Death of a Nation


poems by Jon Corelis

And they served their idols:  which were a snare unto them.  Yea, they sacrificed their sons and their daughters unto devils, and shed innocent blood ...

                                                                                                     -- Psalms 106  

The proof of a poet is that his country absorbs him as affectionately as he has absorbed it.

-- Walt Whitman


Children with guns

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In the church they worship spiders, on T.V.
Christ with a neat goatee foretells the rain.
Men drunk on anger oil their blood machines,
women ingest the pennies of their dreams,
and children with guns
dance howling on the entrails of their brothers.
At the Union Hall they’re slurping poison soup.
The flesh rots from their faces.  "Who are you?"
they ask each others’ mirrors.
Men scream at machines in isolation,
women can’t catch their breath, and children with guns
take aim at the morning.

Only human

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 If you were me, you’d be inhuman too.
A glance at what we share should make it plain
I’m only human, so I’m just like you.
I need the things I have:  too bad for you.
My inconvenience justifies your pain.
If you were me, you’d be inhuman too.
The big boys offer me a chance of gain:
if I don’t take it, what else can I do?
I’m only human, so I’m just like you,
and if my boot should crush your baby’s brain,
I’m only doing what they tell me to:
if you were me, you’d be inhuman too.
This cross of lies determines what is true,
and makes our being human inhumane.
I’m only human, so I’m just like you.
So don’t be so judgmental:  of us two,
one has to be an orphan of the rain.
If you were me, you’d be inhuman too.
I’m only human, so I’m just like you.
Over the rooftops

When night came I rose and dissolved through the wall of my flat
and floated over the rooftops of the city, across the faintly
luminous band of the horizon, and into the world where the sun dies.
Forgetting myself I roamed forty days among pallid
smudges of hunger until I came upon one
brighter than the rest, who reclined in a honeyed song.
Drawn by that sweetness I hovered over her croon,
which seared my eyes blind when I knew it was not for me.
Angered I stung her womb and was slung in a web
of blood and desire where I grew on an infinite sea
of pressure and warmth until I cracked open the sky,
emerging into a place of rocky points
and gullies crazed with dry heat.  The people I saw
in that land were born without skins and with fractured tongues,
so the tiniest nudge of the breathless atmosphere there
grated an arid squeal from their impotent mouths;
yet sometimes one was born who could speak, and his cries
of anguish maddened the others to tear him to death.
Leaving this desert of sterility and filth, I managed
to climb to a cleft on the mountain where a child was seated
weeping at his own severed heart that lay at his feet.
He told me, The wind is saying, the wind is saying;
and I listened to the wind but in its urgency
could not discover what message it had for me.
So intent was my concentration that I dissolved out of that world
and found myself floating back over the houses of the city of dawn
and into my room where I thought about these things, to tell them to you.


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Sketches from my commute
Wet-ashes scent of early fog
tinged with acrid odor of the joint
smoked by a couple huddled in the entrance
of the pleasant suburban train station,
one white, one black, both shabby.
My seat-mate mentions his sister’s suicide,
I am looking at a large bright knife
half hidden in the large dark fist
of a man standing three feet away
as I wait to alight from the train.
Does the object in question bear
any significant relation to my person?
"Doctor!  Doctor!" screams the blonde woman
wandering through the park-and-ride lot
in the wheezing screech of an asthmatic cat
trapped in a burning house.  "Doctor!
I shot him!  Doctor!  Doesn’t
anyone hear me?"  she cries, stunned.
An accident on the tracks by my office.
I go to look:  lights, cops, crowds,
and two canary-yellow body bags
a dozen feet from each other.
I ask some onlookers, "Were two people hit?"
"No," they answer.
"Excuse me sir can you help me out?
I need to buy some corn bread and beans
to feed my kids.  Thank you, thank you:
God is going to bless you,
and you are going to go
to heaven."
An Abortion
It wasn’t really:
it happens every month.
I used to wonder,
were the nuns really bald?
I am standing on a hillside.
The shearing wind cuts my hair:
   it drops, drops, drops.
I am gazing into a pool.
The white-robed wizards turned
  the fishes into glass.
They nod and float in water clear as they:
  beautiful dead things.


