Witness – Book Excerpts

Book Excerpts

Witness 2017-2020
Poems

By Hilton Obenzinger
 
Irene Weinberger Books
Witness 2017-2020
108 pgs.
Print: $16.95
E-book: $3.99

ISBN 9780990376798


Revolutionary Letter
For Diane di Prima
October 5, 2018

You’re a Christian in Nazi Germany
And Jesus demands
You disobey the orders for hatred and war
Even as those around you laugh at murder

You’re a Jew during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising
You know you will die but at least
A lesson will be delivered to the monsters

You’re a Palestinian still holding on to the key to your home
Hold it for decades, ready to return, keeping steadfast
How many years will the people of Gaza be caged?
How many years will the children at the border be caged?
How long will they be stolen from their parents?

It’s 1939 Spain and you’re in the antifascist underground
Can you even think of life without the Generalissimo?
Any day Franco will die, even if it takes decades

You’re a slave in 1825 in North Carolina
Freedom is a dream but dreams can’t be enslaved
And you flee to the Great Dismal Swamp
Where the slave masters fear to go

Your people have been driven from your homeland
Shedding tears along the trail for hundreds of miles
Yet your people still hold together,
Ready to build beyond tears, beyond massacres
Even though Andrew Jackson wants you to disappear
But you refuse

You’re a woman raped by a rich college boy
Powerful men won’t believe you but millions do
You are not alone, you will learn how many women and men
Roar with disbelief and rage and begin to act

No one should despair—and everyone should despair
No one should fall in tears—and everyone should sob
No one should lose hope—even though hope eludes us
No one should mourn—even as we mourn our losses

Others have suffered, others have endured
Many have been murdered, many jailed, many ignored
Many have lived all their lives under the rule of hatred

We can’t pay the price of freedom with credit cards
We pay for freedom with our souls, with our bodies
Get ready to overcome the horror
Get ready to fight like hell
In open and hidden ways

Do not accept the orders for hatred and war
Get ready to survive
Outlast the reign of rapists, con men, and murderers
Surviving is the first road to freedom
Surviving is the revenge of the just
You too will survive


The Great Toilet Paper Panic
April 1, 2020

Suddenly toilet paper becomes a star
Crowds chase rolls down the street
Like teenage girls chasing the Beatles in 1965
Panic sweeps through the land, a different type of virus
Without toilet paper our rectums won’t be clean
And civilization will devolve into a stinky rash
We discover our bodies because of the plague
We may die alone, drowning in our own phlegm
But now we notice the obvious precious flesh
We all share bodies, we all inhale and swallow and shit
With Death silently circling around us
We reach deep into our sinews and bones
As if we discover them for the first time
And we exult in our commonality
Queen Elizabeth shits
Taylor Swift takes a shit
Jeff Bezos squeezes out his turds
The homeless man on the street corner takes a shit
You notice it because he shits out in public
But you know there’s a world of sphincters
Hard at work behind closed doors
Hand them all a roll of toilet paper
Wiping ourselves clean is a moral imperative
And we share the great fear that there’s none left
We will be abandoned, left to rot on our own
Making scatological jokes come true
So we grab all we can carry from the stores
We are afraid that our bodies will be taken away
We thought we were as solid as robots
But we are just soft bags of excrement
Trying to remember who we are
Trying to get a little comfort
Trying to hold a small sad piece of dignity
With a thin square of paper


God Picks His Nose
April 30, 2020

God picks his nose and out comes a father or a mother
Ready to be rolled into a ball and tossed into the void
A teacher has perished, unable to deliver the lesson plan
The mail is now delivered to sepulchers
The mailman himself finally gets off his feet
Stretched out in his grave
Obituaries flutter like birds in the morning
Singing stories of mechanics and artists
Extraordinary lovers and ordinary neighborhood thugs

