In praise of firing squads, and one more

In praise of firing squads

All the men and women who stood freezing
or sweating tied to poles, trees or against plaster walls
next to mass graves and waited to be shot

only for being who they are—or at least for being
who somebody thought they were—what did they think?
Probably not that they were the luckiest people on earth

to have killers who lined them so carefully under the bright sun
or soft moon, in the rain or snow or dusty wind, aimed at them
down barrels of guns and said yes, him, yes, her.

Is there a more honest way to be killed? Is there a better
death than at the hands of an enemy who chooses you,
looks at you, shoots? Imagine those who die when the drones

strike or backpacks explode the subway or cluster bombs
fall from planes too high to see? Death cracks the air
like lightening. You were in the wrong place at the wrong time,

walking on the wrong side of the wrong street. Even your own death
has nothing to do with you and nothing to do with your killers sometimes
home already fixing dinner for their children. Yours is an execution

without perverse play or frenzy or paperwork. No killer
remembers. Somebody was the target but not particularly
you. Young men who dream of killing their enemies,

do they dream of this? Young women who dream of warriors,
do they dream of this? In the countless ways we dream
our own good demise, do we ever dream of this? None of us

die as virgins anymore, sacrificed on pyramids, chosen
for our virtue, our blood dripping down the stone steps,
the sky filled with the holy smoke of our flesh to make our killers

feel something human, know something big is happening
when a young girl gives her life to the gods. Now we may as well
be calves slaughtered behind the shed. But even they

are chosen, stuck, bled, cleaned, and after the killing,
the killers wash their hands before they eat, give thanks
for the blood, thanks for the meat.


Still here and the crowd goes crazy

I haven’t a story in my head and enjoy that.
Luís says the average Mexican doesn’t know
the names of birds. They are spooky or magic
or a nuisance but they don’t have names. Somewhere
somebody has scored a goal. I can hear the radio
man shout GOOOOOOOOOOOOOL through an open
window. A man in the alley sings to sell propane,
his voice echoes up countless stone stairs
to the houses on the hill and harmonizes. Raised in
dry Montana, Anna writes that when it rains in Wisconsin,
its rains like in a movie—so much water falling so fast.
Mary Louise says when it rains in Paris, it is a movie.
Church bells ring here all the time. It would be lonely
if they suddenly stopped. This morning I woke grumpy
with a to-do list in my head. I remembered my mom
and how precariously she clings to life, and I thought:
“Oh christ, all I need is for Mom to die now.”
Yesterday, the sun in my eyes, I rolled my ankle
on the curb and almost fell. The alley too narrow,
the car too fast, I would have been hit but caught
a signpost with my hand and stayed alive. To keep
from thinking, I quickly ducked through an open
door off the sidewalk into a brightly-lit gymnasium
and watched a women’s basketball game. I sat down
in the stands and immediately was irritated by one
of the officials. A half minute before I’d barely
avoided death and now I steamed at how the ref
blew his whistle too often and too loud. The sound hurt
my ears and he loved too much making all the women
stop playing and look while he waved his arms and made
another absurd call. In a war he’d be a sadist colonel.
Today I’m sitting on a wrought iron bench in the semi-
shade up the hill in another cobbled alley I’ve never
seen. A dog barks. My mom is still alive. A bell tolls
nearby then a second from the other side of town. Some-
body scores another goal and the radio announcer lets
he sings again, and I know there’s an end but not yet—
maybe not even today. It’s noon. We’re all still here
and the crowd goes crazy.