About a bicycle
An old man rides a bicycle in the sun
in California.
He casts a shadow definite as death
in the meticulous light of November.
An old man rides a bicycle in the sun
in California, this blonde shire
with all its pointless beauty,
through marshes of emporia in the valleys,
past bungalows and cyclotrons
and the unidentifiable debris along the freeways.
In the hills the earth lies dead,
her womb split with an axe.
An old man rides a bicycle in the sun
in this decaying paradise where sins come in pastels.
His thoughts are a whale sounding far at sea.
California spring at the turn of the twentyfirst century:
the sun is chill and warm like Chardonnay;
from the news box windows in front of the Whole Foods Market
headlines recount why people are blown to bits.
A grey gaunt man scrapes a coin return with a finger,
evincing no dismay at finding nothing.
As I turned down the dark alley the wind blew a  crumpled page
from an indecipherable newspaper across my shadow at such an angle
that all the images of the city were invoked, and I saw:
   a hooded woman on a misty plain
   a man in a garden digging a hole that fills with blood
   a bush of roses which secrete a viscous film to trap insects
   a boy flying a harp on a string like a kite
   a beggar whose hands are reversed
   a blind man wailing through the crowds, "Can’t anybody see?”
   a group of children playing jacks with bullets
   a dog fetching a tarantula
   a white phallus on a red flag rippling in the wind
   an accordianist dripping mucous from his ears
   a cat laughing out loud
   a statue that shifts whenever you look away from it
   a book that turns to dust when you open it
   a coffin that begins to speak when you close it
   a skeleton nailed to a cross
   a nun in rags
   a bride in mourning
   an infant born with burnt flesh
It is because I am a ghost who has not accepted my death
that I have been condemned to catalog such things.
Hot Club of France
Jerry was one of the people
who collect in the cracks.
He’d been around forever,
doing odd jobs
and playing guitar on the street,
mostly tunes
by Django Reinhardt, and playing them
fairly well.
I’d give him a dollar sometimes.
He managed to scrape
together enough for a room
at a cheap hotel
in a rare run-down patch
of a very rich town.
So at least he wasn’t homeless.
I hadn’t seen
him around for a while when I heard
that he’d climbed to his hotel’s
roof and thrown himself off.
It was one of those deaths
that doesn’t cause a ripple
in the flow of the world.
I suppose he had a story
like everyone else.
I wondered though if he kept
on hearing Django’s
smooth, intelligent riffs
on the way down.
Things I know for sure
Your life cannot be judged until you’re dead.
Our individual nature is our fate.
Freud was right in everything he said.
Only a fool draws to an inside straight.
   The stronger will prevail in any fight,
   although the weaker side is always right.
You can’t define a person by their looks.
The news can tell you what, but never why.
History is not what’s in the books.
The way to be a leader is to lie.
   No war was ever fought except for gain.
   No soldier ever died except in vain.
All wealth and poverty are undeserved.
A critic’s works are best left on the shelf.
The soul is where our childhood is preserved.
Human hatred punishes itself.
   Both life and love are simpler if you’re brave.
   There is no God.  There’s nothing past the grave.
Hey, guy
Hey, guy:
the sun has a headache.
Hey, guy:
you’ve got to kick those dead birds out of your path.
Hey, guy:
don’t look now but you’re dead.
Hey, guy:
the President has murdered all the poets.
Hey, guy:
you can’t get rid of the stain.
Hey, guy:
don’t tell the truth they’ll kill you.
Hey, guy:
it could be worse at least there’s no hope.
Hey, guy:
we just need some angel to smash these ashen brittle faces with a hammer of song.
Hey, guy:
It doesn’t make sense to me either.
An advent calendar
the first is a golden skull
the second is a cobweb harp
the third is a machine that weeps
the fourth is a poisoned rainbow
the fifth is "send money to jee-suhs hal-leh-yew-lah!"
the sixth is a severed tongue
the seventh is a slaughtered dove
the eighth is an echo in a mirror
the ninth is an eyeball looking at itself
the tenth is "I’ve got blowdried hair adore me"
the eleventh is a spinning compass
the twelfth is Old Glory rippling proudly in the breeze
the thirteenth is a cobalt rose
the fourteenth is a siren in the night
the fifteenth is "we will pay without admitting wrongdoing"
the sixteenth is a psychotic captain
the seventeenth is a singing worm
the eighteenth is a leaking chalice
the nineteenth is a dizzy eagle
the twentieth is a baby on a cross
the twentyfirst is a soiled lily
the twentysecond is a murdered taxi driver
the twentythird is a bag lady waiting for nothing
the twentyfourth is a toothpick child
the twentyfifth is a black hole
Christmas ‘72
Sixteen hundred sylphlike souls
rising from the redness
form a Christmas wraith.
In Washington Nixon blows his nose,
examines the result,
discards the tissue.
A girl receives her gift in Beverly Hills,
a brand new car in a huge red billowing bow:
she gapes and bites her hands,
squeals, moistens, warms.
Someone drops a quarter in Chicago.
Snowflakes mask its brightness one by one,
cold as a country’s heart.
It was dawn when they came to kill us.  The bleak sun
of winter was only a whitening of the mist
over the far hills from where they came.
The earliest screams brought others from their houses,
and their cries roused more sleepers out to die.
My mother, who’d gone for water, was one of the first.
Young as I was, I still ran to protect her,
was stabbed in the chest and thigh and fell to earth
as she fell over me:  lying there, I felt her
give three desperate gasps, as if the air
could anchor her to life, then breathe no more.
Some instinct made me lie completely quiet,
and since the murderers turned to deal with those
our fight had drawn outdoors, I kept my life,
seeing through the lashes of one eyelid
how neighbors, cousins, friends all died around me.
It all seemed very slow and ordinary:
the killers took their time and liked their work.
Their victims each met death a different way:
some pouring curses out with their life’s blood,
some vainly bartering with promised gold,
some weeping childlike tears of acquiescence,
some pleading youth or age or prime of life
as reasons why their case should be exempted,
some numb with horror, some quite mad and laughing.
Their deaths were individual as their lives,
and as identical as all lives’ ends.
The raiders left to search for people hiding,
and I crawled out from under my mother’s body
and lowered myself into the largest well,
the only one with hand- and foot-holds in it,
fearing that they’d come back, and I was right.
For centuries I heard the further slaughter,
bleeding into the slimy rock I clung to.
Twice I was grazed by bundles tumbling down
to sound the earth’s wet heartbeat far below.
I don’t remember coming out, but somehow
I was standing in the sunlight watching people
loading the dead for hauling and looking on me
with amazed kindness.  They pulled up from my well
the bodies of two children, a boy and a girl,
both with slit throats, the bruises still
livid on the girl’s small and hairless sex.
There were inquiries held, of course, but no one punished.
The government blamed the rebels, the rebels the army,
and the army denied it.  The rulers had no answers,
the priests had no answers, the poets had no answers.
Only in silent dreams, two naked children,
angelic, unblemished, with grave and luminous eyes,
hold the answers flowering in their hands. 
Negative entropy
He woke up and heard his voice
   saying, "Negative entropy!"
Of course, it was obvious, how
   could he never have seen it?
He went out and told every person
  he met, "Negative entropy!
Things can go up just the way
  they go down!  We can all
be rich be young forever
  only with negative entropy!"
He quit work and wandered the streets
  crying, "Negative entropy!",
lost his house and his health,
  slept rough in the park,
till during a cold snap he died:
  when they found him his pockets
were filled with scraps of paper
  reading, "Negative entropy!"

