alex Limkin

 

prayer for a newborn

i went out into the backyard. the full moon was almost directly overhead. in my right hand i held some cornmeal along with the small dried up piece of my son’s umbilical cord. i looked up directly at the moon. the night was cold. i could feel the chill of winter seeping through my pajamas. i blew three times a river of steam at the moon. then i turned to the small hole i had dug in the yard. i cleaned out the leaves that had blown into the hole and passed the cornmeal and the bit of our son into the bottom of the hole. then i filled in the hole with loose soil and patted the ground. i stood back up and looked at the moon again. i said a prayer for escué. i said a prayer for peace. i turned to all the directions and addressed the firmament and breathed out prayer upon prayer into the cold night sky. then i went back inside.​

flight

i take the pills to keep me brave

so i can withstand the pitter patter

of a thousand hooves

along my spine

around my eyes

across my

forehead

 

every time it was like the brothers to fly

every time it was ducking and dodging

and veering and nearly dying

every time it was like the brothers flying

into the sun

 

i am surprisingly calm about it

because the pills keep me brave

 

we were always out on the dunes

in the early morning

with the gangly brothers

not interested in sex

not interested in money

 

once you have been on the battery

you want only stillness and prayer

 

the only ones who can torture

have never been tortured

and have no need for pills

 

it is for them i pray

careening in this metal tube

with wings

fighting to remember the smell

of canvas and wood

and how joints can creak loudly

but not break

“ALYOM…AKU…DEJAJ!!!”

On days they were having chicken
and the perimeter was insecure
I would repeat this

navigating their
perforated compound
in a red white and blue
Chevy LUV police truck
with the PA cranked
and wheels spitting gravel
in a high-speed drift.
“ALYOM…AKU…DEJAJ!!!”

“TODAY…WE ARE
HAVING… CHICKEN!!!”

They gave thanks
through the sand
in their teeth
I didn’t know the word
for mystery.

Like a Bumblebee

I swim with some frequency
in a small pool
more suited for child’s play
than for swimming.

Ten strokes to the wall. Turn.
Ten strokes back.

No lane dividers. Just
three black lines
on the bottom
(like painted burners
on a cardboard stove).

Sometimes I have to wait
for an aerobics class to finish.
I make every effort
to be patient—
but it is impossible.

Impossible to watch people
standing in the water
clapping their hands
when I could be swimming
(churning the water to an angry froth).

The aerobics instructor is
territorial and defensive
about the pool,
about her charges.

She lets me know that
my tiny shorts
don’t threaten anyone.

“There he is,” she tells the class
when I show up.
“You going to swim some laps
when we’re through? I love it!”

The class basks in the bravura
of their instructor;
they clap their hands
with renewed confidence.
(Take that, you skinny freak.)

On this day
another man is waiting,
an older man.
We ignore each other;
we ignore the fat women.

We just want to swim.

At the appropriate hour,
—not a minute early—
she leads her troop out
to an adjacent hot tub.

(This exodus seems

another eternity.)

Their reluctance to leave is palpable,
to forego the dream of the water.

“Let’s watch them race!” she says.
(She wants to rally them,
reassure them, let them know
how ridiculous we are.)

But now I am swimming.
Back and forth.
Back and forth.
Back and forth.
Like a bumblebee.

And the old man is swimming, too.
(A frenzied butterfly stroke
that surprises me.)

The small pool turns choppy, angry.
We swim alone together,
the swells pushing and pulling
against us
like tiny riptides.

I hear the instructor cry out,
“He’s gaining! Go, go, go!”
Some of the students laugh,
packed into the hot tub
(conscious both of the desire to not touch,
and the impossibility
of not touching).

Some laugh hysterically.

They would like to smile at us
the same way they smile
at the pig races, the sheep rodeos,
small beetles fighting for
ownership of a twig.
(Silly funny beetles.)

But their attention is short-lived.

By the time I pull myself from the water
(from the edge of the pool,
feeling the different parts of me
go taut with the effort)
they are gone.

Still Operational

Set upon and duct taped

like a fraternity pledge

or an Iraqi detainee

I gritted my teeth

against the floor

of the dining car

and shouted my name:

I am Captain Alex Limkin!

I am still operational!


I gave up my date of birth,

my service number,

and all the names

of the men I served with

over the years

starting with Private Ferguson

and ending with

Colonel Westhusing

director of my last unit:

MNSTC-I/CPATT/CTSO.

 

They could not crush

all the air from my lungs

no matter how many

they numbered.

