Baptism

Baptism
-by Brian Quinn
Art: “Breaking Through” by Carne Griffiths

 

Dragging hand-me-down virtues
through tunnels of
barbed wire, wrapping
ethic(and morality, some
times)inside oily rags
on the verge of igniting themselves.

we fight and
we spit
and we wild an-
d we spark,
fearful of being over-
heard by glass-walled neighbors:

our louder, American pastime
of digging in our back yards
at midnight for only the latest
psychologies, hoping they won’t
calls the cops. no. we need
something aching, ancient.

pine and hemlock come to mind. and rites
that demand more blood and dance.

to fight and
to spit
and to wild an-
d to spark
is to dig in the back yards of
our ids and our egos regardless of .
philosophy’s agency.

there is no more time to
kneel before, only to rail
against, to lean and press
against, to fight-spit-wild-spark
against,

to share the splinters
from this, our baptism.

First they came for the socialists…

First they came for the socialists…

-by MARTIN NIEMÖLLER (1892 – 1984)

from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Niemöller was a prominent Protestant pastor who emerged as an outspoken public foe of Adolf Hitler and spent the last seven years of Nazi rule in concentration camps.

drier gods

drier gods
-by Brian Quinn
Artwork: Flora et Zephyr
by William-Adophle Bouguereau. 1875.

catching scent on the wind.
blood hounds harp and
howl.
strain at their leashes.

it’s the Wind
i’m after. an alter
to appease. a face
to curse. a flesh to murder.

building our shelters.
the torches blowing
out. our eyes wide. open.
dry.

wilder hair revealing
(y)our beauty. the truth
behind clouds in this
sober country.

Inheriting Goddess

Inheriting Goddess
-by Brian Quinn
Artwork by Sarah Sadie

 

The strong, raging river of my
birth, several promised lands
away, I can smell its waters.

(but where is
the Sacred Tree
foretold in our
father’s dream?)

Sun-skinned, tongues filling
our mouths, the desire for water
overwhelms the memory of it.

(This is no river!
It is a creek;
a stream;
a mirage.)

Pouring over elementary school
text-books for nomenclature,
you forget the water ever existed.

(We miss the
desert: we
knew when the
sun would rise.)

You ask me for rain, accuse
me when it floods. The
rise of inevitable waters

White Men, Just Listen.

A White Male Problem

I hear constantly that black problems are black problems, and that they have to solve their own problems.

I also hear that women don’t really have any problems, that they should just remember their places.

Setting aside the bullshit of these lines of thinking, let’s play the game for a minute, applying the same logic to ourselves.

First, let’s admit that there are actually white problems. Then let’s admit that there are male problems. Then white male problems are white male problems, and we have to solve our own problems.

And we DO have problems. It’s just that our problems are causing a lot of others.

The Symptoms

We raise white men who’ve committed a terrorist act and destroyed the private property of a private company to the level of Arthurian Legend and call it the Boston Tea Party, but then we feel offended when a football player takes a knee.

We admire an all-white-male government committee deciding on women’s health issues and defend it as democracy in action.

We use our privilege to call for less government interference in our lives but then:
-demand legislation dictating marriage,
-demand legislation dictating what a doctor must say to a female patient,
-defend agents of the state (police) who react with unnecessary lethal force against black citizens.

We use a white defendant’s future potential but a black defendant’s past to dictate prison sentences.

We think that saying someone is articulate is a compliment, because it surprises us that they are.

We have the luxury to sit back and assess whether someone
-deserved to die,
-deserved a life sentence,
-doesn’t deserve access to social programs,
-doesn’t have the ability to make decisions for themselves.

It is pretty clear what our problem is: we do not or cannot see others as actual human beings…
…and that is because we do not see ourselves as human beings.

The Problem

We create a resume-like list of accomplishments to substitute for our humanity, a list that we hope makes up for any shortcomings or for any sins. If our job title is impressive enough, if we tithe enough, or if our kids are in good schools, or our wives have decent sized expense accounts, then it doesn’t matter that we embezzle, if we only go to church on Easter, if our kids have a bruise here or there, if we have been divorced four times.

Our identities are tied up in our jobs (does it surprise you that there are garbage men who belong to Mensa?) or our roles (provider, father, husband, regardless of being good at being these things) or status (house, cars, pretty wife). Our identity is defined by superficial qualities that can never come near to describing the depths of our humanity. We do it anyway. White-male is the default, and we are the material beneficiaries of a system that encourages us to mistake mirrors for windows.

Our white-male problem is that we are subject to a system that requires us to perpetuate racism, sexism, and every other -ism you can think of. We white-wash differences under the guise of free-market fair-play because we cannot acknowledge identity outside of our own already entrenched terms.

And this system does not allow us to recognize even the most successful of us as human.

Our problem is that we don’t recognize that as a problem.

The Cycle Continues

We tell our sons, “No, that is a girl’s toy,” or, “Only girls wear pink.”
We tell our sons, “Crying is weakness.”
We believe telling our sons that they “throw like a girl” will motivate them to be more manly.
We raise our sons to be stoic, emotionless and workaholics, to be successful, to be winners.
We fail to teach them what it is to be human.

Shut Up and Listen

When someone says, “Black lives matter,” we need to listen, because they are affirming something we cannot affirm for ourselves.
When someone says, “My body, my choice,” we need to listen, because they have remembered something we have forgotten.
When someone announces to the world they are gay, we need to listen, because they found something we lost long ago.