Sort of a ballad
Davy Crockett’s
lost in the woods
with a pig in a poke
and a bill of goods;
he went out hunting
for the Cisco Kid
and ended up ashamed
of whatever he did.
        Baby, baby,
        beat my heart,
        snap its strings
        and make it smart;
        New York City’s
        floating in air:
        is it always this way
Baby Face Nelson
and Abraham Lincoln
went into the bar
and came out stinkin’,
and Rip Van Winkle
has a new disguise:
a riverboat gambler
with a pack of lies.
        Mama, mama,
        lift my basket:
        looks like Chicago’s
        blown a gasket.
        All these people
        would be better off dead
        than trying to live
        on the devil’s bread.
There’s plague back east
and dust out west,
floods down south
and the north’s depressed;
the cargo’s vanished,
the wheels are gone:
this wagon’s broke
and we won’t see dawn.
        Father, father,
        shoot my wad,
        crack my whip
        and bust my sod:
        San Francisco
        fell into the sea,
        but nobody noticed
        except for me.
The Twentieth Century
The twentieth century was a heap of corpses:
Auschwitz, Jonestown, Hiroshima, My Lai,
Cambodian clusters of skulls, shiny with dew,
range after range of mountained carcasses,
as if, when we summed it up, our world was death.
But what were we trying to say, by doing this?
So huge a crime must surely be a gesture,
but one with a meaning beyond our understanding,
like those Peruvian megaglyphs, meant to be read
from a vantage point their makers could only imagine.