They could not crush all the air

from my lungs no matter

how many bodies

pressed down upon me,

no matter how much

they ground me

into the floor of the dining car

and told me I was

among friends.

 

Stripped naked

set upon and duct taped

like a fraternity pledge

or an Abu Ghraib detainee

I continued to shout my name:

I am Captain Alex Limkin!

I am still operational!

I am still operational!

I am still operational!

 

A handful of deputies

met the train in Gallup.

 

Two of them maneuvered me

down the stairwell

of the dining car

which had long stopped

serving food.

 

Did I imagine the sea of faces

peering out uneasily

from the windows of the train

at the shackled man

carried out like a casualty

by the shoulders and feet

naked and brown as the earth,

naked and brown as the earth itself?

 

At the hospital came the needles

and the catheter.

Three different drugs to return me

to sanity.

 

They said it took

three horse tranquilizers

and a psychotic

to put me down.

 

All My Force.

I am utilizing all my force,

painstakingly,

patiently,

relentlessly.

 

Not easy to do with

simple bits of wood

and a table constantly tipped

by children at play

(not to mention the cat

hiding pawns

in the garden).

For my zengzu, “Pin Lim”,

who loved maneuvering

cannon;

his Filipino son

[a fireman]

and my Papa–

“Lazaro Esguerra Limpin”–

who was a guerrilla second lieutenant

in World War II

and commissioned me

a second lieutenant of

American infantry

in December 1997.

He rendered my first salute in

Las Cruces, Nou Méxic

home of the

Battling Bastards of Bata-an

(“No Mama! No Papa! No Uncle Sam!”)

ROTC Battalion.

I never saw such a salute

as the salute from my Papa–

the way he snapped his hand up there

he might have broken his arm.

 

He was 72.

 

Now 86, he is still teaching me

a rare martial art

known in his country as

sing that song–

“peacemaking by fighting”.

 

I am still learning

the maneuvers:

painstakingly,

patiently,

relentlessly.

 

Effortlessly

I’m working on.

 

A Patch of Grass

Returning from the

Parking Enforcement Office

for two citations

(expired tags

on a parked truck)

and the Bank of America

(penalties and

monthly service fees

on a closed account)

I cut through the

Bank of the West

where they used to keep

a grassy lawn.

 

It was all getting pulled up now

by a team of

hardworking Mexicans.

 

A skinny black man

came past moving smartly,

wild-eyed with a

Navy ballcap.

 

“They took all your grass, there, buddy.”

 

It took me a second to realize

he was talking to Abigail.

 

“Not all of it,” she replied

pulling me along

to the one patch yet untouched

in the shady back.

Skywalker

I don’t like to walk long. I have walked long before and I know what it feels like. However, I also know something of the queer pride soldiers take in being able to take it like a mule. In the army we were always walking long as mules, and longer. I remember a walk in Ranger School that went through the deepest darkest depths of night completely without ceasing through endless clanking cursing darkest night up a mountain in Georgia where there wasn’t supposed to be mountains like this that a person could spend the entire night climbing. The walks went on forever. We could never accomplish a night movement without someone spilling into a ravine or going off the edge of a precipice. On one movement I was the patrol leader and went off a 40-foot ravine. As it happened I landed in a shallow creek flat on my back. I came away uninjured. Just a little goofey. A full ruck and k-pot stuffed with all manner of army shit (huge sleeping bag for starters) cushioned my fall. That was 1998 before everyone was using night vision for everything. I walked away uninjured. Landed flat on my back in a creek. You couldn’t die wearing that army shit I thought. I bought into kevlar. That sweatliner followed me everywhere. The army issued me a new sweatliner every duty station having no idea mine was not being tossed away. At one point the k-pot design changed and they went to a different attachment system. I rued the day. At least that’s what I remember. But that wasn’t something disposable, that headband. You see. I sweat into that piece of leather like a mule.

When I think about walking long my entire physical being rebels against it. My re-made junctions creak and groan at the prospect. My head starts to ache just above the base of the back inside of the skull where I feel elevation.

I start to feel as though I’m sliding down the mountain out of control from a missed step and will come away bleeding or worse. I have a great sense of being deterred from something repugnant. I guess that is what I want to demonstrate with each and every step I take along the rim of the sky with only a stick for protection. That I have come upon something utterly repugnant and am doing everything in my power to escape.

Listen Tight, Gentlemen

Alex Limkin

aka Master Pin

aka Four Bales

aka The Kingfisher

is hereby recognized to be

of national interest.

 

You know him as

Captain Cong.

