George Wallace










the paper that bears the watermark of the world is
a country which severs men from their own limbs–
like wives & children abandoned across the planet
& men of the village rounded up to clearcut land —
for cattle for condos for coffeebeans for oil for oil
for oil & on the faces of women unnamed armies
do war, on the faces of daughters rivers run mad
with machetes, on the faces of the sons scars scars
& more scars & the bulldozers of wealth approach
& the bones of civilizations return to mud & orphans
crying so don’t tell me about your freedom & don’t
say opportunity, don’t tell me you are a beacon to
the world because on the paper which bears the
watermark of the world your voice is the voice of
exploitation & your name your name is orphan maker






how lovely the earth
when the poor are asleep
when the factories pause
and the engines have gone silent
when the dawn quiet as the first dawn
quiet as green mountains
quiet as rockslides and waterfalls
quiet as warplanes and sirens
wakes the exhausted old men
and the used up women
and their sons and
their daughters
to another day
of pointless work

how lovely the earth
with its multitude of flowers
with its multitude of laws
with its private property
and its bars and locksmiths
and owners and prisoners
and cops and robbers and park benches
and slums and all the magnificent
governors — so much damage to be undone!
so many rooftops in the broiling sun!
and the children of the poor
under each one of them
learning to walk again
in daddy’s shoes






one night while the dutiful daughter was sleeping a shell grew up in spiral bone around her mother’s grief, in the morning a cluster bomb could not penetrate it.

the handful of white daisies she cut in the meadow by a split rail fence where they used to watch the neighbor’s horses prance (she left them by the little opening at the bottom where the spiral ends and the soft underbelly of a shell creature begins) could not rouse her mother from all that serious coiling.

she put her ear to the opening and listened for the sound of the ocean for awhile, or perhaps some explanation, but all she heard was old-fashioned crying.

her mother had always been an adaptable woman, she could not understand this turn of events.

she was a dutiful daughter, but she had no idea how to arrange things for her mother now.

« i mean, what about habitat! » she said to a friend on the phone who was familiar with many things, a single mother who was raising two children alone, and still managed a career in nursing.

she visited a conchologist and even signed up for a course at the nearby university

« teach me about molluscs, » she told the professor, the students snickered out loud, she was twice their age!

no help, it was just the two of them in that house, up to her to deal with her mother’s condition, or no one.

there was so much to learn, perhaps her mother was a land snail now, or freshwater. perhaps pelagic!

she looked up the word pelagic, over 100 species of marine snails spend their entire lives floating with the ocean currents thousands of miles and never touching bottom or the shore.

so much freedom! she liked the thought of that and so she took her mother to the seashore and placed her on the surface of the water.

no luck. her mother sank straight to the bottom and just sat there.





« the woman’s imperturbable, i’ll give her that! » thought the dutiful daughter.

she brought her mother home and she fell to work building an aquarium.

the aquarium had red gravel and plastic seaweed and a bubbler and two rocks and a sunken treasure ship and a catfish and a man in a full body diving suit to keep her mother company.

after awhile another thought occured to her – some molluscs are capable of making pearls when foreign substances enter their shells. « though it takes about two years, » she remembered the conchologist saying.

a long time to wait for a pearl to grow, she figured, but it was her mother after all, she owed her mother that.

« the poor old woman is unreachable now, but she can at least be productive, » thought the dutiful daughter. « it’s like occupational therapy. »

« besides, a pearl’s a pearl! »

that’s how it happens that she began to stick small bits of sand, as gently as is humanly possible, inside her mother’s shell.






rode weather beaten through the yakima night migrating
steeleyed & hungry for eggs & bacon in kittitas county. tore
through sleet & hard scrabble through shale wielding homemade
scythes along the rail line or threshing mad cowboy dreams
at midnight. childhood harvested from the shorn floor of flour mills
sprung from the heart of ellensburg’s yellow sunlight. stripped
to the waist defiant of the heat & flies a place where all the tribes
east of the cascades used to gather in summer to dig for quammas.
fields of wheat wheat & more wheat for the cities. these livestock
schemes these mornings filled with kids coffee & one more shot
at setting that fencepost straight. jeans hiked up with grit sweat &
torn dammit they cost a decent week’s pay. sons whose fathers woke
clear & abundant as spring water in the bunchgrass getting up abruptly
to shake hands with honest work. just for a change driving cattle
through naches pass loading cattle on rail cars for puget sound.
other cars bearing tons and tons of feed for the horses in seattle.
workhorses hay lumber & coal too but above all cattle thousands
of head. sons sitting on a barrel watching as their fathers dusted
on by. or having grazed in fenced pastures miraculous herds of sky
filled cattle the meat muscle & bone of america. cattle too many
cattle. one day it was like all of them just plain gone crazy not a
hoofprint left the whole rodeo laid to rest in a ravaged field. sons
whose fathers cut wire changed axles on impossible bucking tractors
kicked fat snow from treads & kept on working when everyone else
on the plain was indoors. stepped out of the fog & into the fairgrounds
in september shouting « hey boys that’s some pig! » men who served
in the army & fought like prairie dogs when they came back home &
did the right thing by someone’s sister who after all it was nobody’s
fault they couldn’t just leave her be. old boys ranging in from the grove
down by leonhard’s bridge where some fellow had been passing out
cheap whiskey to everybody & rolled cigarettes. sons of the real wild
west whose fathers dressed in bloody leather barebacked in the dirt. rope
dusters in beat pickup trucks, just waiting for their turn at the wheel.






