Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Ghosts Of Christmas Present

These gaily wrapped boxes
Stand guard 'neath the tree
Silent sentinels of joy
Some for you, some for me

Those, right near the corner
Seem to glitter much less
Colors and ribbons now dour
And darker, I confess

For my heart was not in it
As the paper I did fold
Knowing they were frozen
Truly never to grow old

Christmas presents they are
But present are not
The small hands whose presence
Would occupy that spot

Rending the paper
Flaying it away
To bubble and chuckle
On another Christmas Day

Life does go on
That can't be in doubt
But it's vitality is dimmed
By one less happy shout

So now and on forward
The day will be less pleasant
As our minds do ring hollow
For the ghosts of Christmas present.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

In The Shadow Of One Gunman

28 people are dead. One gunman, the gunman's mother, six staff members and twenty children from an elementary school in a quieter part of Connecticut, a town that many of us might drive through or past on our way to anywhere else in New England.

This event is nothing new, not even in recent memory. It joins a litany of such events that have happened in many parts of the nation, in many publicly accessible places, and to many types of people. Every time it has happened, every time the wailing of frightened victims has mixed with the flat crack of high-velocity projectiles and the attempts of some to stop or prevent greater carnage, a nation gasps, horrified, shakes it's head, mutters "never again," before casting its glance back down to rectangular screens, where they read stories of young, black men gunned down on street corners by white men who were "standing their ground."

Only now, there is a barely subsumed rage at work, a primal enmity that for most years floated below the surface of economic woes, Presidential elections, real estate crashes, foreign wars, falling buildings, celebrity breakups, and cable television, barely managing a ripple. It breaches the surface, shouldering aside all other thoughts and cares, resplendent in the bright of day, a stately leviathan whose mass is undeniable in its presence. All it took was the death of white suburban six- and seven-year-olds.

It may seem coarse to break that moment in Newtown, Connecticut down this way, and I, like many others, am tinged with a pain that will not seem to ebb, but it must be little consolation to the parents of all those massacred before or the families of those murdered on streets and in homes every day to share their grief with so many new families. The common denominator, here as with all that came before is simple: guns. Circumstances, time of day, place, mental health, upbringing... all these things may be different, but there is the commonality of readily and easily available weapons to those who perpetrated the crimes which so shocked us at the time. At some point, in some manner, people who have lost a connection -- or may never have had it -- with human society take these devices for dealing death and spray their unhappiness, their despondency, their rage, their phobias, their hatred over a broad swath of the rest of us. People, who rose that morning to another new day, do not live to see the sun set again.

One is left to ask: when were we going to act? What about the murder of Abraham Lincoln did not change our society? Or John F. Kennedy? Or Martin Luther King, Jr.? Or Medgar Evers? Or the attack on President Ronald Reagan? The rampage at Columbine? Virginia Tech? The attempted assassination of Gabrielle Giffords? The death of Trayvon Martin? What among these events did not say to us: "That is not our way. This is not acceptable."?

These deaths of innocent children are but the tip of a very long spear that America carries because the Founding Fathers could not conceive of weapons with torrential rates of fire and bullets designed to rend and tear and ruin. They wrote the Second Amendment at a time when the nation was young, ill-formed, nascent, vulnerable, and they wanted every American who wanted to, to be able to have a gun, with the express purpose of being able to raise state militias in the face of invasion by a foreign power. The War of 1812 was an example of the necessity: America was not yet strong enough to repel an invasion  and it was only through the judicious use of militia forces that battle could be tipped in America's favor.

While it may be that the Founders had the forethought to equip America with the ability to fight battles upon its own shores as the nation slowly rose in strength, they did not have the precognitive ability or personal will to place limitations on what the Second Amendment implied. Thus it was left, its language making perfect sense in the 18th or 19th Century, but inconceivable in the face of the 20th Century and the Tommy gun. And no doubt, it was this insurance that well-armed militias could be raised at a moment's notice that allowed The Civil War to be fought, as Southern militias rose from the fields to take on a U.S. Army welded to the Union. Even when that was over, General Ulysses Grant and Abraham Lincoln were loathe to take the arms of every Southerner, for their now deposed nation was so ravaged that hunting would be necessary to feed families.

The gun has gone from liberator to protector to terror. Now, the tip of the spear has wounded our nation's heart, by slaying 20 of our most innocent. We must hold a personal amount of shame, each one of us, that none of the earlier tragedies pushed us toward action, but to fail now, fail to let this pain slough off the shell of inaction that prevented us from seeing clearly, would be criminal. Whatever else must come from this, there must be a final recognition that the unfettered access to guns is not the solution to the further protection of a nation, but is too much a path of destruction. Abraham Lincoln noted it, that the chances were very small that our nation would be crushed by a trans-Atlantic foe, but that we would commit suicide as a nation. He said this, even as the United States was embroiled in a war whose outcome seemed none too certain.

The Second Amendment was tailored toward the protection of the nation as a whole; it was never meant to establish the right of personal protection beyond that ownership of arms for national protection. That is the construction of those who see guns, not in their proper context as weapons, but as dollar signs. An industry that feeds on war cannot live by war, and so it must sow its deadly seeds where peace was meant to reign. To do this, has required a vast and complex interlinking of factors: the disenfranchisement of minorities, the lowering of educational standards, an increase in poverty, the creation of the idea that young, black men are a "dangerous" group in and of themselves, the spreading of abject fear through outright lies and petty obfuscations, and so on. By the gun lobby wrapping itself in the Second Amendment, the American flag, branding themselves as patriots, co-opting the National Rifle Association to be their confidence men, and allying themselves with the Republican Party mainly, the arms industry has planted seeds of self-destruction that people like the shooter in Newtown were all too happy to reap.

If there is any silver lining to such a virulent tragedy, it is that perhaps now the public is finally galvanized to action. Combine that with the hard fought Presidential election, and perhaps in the air now wafts the scent of organization and action required for Americans to take back control of their country from the special interests and parties that seek to turn it into their own personal fiefdom. Maybe now, a healthy dose of common sense can be taken in by a deep inhalation of that scent. and finally, after the drowsy slumbers of past decades, we can awaken the United States of America to the threat in its midst.

If we do nothing -- again! -- then we set a steady course for the dissolution of our nation in a hail of bullets, a self-inflicted wound that will bleed away individual freedom and liberty here for all time. We stand in the shadow that gunman and it is time to come back into the light.

Friday, December 14, 2012

They Were No More

A big hand holds a little hand
As smaller legs pump to keep up
Walking to the bus stop
On the cool Autumn morn

The little yellow bus arrives
To the squeal of brakes
The squeak of doors
And the sounds of bubbling voices

Small legs pump up stairs
As backpack crumples jacket
Then at the top a turn, a smile
A wave and "Goodbye, Mommy!"

And then they were no more.