Pam Uschuk

Three Poems

          for Teresa Acevedo

Since January, sun can’t stop shivering.
Hope shakes her head, refuses to step out the front door,
so we drive to San Javier Mission to clear our hearts with mesquite smoke,
the thousand melted roses of perfumed candle wax.

Exhausted, we retreat from daily psychoses tweeted,
the Commander in Chief’s confused sleight of hand.
Who knows who set off today’s bomb on the D.C. mall?
Diversion is the strategy of an administration staffed with lies.

We pull into the parking lot and time reverses its hungry grind
in the hands of O’odham women stretching tortillas and fry bread
to drop on hot tops of burn barrels, into boiling Crisco
attended by dogs, kids and laughter soft as sand they stand on.

In the cathedral, red archangels watch us dip fingers
in bowls of holy water, our urgent need to cool nerves scraped raw
by news of thousands of migrant children crammed into cages with no soap
or a change of clothes.  What devotion can save them?

The thousand flames of votives offer no solution
near San Francisco’s efigy under his serene blue cloth, but
who can resist lifting three times his sacred head?
Since the election, mass on the reservation is always full.

Entering the capilla, we enter our own wounds, say
prayers for the dead, for the health of friends, for love to end
public lies so loud we’ve become deaf to every crisis cry.
We drink in the heat of candle wax that drives tourists out.

Under the burning scalp of desert sun, we head for
ramadas fashioned from ocotillo arms and the trunks of mesquite, for
fry bread crisp with grease,  a homemade tortilla so thin
you can see your fingers waving on the other side.

we sit on unshaded railroad ties with Indigenous families
breathing the sweet tincture of mesquite smoke.  A young girl
leans her head on her grandma’s tshirt sleeve.  Heat waves
shimmer us, distorted as alternative facts spinning our lives.

I Don't Want

to hear tree skin crying in hot wind, desert summer
pyroclastic as a broken heart, our hearts
crying while whales beach, bloated on plastic bags
and acid ocean along the coast named Pacific
when breakers and rip tides are not serene
just misty anger, smash and dash, the kind of dash
you want to run, ahead of a future where the animals die,
all the animals you never got to see in the wild
        chocolate-eyed giraffes
                         or elephants
                         Siberian tiger
                                          snow leopards
and in Madagascar, sweet eyed lemurs eating moths at night
before a tsunami from glaciers melts the edges of the Ross Sea
orangutans with their wise monk eyes
cheetahs running with me on their power pad paws
and wolves
wolves wolves
their ancestor stomach-stabbing howls
running over broken asphalt
Suits don’t cry for burning
palo verde skin, thick as green leather
or green sea turtles belly-up and rotting on white Gulf sand
or five feet of ice falling at the end of June
in Mexico
this is such crap and I can’t stop it by crying
but sometimes it helps when I’ve stretched the skin
at the corners of my mouth in too many smiles
to hide from screens burning out my retinas
so I’ll not see clearly the end of the anthropocene, the end
of  grizzly growls, barred owl claws, the magnificent flipping of spinner dolphins
in the Sargasso Sea, the end of birdsong
and tears.

Zheny!  Zheny!

Grandma cries, come out of your kitchens, drop
your laundry, wipe your babies’ eyes,
link elbows and march the assaulted streets.
Grandma Anna knew invasions in her skin, the blood price
of a tyrant’s lies,  the way assassination is
not just a matter of bullets, steals sons
and daughters from the most orderly house.

Zheny, Zheny, where is that no good husband of yours?
Czech women were never known to comply.
The wren of freedom flew a lifetime in Grandma’s oceanic eyes.
Unpinned her chestnut-gone-to-gray braid fell to her waist
as she told how she escaped the slave tenement
in Philadelphia where she was locked with other girls,
how she ran midnight streets to sing and dance, refusing
all her life one dictator after another to raise independent kids.

This morning the President’s lovely wife stands behind his shoulder
turned toward the cameras.  It’s her birthday, and he doesn’t rise
from his oval office throne for any woman singing in the room,
his manicured fists anchoring his kingdom.  Mediocre student
who refused to read, he is centered in this sea of women teachers of the year.
I can almost hear my grandma roll her r’s stretching
the syllables of outrageous across her tongue.

Zheny Zheny Zheny, kick this no good out of your house
before he burns it down!

paminhighdesertPoet, Cutthroat editor and Black Earth Institute Fellow, Pam Uschuk has published seven poetry collections include CRAZY LOVE (American Book Award) and BLOOD FLOWER, Wings Press, 2015 Book List Notable Book. Translated into more than a dozen languages, her work appears in 300+ journals and anthologies, including Poetry, Agni Review, and Ploughshares, and her awards include New Millenium Poetry Prize, Best of the Web, Struga International Prize for a theme poem, Dorothy Daniels Writing Award (National League of American PEN Women), and others.  Editor of CUTTHROAT, A JOURNAL OF THE ARTS, Uschuk also edited the anthology, Truth To Power:  Writers Respond To The Rhetoric Of Hate And Fear, 2017 and was Guest Editor of About Place Journal ( in 2019.  She lives in Tucson, Arizona and Bayfield, Colorado.  Her newest collection, REFUGEE, will be published by Red Hen Press.



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