War would always be with him

Richard Fierro at his home on Monday. Photo by Daniel Brenner for The New York Times

Freedom isn’t free, but
freedom ain’t what it used to be.
To enjoy it, you need a history of threats,
to know them bone-deep,
how to disorient,
how to fight to the death.
You fought for peace?
There will never be peace again.
Not when the war is everywhere —
every school, every stage,
every safe place.
It seeps into your blood.
You are never the same.
But at least you’re trained
for the next one.

Richard M. Fierro, who served for 15 years in the military, was at the nightclub in Colorado Springs with his family when the gunman opened fire. “I just knew I had to take him down,” he said. — Nov. 21, 2022, New York Times

Mr. Fierro was trying to get better at going out. In Iraq and Afghanistan he’d been shot at, seen roadside bombs shred trucks in his platoon, and lost friends. He was twice awarded the Bronze Star.

The wars were both past and still present. There were things he would never forget. For a long time after coming home, crowds put him on edge. He couldn’t help to be vigilant. In restaurants he sat against the wall, facing the door. No matter how much he tried to relax, part of him was always ready for an attack, like an itch that could not be scratched.

“I’m alone in this”

I’m alone in this
hot attic, panicking.
I’m alone in the sea
as it gathers around me.
I’m alone as my mind
parts from my body.
I’m alone as I watch
my husband gather me.
I’m alone as I hold
my dog to my cheek.
I’m alone as I carry
her to safety.
I’m alone fearing
my next heartbeat.
I’m alone in this land
as it melts in the heat.

I cried when I read Chloe’s story, below, and saw the picture. It reminded me of too many things from Harvey, which was five years ago this month.

Swim or drown: The story behind the viral photo of a teen and her dog surrounded by water — Aug. 2, 2022

Chloe Adams woke up about 5 a.m. Thursday to gurgling noises coming from the drain in her bathroom and suddenly found herself screaming for help in the dark as rains flooded her Eastern Kentucky home.

“All I knew was that I only had two options here,” said the 17-year-old, who was alone with her dog Sandy. “We stay inside and drown or I take my chances swimming to safety. I knew the dangers of trying to swim in deep and moving water, but I felt I had no choice.”

Acting on adrenaline, she swam to the top of a neighbor’s garage building. She pushed Sandy’s container ahead of her against the current, then swam. She pushed again. Then swam.

“I’m alone in this,” she thought. “If we’re going to survive this, I’m going to have to make that happen.”

Make it through June

I have no special skills,
no magic to impart.
I am not a man
with unimpeachable parts.
I am a woman in Texas
my flag upside-down.
I am screaming and screaming
WHAT. NOW.

One month in a long line
I’m lucky to be half-done
I think I’ll be lucky
to survive another one
burning on the sidewalk
no rain for weeks
my legs splayed and chapped
crying for relief.

Leave me for dead now
leave me for dead
leave me
I am screaming
leave me
I am dead
on the fourth of July
in the year of our dread.

A seal on a document

Desire is a drive
to a fast dead-end.
Sex is an act
that should never happen.

I was a kid
and dad saw me shakin
Go on then and do it,
there’s no sense in waitin.

Was it a sin?
Was it a signature?
What am I now
that I am a father?
What is she now
that she is my daughter?
Just another whore,
a cow for the slaughter.

Texas Horror Story

At first, it was a pointed finger;
pale and shaking, shaming.
Then a condescending shoulder pat
and a booming voice proclaiming:

“We know what is best for you,
though we haven’t heard your story,
we are sure you’ll change your mind
when you see the photos. So gory.”

Then the hand traveled upward,
it was on the neck for years,
squeezing more every election,
just enough to draw tears.

It is creeping to the mouth now,
where it will cover bitten lips,
and quiet the voice of women
with its sharpened fingertips.

Texas eliminates funding to Planned Parenthood — Oct. 19, 2015

For three days

Painting: ‘Youth Mourning’ by Sir George Clausen, 1916

For three days, I felt him move.
I named him Fox,
for one of the lost boys.
They tried to keep him in,
but I was unable.
Which isn’t to say that I didn’t want to.
I wanted to hold him
forever. I could have.
This isn’t one of those things
they let you do.
I tried to hold him,
I wanted to.
It wasn’t meant to be.
I’ve had some time to think about it.
I won’t be able
to do anything else.