 

Keep him safe

gentlemen.

 

Keep him safe

where the wild grass

grows.

 

Where the water runs

cold and bright

from the teeth of

mountains.

 

When he disappears

into the elk and pine

and soft shadows

of the meadow

mark well his trail

 

for few of his kind remain:

one day we may need

his *DNA

for some

unimagined purpose.

 

* Failed to adjust

Life Appears

Mabuti ang buhay sa bundok;
mabuti ang buhay sa dagat;
mabuti ang buhay sa lahat ng dako.

(Life appears good in the mountains;
life appears good by the sea;
life appears good in between.)
–From the Tagalog

Veteran Charged with Indecent Exposure

You could say I’ve gone completely undercover.

I don’t even go to parties anymore

unless they’re killing a pig

peeling strips of back fat off it

and draping them over the fence.

You’ve maybe been to this kind of party,

where only two or three of the guests speak the language

and there is a lot of bowing and nodding among the

Old Men and Women.

Older than that.

Even older than that.

Much older than that.

(Picture of

REALLY OLD MAN!

OLD TOOTHLESS WOMAN!)

 

(Laughter! Applause!)

 

(Take 1)

Obama is much too young a man to be president.

The president can’t be that young. It ain’t seemly.

Kennedy was young—handsome too—but he was

after all,

white,—

Innit!

 

(Take 2)

Obama is much too young a man to be president.

Should be someone much older, like a

Morgan Freeman

or

what’s another

black president

lookalike?

Oh, yeah,

Geico man.

Innit!

 

(Take 3)

Obama is much too young to be president.

Maybe if his kids were a little uglier…

more bucktoothed say… … … … … …

(giggles, chuckles, not full applause, a small cough

in the front

but mostly modest

laughter)

…Innit!

 

When a black man can be the

CEO

of a big ol’ insurance company

like GEICO (Laughter!)

now that’s

ALL CAPS— (Booming relief of laughter!)

G-E-I-C-O,

Period! (Flood of laughter! Relief! That guy is so funny!)

 

ACT 2 SC. 1

after all

you tamed

what could not

be tamed.

 

you with your

young and rosy cheeks.

you tamed what could not be tamed

you by the shade of a river

you by the

 

(BO-ring.)

 

(cut to crazy brown man

climbing in the mountains

with a dog at his side—

Eat you an energy bar, fool!)

 

Hell yeah I’m still protesting

the Vietnam War,

and this is how I show it.

 

(cut to crazy white man

in Florida swamp

wearing jean shorts

nothing else

real deep tan

wild eyes)

 

This is how you show it, sir?

By getting drunk out here,

disturbing the peace

out here!?

 

You lookin’ to excise

some force against me—

and my brothers here,

back up in them there jungles?

 

(Six to eight patrol officers

with drill sergeant hats and

riot batons look

downward, upward

outward)

 

(Cut to stern

white man

wearing a wool sweater

and reasonable pants

but a crazed look in his eye

just the same)

 

forest rangers with drawn guns

this time

different clip—

could be Washington where that

Bear Man guy got mauled—him and

his girlfriend. (Dumbasses.)

 

You can’t live on this island, sir.

This is a protected island.

There are protected species here, sir.

(cut to stern white man)

I am a protected specie, too!

I have a right to live, too!

Undiminished! Amidst this wild

and precious place! (starts to

strip off his clothes)

 

(cut back to Florida swamp man)

Is that it! Use your m—— force

against me! For your information

I am not done protesting

the Vietnam War!

 

Park rangers capture him with a net,

rough him up—

then shoot him with

rubber bullets in the groin,

kick over his campsite,

write the report

two fingered:

Soiled shorts

en route

to station.

Resisted arrest.

Indecent exposure.

(Laughter! Applause!)

Everywhere I look

What stays with me everyday is the guilt.

The guilt that everyday I am running ahead of

trying to keep ahead of an immense roaring guilt

a bonfire of guilt, a mountainside of guilt

to kill one so young in my dreams

this is why i cry in public because

i am seeing the faces of my victims

everywhere i look

A Few Involuntary Shieks

When i imagine being hunted down and torn apart by wolves, a part of me wants to think i would be stoic enough to go quietly–with just a few involuntary

shieks

–because i have been so courageous about so many other things–but a part of me can’t help thinking:

I hope you all choke to death on me

you longsnouted

bedouin

motherfuckers

IF I THINK

If I think war is crazy

really really crazy

if I think war is crazy

really really crazy

if I think war is crazy

reeely really crazy

 

does that make me

crazeeeeeeeeeeeee

WARRIORS WITH WESTHUSING

They tell me to put the war behind me.