Every day more deaths, thousands adding up
The private hurt and the general horror
Individuals dead, real people with real teeth and lips
Each a palpable life filled with movies and food and standard-issue hopes
A middle-aged son of a friend, a brother of another, whole families
The ER doctor who kills herself because she can no longer bear
To witness deaths in the waiting room
In the front hallway, in the broom closet, everywhere
Like other battlefield soldiers
The doctor drops into the dark bottomless foxhole
Yet some deaths seem to have a cause, a location, even a mailing address
When the passenger coughs into the face of the bus driver
And two weeks later the bus driver dies
This seems to make too much sense
But others die plucked out of the herd, random selections
Abducted by microscopic UFOs with horns
There can be no herd immunity when there’s no herd
Death with no contact and no apparent reason
People I know, others I would never know
An unbearable cascade that turns you numb

But then the tree begins to bear fruit
People of a small nation celebrate once again
That Vietnam defeated a giant invader
Several divorces are decided—correctly
Some loves are examined and renewed—correctly
A kid stuffs a giant sandwich in his mouth
The sun feels good after chilly clouds
Charlie Chaplin knows how to smile
A pregnant woman laughs with gusto
And we can scold God for picking his nose
“Keep your boogers to yourself,”
We tell him in solitary prayer
“It’s not healthy any time but now more than ever—
God, clean up your act, and let us live”


Refuge Enough
May 15, 2020

I look through the back door at my yard
Like peering through a tunnel or a portal to another world
Before me a patch of lawn
With bushes and roses and a redwood tree
And beyond my fence the railroad tracks
With few trains and fewer commuters
Traveling to yet fewer worlds
Between San Jose and San Francisco
And to the left the edge of a tiny studio
With memories and drafts of memories

This is my small refuge, and this is where
I think of the wife I’ve loved for 45 years
Touching and yearning from the first wet kiss
Through all the heartache and misunderstandings
Through surgeries and hard times and crazy kids
We knew the I-Hotel and Beirut
And other secret code words for tough struggles
We are so different, such contrasts in backgrounds
And after so many years we still don’t know each other
The virus seeks to kill us both, circling around our green patch
Ready to pounce

Forced together as we await the monster
We have time to learn to touch again
To discover new continents in each other
To practice how to navigate oceans and archipelagos
To invent a new cartography of being close to harbors
To listen to old stories made new
To remember who we are and how we got here
To confess my love despite all the ways I have fallen short
How much I withdrew and forgot or became numb
I vow that I will be by your side no matter what we face next
No matter how much we and the world comes to grief
How the trains may carry us away to doom
I confess that I love you in ways that I do not yet know
And I may never know, but I will be by your side
Learning to be the one who deserves your love
And that is refuge enough


A Juneteenth Traveler from an Antique Land
Juneteenth, 2020

The marble pillar that holds
A potted plant by my front porch
Is cracking apart, big crevasses tearing the rock
Falling to ruin and dust
So much for marble and immortality
No colossal wreck of Ozymandias, but I yet see
Vanity tumbling to the sands
And this crumbling marble announces
That the time has come
For America to split apart at the seams
In order to reconstruct itself as something even more solid
Uncle Ben is now “evolving”
According to his corporate family
And Aunt Jemima is on her way out
Juneteenth is a holiday most people never heard of
But now it’s slicing the month
Between Memorial and Independence
Awareness contrasting when Emancipation was announced
With the long delay before the message is yet to be heard
Corporations are now rushing to correct images
They were too lazy to notice before
How many years before the country as a whole is free?
Equality demands more than retiring corporate mascots
Justice demands that nothing
Of the wrecked plantation manor will remain
No master’s sneer of cold command
Only shattered ruins will stretch
Across lone and level sands


All Regrets
As surgery approaches
August 26, 2018

I’m no Edith Piaf
I regret everything
And I will miss so much
Life on earth has its wonders
Flowers and doughnuts
Blessings of early morning air
Before all the wildfires
Greet us with waves of smoke
I will count my failures
And give away my blessings too
And laugh
Thank you all
I never did accomplish anything
Some love
And a little kindness
And that’s pretty good


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