Astute readers will notice that I’ve added my name to the header of this blog. I’ve quietly been abandoning @godlessinitaly as my online handle, which I’ve been using for quite a few years. Perhaps I should’ve turned it into a brand and tried to monetize it, which seems to be the way these things go. Whatever, I’ve never been good at that kind of thing. This blog has gone through quite a few permutations over the years, and I reserve the right to do whatever I want with it. Lately, that means poetry. I’ve dipped my toe again into the waters of Lethe. I’ve sent out some poems into the world and some have come back with wings. Here is a poem I wrote about the opioid crisis after reading an article on the Sackler family in the New Yorker (them again?). The poem was written quickly, as “news poems” usually are, in order to keep pace with the ever-morphing news cycle. As such, it is part of an interesting contemporary experiment: can poetry – typically a slow and arduous form of expression, often subject to years of revision – say something worthwhile about current events, while they’re still current? I think it can, and so so the editors at Poets Reading the News, where this was published back in November 2017.
Morpheus in West Virginia
A scion of robber baron philanthropists
whose last name is synonymous with pain
has, through the toxic advertising mists,
made murder legal, elegant, humane.
Like Jagger’s Lucifer, he wears a tie
outfitted in the finest Italian suits
possessing all that money cannot buy
prestige and prominence the world salutes.
The dead of West Virginia are his keep,
couples with needles hooked into their arms,
their babies born into narcotic sleep,
more dust from opiates than firearms.
The mortuaries have run out of beds
to stretch the corpses on. In this shell game
the blue pills were swapped deftly for the reds
by Morpheus. I hope you guess his name.
I actually wrote my first news poem the week after 9/11, about those terrible events. It was written at a Chinese restaurant on 48th & 6th, and I can still smell the scent of that food as I wrote those bitter lines. Those were heady days, but there was no outlet for poetry that commented what was happening, as it was happening. I sent it out to the usual journals, but it was never accepted. Of course it lost its immediacy. What to do with such a poem almost twenty years later?
Write new ones.