They tell me, “It’s time to move on.”

But what they don’t understand,

what they can’t seem to hear

is this:

If I try to forget,

if I forget, if I somehow

make it out to be

just a bad dream–

then Westhusing died–

for nothing.

So I remain on the LZ,

amidst the dead and dying,

not forgetting why

my lungs still fill with air,

why I can still whisper,

“I’m here, Colonel…I’m right here.”

CAPTAIN RAY LEWIS

Have you heard about

Captain Ray Lewis,

the grayhair

from Philadelphia?

He went to Wall Street

in full dress uniform

carrying a sign addressing

NYPD brutality.

He knows the brutalization

we have seen thus far

has been nothing.

“If this continues to grow,

if this continues to grow.”

He shakes his head

at what is coming.

“They will target the leaders first.”

He does not complete his thought.

He does not say

what he knows

about the way ahead:

that the leaders must be

innumerable.

They must be innumerable and unmoving.

And brave as only wild things are.

I am with Captain Ray Lewis,

grayhair from Philadelphia.

THE INSURRECTION

Geronimo didn’t say this to his father, not Geronimo exactly, but someone somewhere didn’t say this to their father, this exact line: “How do you bring down a malignant empire which will one day alienate its own people by suppressing and imprisoning the intelligentsia?” “Simple, attack from within.” “But we don’t have the boats.” “Then we will have to tend the spirit and wait.”

If you know a Native person who has hung on,

who has tended the spirit,

who has tended the spirit,

who has tended the spirit,

who has hung on,

over the long decades,

over the repeated outrages,

over the continued humiliations,

who has not been broken beaten

torn apart

hug them weeping

saying

“I’ve been following this from day one.

I’ve been with you in spirit from day one.

I’ve been with you, brother.

I’ve been with you, brother.

I’ve been with you, brother.

I’ve been with you, brother.”

A Test

This year in Baghdad is a test. One year beneath the date palms. One year at Section 5 on the west bank of the Tigris where blackbirds balance heavy and thick in the trees wondering where the meat has gone.

(The flesh of regime critics was plentiful at Section 5, and the birds feasted, swooping down out of the palms at the sight of raincoats and pails and black rubber boots, not scared of the dogs.)

If I make it through these dark days I will be qualified for something extraordinary, like manning a frigidaire to Mars (my cheek against the butter dish, feet tucked in the crisper, toes curled against the lettuce

heads).

I think the vast emptiness of space,

the slow spinning of my capsule

(thehauntingradiance

ofthecontrols)

will not unhinge me

after this.

NAMELESS TO U.S.

I am searching for the names of the nine Afghan boys shot gathering wood on the hill. The snowy mountain has become their shrine. We blanched at the horrors of Columbine; the killing of twelve seemed so unreal. I am searching for the names of the nine. Four of the boys were only seven, collecting wood to fight off the chill.The snowy mountain has become their shrine. To justify the slaughter we underline the inherent confusion of war, still I am searching for the names of the nine. A glimpse of their bodies would undermine the terrible weight of our will. The snowy mountain has become their shrine. The children bled the ground a dark wine, twitched once, twice, went still. I am searching for the names of the nine. The snowy mountain has become their shrine.

Every Day

Every day Abigail takes me for a walk. She brings me out to see the violets and the purple and the people. While she sniffs in the underbrush I listen to the sounds of my own heart. While she sniffles and smells in the underbrush I am preyed upon by the street walkers, who succeed in selling me one dollar of beef jerky for the low price of three dollars.

Resurrecting the Dead

Nowadays it’s a formality,
resurrecting the dead.
What can’t be fixed
of human circuitry
with screws, chains, and wires
don’t exist.

What they do
with their shiny tools
(seeing so he is fit to walk again
when walk he couldn’t
and pee again
when pee he couldn’t)
is plain ironic.

He is mostly a fool though
that leaves it
to the hands of others
how he be restored
(with or without
there be a surgeon
can mend a man’s bladder
with fishing line
blindfolded).

But it’s good to know
what they can do for a body
should a body need it done,—

should a skeleton
find itself dangled
from the edge of a ledge
way out yonder way
eye sockets filling
with blown snow,
urine reddening to wine.

KILLING TIME

Budukurundu, I gasp

hunched over the sink

expelling the contents

of my vas deferens

against the blue porcelain,

at once invigorated and

exhausted by the force

of my inimitable lust

and loneliness.

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