Abortion limits create nightmare for parents of stillborn baby — April 3, 2016

Twenty weeks. It’s a seemingly arbitrary measure that recently shattered the lives of Daniel and Taylor Mahaffey as the Austin couple was happily preparing for the birth of a son.

Late on a Wednesday, Taylor Mahaffey, 23 — who had been previously diagnosed with a condition known as incompetent cervix — felt something was off. Having suffered through a miscarriage during a previous pregnancy, the couple rushed to St. David’s North Austin Medical Center only to discover that Taylor’s cervix had prematurely dilated and their son’s legs were already emerging.

Hospital doctors attempted several emergency procedures to keep the developing baby inside the womb, said Daniel Mahaffey, 29. But nothing worked.

“We just wanted him out,” Mahaffey said. “We didn’t want him to suffer.”

But the couple ran into the state’s ban on abortions at or after 20 weeks of gestation, included in strict anti-abortion legislation known as House Bill 2 passed by state lawmakers in 2013. Because the baby and mother were technically healthy, doctors told the Mahaffeys they could not induce labor even though their son would not survive out of the womb.

Angry American Men

An epidemic of angry men —
their hot breaths melting 
our final winters —
report daily to their small boxes to vent.

Hot rage, white.

Wearing paranoia like house dresses — 
furfuraceous bodies
throbbing underneath —
their duty to their country
to point and make points
from their gray cells,
to “well, actually” themselves
deep into the ground,
to harass birds
for bothering to sing in the morning.

The only cure:
a mother to bend their molten limbs
around cool, steel braces,
to say: “I didn’t create you
to lose you to the dark like this.”

Speaking in tongues

A woman is a foreign language
to the stodgy men of state,
her curling complex insides
a class they skipped most days.

Her furrowed brow a homonym
for something less severe,
her breasts an easy adjective
they overuse in fear.

Genitals a fraught conjunction,
a path to joining untamed pairs,
her open mouth a sentence fragment
needing closed in prayer.

In their time they flew straight through,
their teachers tired of teaching
boys refusing to learn a tongue
they pretended to know while preaching.

GOP Senator Jeff Sessions says grabbing a woman’s genitals is not sexual assault — Oct. 10, 2016

Pat Robertson calls lewd video ‘macho talk’ — Oct. 10, 2016

The burial

The men dig holes
like packs of wild dogs
bored and hungry
searching for bones

The men dig holes
fill them with blood
top them with mud
call them homes

The men dig holes
bury their seeds
charge all the mourners
a ransom fee

The men dig holes
leave rubble pyramids
the future tombs
of stopped periods

The men dig holes
deeper each year
we await the day
that they all fall in

Texas to implement rules requiring burial or cremation of fetal remains — Nov. 28, 2016

Texas’ proposed rules requiring the cremation or burial of fetal remains will take effect Dec. 19, according to state health officials.

Despite intense outcry from the medical community and reproductive rights advocates, the state will prohibit hospitals, abortion clinics and other health care facilities from disposing of fetal remains in sanitary landfills, instead allowing only cremation or burial of all remains — regardless of the period of gestation.

It’s a state issue

Pass the buck down to the lowliest cuck
who will scramble to keep the country together,
a bag of marbles let loose on a hill.

What is the will of the scrabbling people
if not to install the middle-est of managers?

Boundaries are fading like a spreading cancer,
the error trickles down and down and down
to a red-state pond filling with bilge.

The locals fish it, say it’s good, call it dinner,
everyone goes to sleep full and ready to die.

“You, sir, shut up!” Republican congressman shouts down a constituent at tense Texas town hall — March 15, 2017

Rep. Joe Barton (R-Tex.) was speaking at a town hall event in Frost, a small town not far from Arlington, when he said he opposed federal legislation protecting women from violence, because it is a state issue. The crowd erupted over Barton’s remarks, and the moment was captured on video.

“Violence against women — that’s a national issue!” an attendee shouted. “That is an issue that impacts everyone, everywhere — not only in this country but everywhere.”