The Songs I Hear: A Response to Election 2016

The results of election 2016 left me shattered. I’m a white straight male; I will be okay. This is, of course, what we call “privilege.” I have it. I know I do, and I try to always be aware of it. I truly believed (and still do) that a Donald Trump presidency would further victimize those communities that historically have not and do not enjoy the same privilege I do. On the morning of November 9, after having spent a sleepless night watching state after state stained red for Trump, I held my wife and sobbed. I thought of my LGBTQ friends and students. I thought of my children, my daughter especially, growing up in Trump’s America. I thought of my many Hispanic and minority students. I thought of all those who stand to suffer the most under a Trump presidency. In the recent days since the election, I’ve been trying to process and struggling to stay optimistic. Like many, I’ve been unsettled by doubt and fear.

Confronted by the election results and the need to give my thoughts and feelings form, I have written the following poem–very much inspired also by the recent death of one of our nation’s greatest singer-songwriters: Leonard Cohen. I have not published anything to this blog in a long while. I have been writing regularly–working on my poetry, sharpening my craft, and seeking legitimate publication. I don’t really write politically charged verse, and this particular poem has not been through the weeks of revision that most of my poems are treated to. So, I’m not sure that this is the best example of how my work has developed over the past year, but because of its topical and timely relevance, I’m putting it here–if for nothing else, then to serve as a reminder to me; a poem doesn’t make me an activist, but every purpose-driven action begins when thought and feeling find form together.

The Songs I Hear

“I hear America Singing, the varied carols I hear.” -Walt Whitman
“I, too, sing America. / I am the darker brother.” -Langston Hughes
“It’s a cold and it’s a broken hallelujah.” -Leonard Cohen*

What beautiful music,
my grandma would say
as I cried myself to silence or sleep.
I’m older now, and she is gone.
There are other songs I hear:

I hear

hundred-cent duets,
sopranos singing
three-quarter notes
for every tenor’s whole,
but at a pitch to shake
a ceiling of glass–
a shudder to tempt a shatter.

I hear

a long awaited
wedding march,
rising arpeggio
now threatened to fall.
I now pronounce you
husband and husband.
I now pronounce you
wife and wife.

I hear

old drums for old songs,
an elegy for the old wrongs.
A drum before the pipe;
the dog will bite.
A drum before the pipe;
water is life.

I hear

A dirge on down the road
where dark blood runs
from dark skin–
as red as the spread
of the electoral map–
and three variations
on a four-beat rhythm:
these lives matter;
those lives matter;
whose lives matter?

I hear

a gilded Trumpet–
angry Trumpet–
honking a battle-cry hymn,
and its white regalia band
chanting for false
greatness again.

I hear

my old crying tune:
cracking lips keeping time with mine.
Will we sing ourselves to silence or sleep,
and what will we hear when we wake:

the holy or the broken hallelujah?*



*From Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” as sung by Jeff Buckley
*From Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” as sung by John Cale


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