January 22, 2016
At the Concert for New York City in Madison Square Garden
five weeks after 9/11
Richard Gere stood in front of millions of viewers and said,
We have the possibility
to turn this horrendous energy we are all feeling
from violence and revenge
into compassion into love into understanding.
The crowd booed him, loudly,
as if to say, Hey, Buddha Boy,
we will not be caught dead acting like Jesus Christ.
As if to say peace is not an acceptable answer 2500 years since proven by Gautama.
As if Christ only published books he wanted us to thump instead of experience.
Granted, compassion is a wounded word. It gets
banged around in the junk drawer.
It is not an entitled driver, would not survive in California.
Compassion is often the last player picked. So maybe Richard Gere
should have used the word equanimity, or awareness, or rest
to suggest we curb the poison of reacting so fast.
But journalists insisted Richard Gere’s proposal for love and understanding
was the wrong time, wrong crowd, wrong message.
I remember being 27,
feeling like some fathers don’t tell their sons
I am proud of you,
like an entire city had learned to chant the
language of a well-disguised suicide
dressed in clever headlines and stagy news reporters
who failed to mention
that a French man
named Antoine Leiris
lost his wife and the mother of his child,
with whom he was madly in love,
to the terrorist attacks in Paris last week.
It was no more excruciating than what happened in Beirut, or in Baghdad,
or in the West Bank during the same 24 hours.
The difference is that five days later
Antoine Leiris was the only man
who posted a love letter for his son on the BBC,
an open message to those responsible for killing his wife,
looked directly into their hungry little pain-bodies and told them,
I won’t give you the gift of hating you.
“Pussy.” “Pathetic propagandist.” “Candy-ass liberal.”
The insults that followed Antoine’s moment of peace
made me realize
if we are ever gonna play our cards right
we have got to want to see everyone else’s hand.
Everyone here at the table, look:
wounded a word as it may be –
can see all of it.
Anger is only concerned with what it thinks is fair,
narrow like the barrel of the NRA,
like the blueprints to Russia’s femininity, to China’s childhood,
to North Korea’s private parts, to the bruised music of the Confederate Flag states
still singing like a drunk Englishman in a Tibetan monastery, loudly
loudly, Hey! I’m the Over-Compensator — The Great Annihilator.
Cross me and you will know my pain.
In each of us
lives a small man with a good heart
and an ego the size of Hitler.
The velocity of these tiny histories repeating has pierced a hole
through my blindest spot,
pulled everything out from behind it and shot. Shot.
There was an Isis in my behavior the size of New Orleans in 1859
telling sick jokes that my heroes thought were funny.
I saw the feet of my grandmother calloused to the point of brick
from walking a sad path aftermath
of revisions and excuses,
wearing spiritual fatigue and dogma tags
while I loaded maps to courage on my smart phone and bookmarked her obituary
thinking there would be a better time than now to understand
why she lost her goddamn marbles.
Why are we not fighting fire with water?
Compassion will not make us lazy.
It is okay to cross these borders.
It is okay to stay awake
to love our own ignorance
enough to look at it square in the wise guy,
in the bright side,
at the parts you are terrified to acknowledge
because of the work it will probably cause you,
because there is a chance you have been your own terrorist.
There is a chance you are a failed relationship.
There is a chance
that every single day
you are part of the reason
millions of animals actually weep before slaughter
and you do not get to make up for it by watching adorable YouTube videos
while stuffing your face with their death.
It is more than mere cliché
that – through these bodies – we are all rooted to the same source,
that we have arrived on this planet to experience form.
Now that we’ve had some time to do that, please,
let us reintroduce the idea
because they didn’t have enough money in the first place.
to the eradication of suffering.
Like denying refugees.
Like putting a fence around freedom.
It is not because I am paranoid or weak or unconscious
that I feel fear rapidly moving through us
when I sit on a bench downtown,
in CNN’s airports, on a bullet train.
It is because scientists have confirmed superbugs
that cannot be killed with the antibiotic drugs of last resort,
sending modern medicine back to the dark ages,
that we may rediscover a sustainable cure for the cancers
living in our broken records, like revenge, like wildfires,
like the eyes rolling back in our booing heads
until the collective misery of us
has compounded so deeply into everything
that it is easier to go ape shit,
or sell off sanity for more content,
than it is to stay sober and work through this—
this bully-mouth madness and its chatty-ass friends. Social media
is a full-scale bulimic, binging on arguments that cannot be won;
raging family of ipecac, perforated throat burn, constantly bringing it back up,
soaked in stomach acid. We are a gagging chorus of pills
pretending toilet tears don’t count just because we used our fingers.
The language of our knuckles is bloody
and sick of hearing itself speak
in thaps, in splatters, in stains; wants to write essays on disarming the murder
in our words at the Tower of Babel.
Wants to write essays on why to bomb religious wars
with porn and make-up and liquor
instead of precision-guided civilian killers.
It is okay to turn off the television’s loud reprisal.
It is okay to turn down the radio, to drive in silence, to the sea, to the see:
The oceans of care we keep for this world
get so landlocked in our chest
that when the answer
tries moving over all the God dams built across our flooded hearts
to surprise us with important questions
it might look like we are spitting back
entitlements at the earth.
Stay still. Gather your wits,
find their ends, pull out the slack and say clearly:
Call me a cliché.
Stick your violence in my meditation.
The worst you can do to me
for not joining the gangland war on Christ’s behavior
is shoot me in the look on my face,
the one that says I am not afraid to understand you.
In A New Earth,
Eckhart Tolle describes us as the noisiest humans in history.
Some things do not need to be fact-checked.
Stop backing up so loudly. You screaming siren on a cell phone.
You heavy-footed upstairs neighbor.
Bloated bodies of anger belting out boos
the size of Madison Square Garden rejecting Richard Gere,
who I know very little about,
but who I suspect, like most humans, is part saint—part fraud,
and who reporters had to admit
rebounded rather nicely
by simply acknowledging that what he had to offer
was apparently unpopular right now,
Like taking away your child’s assault rifle.
Like the color white. Like the color brown.
Like acknowledging the man in Nigeria who found the cure for HIV.
Unpopular is compassion. Like a savings account in Greece,
like the topic of trafficking Stockholm Syndrome
all the way back from New York City
to right here down the West of me
where I am determined
to see all of it
because I don’t get to go blind again,
not without printing the word coward in holy brail
on every pen I will ever use to point out
how pain cannot digest love.
It works the other way. My body
no longer loves writing poems for public consumption,
but I am still right here behind its habits,
stacks of grinding teeth
and a mashed-up forehead of rolling credits,
working to see all of it, which
I suspect is more productive than giving you the gift of my hate.