The Map of America
The map of America doesn’t mean anything any more.
No mournful mosses shroud the sluggish bayous.
No wild lone freedom soars over broken mesas.
No woodsmoke ancestors haunt the maple forests.
The topography has been wiped clean as a cancer ward.
The states are alike each other as corpse to corpse.
When he woke up
When he woke up that morning he knew
that all the flowers had vanished, but not
because it was winter:  this time
they wouldn’t be back.  Eventually
the plants and trees would all die
and the bees would stop making honey
and the effects might ultimately mean
the end of everything, or at least
its great diminishment.  But for now
there would be a period when the world
was just as it was before, except
there wouldn’t be any flowers.  It seemed
like an oddly clean and poised
world to think about, a world
of expectation defined by what was gone.

In the National Garden
As I walked through the National Garden
a young woman gave me a flower and wept.
In answer to my unspoken question she said,
‘For the gaunt and haunted cats that sleep under cars,
and the faces pitted with alcohol like naked meteorites
and the faces shattered by the bullet of the vacuum that used to be god
and the faces tattooed with the poison of rage.
They will not grow again from the sterility of our choices:
the children’s laughter has all been crushed
by the bitter pestle of our rejection,
but because we have permitted this gesture to blossom between us
we may live for one more day.’
The sun has risen in its usual fashion.
Its only colors are the ones we name.
We have no word for sunrise any more.
Birds break out in territorial lyric.
There used to be a country.  I’m tired of talking about it.
The brightest suns are those that you remember.
Streets fill with nerve-jerked meat:  the resurrection.
‘Whom Thou hast stablished in wondrous Dignity.’
This is the kind of music the dead make.
It used to feel like one huge question mark,
buried in the universal beating heart.
These marionettes are governed by machines.
I knew a girl with eyes green as a cat’s.
Life, as you may have noticed, is a tragedy.
It’s starting to fall into place, and I don’t like it.
Current events
So I go down to City Hall to answer my summons
only when I get there it’s not City Hall any more,

it’s some kind of castle with towers
and bridges and stuff like that,

only when I look close it’s all made out of
lightweight plastic and cardboard.
So I try to take the elevator but when the door opens
it’s jam-packed with people,
and they’re all milling around mumbling and looking down
like something had happened they don’t want to talk about.
So I ask this cop by the door what’s going on and he says,
"We got a problem, the King is psychotic."
So I decide to get out of there and I go out on the street
and take out a dollar for the bus,
but when I look at it George Washington’s face is getting all brown
and curled like it was burning,
only it’s not burning it’s getting old real fast
like in a speeded-up movie,
and the flesh on his face gets so old that it rots and falls away
and there’s nothing but his skull and it winks at me,
and I’m like, Whoa, what’s happening, since I never knew that a skull
could wink without any eyes,
but everyone else is walking down the street like normal
so I guess everything is OK.
But I’m really freaked out when I get on the bus
and the driver says to me,
"They’re going to kill us like mosquitos on the wall,
there’ll be nothing but splotches of blood left."
Abu Ghraib
There are black holes in our world
where existence has collapsed upon itself
into a void so dense no light escapes
where insect pleasure feeds on insect pain
and the lips of leering legionaries
erupt in smiles like tumors
who falls therein comes out God’s other side
where the rustling of rats is the only answered prayer:
   Gestapo   Gestapo   Gestapo

Why we fight

I love my car and I’d never want to sell it. 
It’s so cozy inside that when I fart I can smell it.