When our sons says they want to wear pink, we need to listen, because they are human, self-determining, and courageous.

We’ve talked long enough. Look where it’s gotten us. And by us, I mean everyone. 
Shut up and just listen.

Black Cat Alley

Black Cat Alley
20160918_110946 (entering Milwaukee’s Black Cat Alley)
-by Brian Quinn
Published in Return to the Gathering Place of the Waters
by Vegetarian Alcoholic Press, 2017

20160918_111617running through
(the secret
black
alley)ways that
stray un-
seen throughround
this city(bleached20160918_111035
harsh-
white by the sun’s relent-
less passing)that veil be-hind
marble restroom
walls,
under mosaic foyers or
aside
(three-in-the)morning-stained

coffee mugs(you
can see them if you
look just so, just right,20160918_111105
under old and yellowed light,
under more honest light),

you carry words
that you desperately
need to deliver, words

20160918_110904that breed in
the creases of your brain(growing
suddenly immense and
populous)until the
megrim pressure
nudges the wish that you
would scream louder(if only
someone could hear you),

these walls drenched
in echoing mural.

20160918_111153

But Urijah Slept at the Door

But Urijah Slept at the Door
-by Brian Quinn

 

Before you’re even gone,
The skies open up their mouths and spit our ardent harmonies;
the sidewalks develop new cracks from which concrete shards erupt;
all windows stop reflecting the sun’s light.

My feet lose traction, causing a
fall that my hands catch;
breathing stops;
my eyes dry out while searching the cracks for what I missed:

…the point you were trying to make, of caffeine free.

…the mark in my last poem, in the gift I sent.

…the call to arms, to speak now, to hold my peace.

…the deadline for submission, for finding you free.

…the last call, the last train.

I shut out
The skies and,
In the day’s
Final beams of
Unreflected light, grope
Among the cracks
And concrete shards
For the chance
I know I
Won’t find but
Can’t risk missing.

I watch my own light seep out through these
labor stained hands now pricked with
opaque slivers: new beams that reflect
violently off the store windows on
either side of the street. People start to gather, a
yearning audience eager to join the skies’
obsessive harmony. And I nearly miss it:
under these lights, they’re singing your name.

Catering in Charleston

Catering in Charleston
-by Brian Quinn
Photograph by Charles E. Peterson, 1934
“Slave Quarters at the Hermitage plantation, Chatham County, Georgia”

         The Monthly Dinner Meeting of a Two-Hundred Year Old Fraternal Organization in a Two-Hundred Year Old Building

it’s fucking hot in this kitchen,
in my white chef’s coat,
across from the Battery,
in this new kitchen
(new in 1967):
still proud of it they are,
of the gas pump stove
and the clever venting
that works with the Federal
architecture
of this former slave’s pantry.

the creamed rice I’ve made, the
collard green sauerkraut,
the bacon jam
await the butter-browned shad roe,
while the society’s
newest members,
who’ve waited fifteen years to join,
(ten if you have legacy)
serve the mint
julep, the corn
bread and the honey
butter. tonight

in the dining hall

the great fireplace is never lit,
they pride at the untold layers
of shellac
slathered over the
centuries-dry wood,
muting some craftsman’s
hand-carved angels,
lions, flowers,
bloating their features
to something toy-like:
a child’s playset.

men, all.
facades, banisters and
grand, Roman columns
all.
holding up
this ancient building.
all
plump and
white(-washed)

         A Wedding at a Plantation

the iconic arches of magnolias
lining the dust-packed drive
(almost) obscure the small
houses set behind,
until those ancient trees
open to the massive front steps,
the hard, oaken doors of
the main house of the restored
plantation-turned-tourist-attraction.
but I came up the other drive, this one
newly paved,
leading to the ‘round back of the
servant’s entrance.
fences keep folks from actually comin’
‘round back because back here
they haven’t even bothered to
throw on a coat of white-wash:

the magnolia drive leads guests
to this weekend’s
wedding. or
cotillion.
i don’t even remember which
until the fog-horn-leg-horn
daddy of the bride, sweating through his
tux
says to me,

boy, why,
why don’t ya head
on o’er to the bar thare
an’ fetch me a drank.

it’s not a question,
i’m wearing all white, you see
along with all the other decorations:
chairs, cooks, waiters, bartenders, bussers,
bride.

and if you can take your eyes
off the splendor of those
magnolias,
you can see the new coat of
whitewash on those small houses.

Neon

Neon
-by Brian Quinn
Photo “Waiting in the Rain”
by Hanson Mao

 

Part One

when I say I
love you(
mis-
trust you)
I am not
consum(at)ing your
worth: how can I
when
I’ve only ever known a
you-under-this-moon?

(there is only ever one everything at any given moment)

to him
you are only ever
you-under-that-sun(I’ve
never known this you)when
he tells you one can never count on
moonlight, calls you
beautiful only at noon.

mo(ve)ments
(that)are
more about in-relation-to
than
in-
here(nt),
as much about (co?)ordinates
as composition.

and you:
you will only meet
(y)our lovers
in the pre-dawn city as it rains,
neon giving
lust(er) to sidewalks
in ways the moon or the sun
never could

Part Two

Police sirens and rattling subway trains are hope for continued night, but in this mo(u)rning glare, the GIRLS-GIRLS-GIRLS sign outside your studio’s third story window might as well be advertising stationary, its neon promise no longer providing proof of the temple that is the small of your back, so worshiped by rain and the tongues of (every)last night’s lovers.