some of them were the sons of physicists
some of them were the daughters of circus clowns
some of them worked in the stables
some of them spoke zapotecan
some of them were wearing skin of puma
teeth of shark newspaper loincloth
asteroid belt helmet of bones
some of them hid among the bushes
while some of them played polo on green grassy fields
some of them kneeled like priests
on cobblestones in the plaza el salvador
while some of them dug in the mud for worms
the sister of the general danced like a european
the brother of the empress drank like a skunk
there were violins in the ballroom of flowers
there were acrobats in the rafters
there were spider monkeys
and opals swinging like moons
some of them were being crushed by tanks
while some of them drove the tanks
some of them trampled under the hooves of mules
while some of them wore sandals of the lame
i saw the eyes of a man buried in an ashpit





of dreams
i saw the faces of the innumerable oppressed
i saw the butchered head of a bull rolled uphill, preposterous!
some of them had skin that glistened like amber
some of them bled promises like teardrops
some of them ate fruit from a bowl of cactus spines
some of them were sharpening machetes in the sugarcane
in the clouds of heaven in the army of waterspouts
in the folds of mandarin oranges in black orchids
in the arms of desire in the marriages of convenience
some of them were sleeping with conquistadors
some of them were shouting from the crow’s nest
some of them were wearing mayan masks
some of them were hawking rolexes at mardi gras
some of them were waiting for a leader to rise
some of them were waiting for the government to fall
some of them were waiting for gold to rain from heaven
some of them wanted to tear down the gates of the bottling plant
there was robust laughter there was coughing and snores
there was smack down in the football field
there was pulque and plaintains
fiery wings for the angels of shame
a storm was rising, running sores everywhere
it was the dry season, particles of dust flew like diamonds
wind traversed the pampas like proud horsemen
it was the dry season, snakes yanked out of jungles
like flies or pigeon coops or the flesh of rotting logs
some of them put their cracked tongues to their thumbs
some of them put their hearts to the grindwheel
some of them put poison leaves to the roofs of their mouths
someone clucked his teeth like a mother hen
someone made a sound his grandfather used to make
when the village





men went out to catch parrots in the jungle
it was the festival of the first saint it was the skin trade all over again
it was the croaking day of the lost amazonian
there was a man with an andalusian fiddle
there was a woman in a veil who spoke only to god
there was a tramp in the bedroom with a lantern in his hand
there was an airfield of cargo planes
there were soft-spoken north american spies
there was a man selling roasted sugar almonds
there were nannies and children in the park
it was the day of the singing dead
it was the hardening salt of days
it was the burning fever cheek
it was the night of the seven stones
it was the big coke run to belo horizonte
it was the day that caterpillars fell out of the sky






life is not enough for some
folks they have to marry it
mob it cheat it eat it they
have to dress it up in white
satin and silk cummerbunds
they have to throw pearls
at life like hail the size of
quail eggs they have to
drink to its soul carry it
in rucksacks bury it in
olive groves wrap it up
in french ribbon trade it
like donkey flesh or skeins
of cloth pluck it like cat gut
pray for it to come back as
wine you see life is just not
good enough for some folks
they have to vote on it write
songs about it lick their left
thumbs and come out fighting
over it they have to organize it
store it stock it love it cross it off
their lists or else catalog it and
leave it to rot on a shelf or possibly
cross themselves with four fingers
cut their front teeth bite on the neck
of life wrestle it to the ground make war
on it you see some folks have to put a spin
on life spit on life or watch life die they have to
tear it up and start all over again you see some people
just can’t take life as it is they build churches to life
they tell fortunes with it they peer through it like
a telescope at distant galaxies they roll it up
with cigarette paper and get high on it
some people pick it plant it steal it
hand it over to the authorities
study it like a holy secret or
worship the hell out of it
like the body and blood of
the sons and daughters
who have left them
for lives of their own







George Wallace is a regular on the NYC poetry and performance scene who maintains a regular reading, lecture and poetry workshop touring schedule across the US and Europe.

First poet laureate of Suffolk County and Writer in Residence at the Walt Whitman Birthplace in West Hills NY, he is author of 24 chapbooks of poetry published in the US, UK, Italy and Greece, and adjunct professor of English at Pace University in Manhattan.





Among George’s appearances: US: Woody Guthrie Festival (Okemah OK); Mabel Dodge Luhan House (Taos NM); Church of Beethoven (Albuquerque NM); Insomniacathon (Louisville KY); Beyond Baroque (Los Angeles Ca); the John Steinbeck Center (Salinas Ca); Beat Museum (San Francisco Ca); and Lowell Celebrates Kerouac Festival (Lowell Ma). UK: Robert Burns Centre (Dumfries, Scotland); the Dylan Thomas Centre (Swansea, Wales); Citizen 32 Fuel Bar (Manchester UK); John Ruskin’s Brantwood (Cumbria UK). OTHER About Art (Athens Gr); Shakespeare & Co (Paris Fr).



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