Morning in America

Once we were kings

But did it matter?

Once we were kings

In our hearts and songs

Once we were queens

Purses and fortunes grew fatter

Once we were queens

Ignoring miscalculations and wrongs

Once it was morning in this land

Yet it was never as bright as we believed

We never realized it was by our own hand

That means to deceive were conceived

Morning in America

Has always and never been the same

It is only the measurements and criteria

That divides our nostalgia from shame

At the top the world all still moves

The weight of the world still spins

Those who might approve

Are them who claim benefits and wins

Maybe stand for something?

Or maybe choose to don’t?

In the end there is no need to worry

The self anointed kings and queens won’t

Gene G. McLaughlin 2021

If I Am Counted Among the Departed

Someday I will be long dead

And someone will think of me

They will be no one I can hear

They will be no one I can see

In this time I shall feel nothing

Existing only in memory

May I exist as hope

In this future mental interaction

May I exist as love

Despite my corporeal retraction

May you feel me rise through you mind

A wave redirected by refraction

Through life’s tangled mass of possibilities

Pointing to a bright new direction

Gene G. McLaughlin 2020

Mushrooms Are the Ghosts

A short poem for you fall mushroom lovers-

Mushrooms are the ghosts

Of forest floors and fallen trees

How does meaning demand to grow

Among the moss and decaying leaves?

Does a lineage link the floor and canopy

Via roots and sun?

Is the bolete a forgotten memory

Or the birth of a new one?

Gene G. McLaughlin 2020

The Howl of the Doomscroll

A Halloween/election/all of it poem about my least favorite new monster of 2020-

There is a rhythm to the movement

As your finger taps the screen

There is reverberation lingering

A sound that isn’t what it seems

A buzz, a beep, an alert

At least that is what you first hear

Then gradually a sense of hurt

Combined with a slowly growing fear

It is the howl of The Doomscroll!

As the noises of your devices build

Deformities of truths and lies unfold

The zeitgeist dreadfully distilled

Created by mistake

Now driven by its own volition

We all live in its wake

As the world we know is riven.

Gene G. McLaughlin 2020

The Things You Owe To Yourself

Everything was unfortunate
About midway through the day
The hope you had earlier
Didn’t have the wherewithal to stay
Whether by genetics and chemistry
Or too many drinks the night before
Your staring straight ahead
Trying to corral your thoughts once more

Your mind jumps from one thing to another
Anger, then guilt, then loss
Then hunger, then thirst, then nothing
Then your past actions and their costs
You dwell on it for a while
What you did to harm others
Words you could have said different
At a significant point or time
What you did to harm you
Were you ignorant to your potential?
Were those chances your prime?

Yet . . .

Your considerations are not the now
They are not even the past
They are a recreation
That will drift by and not last

It is difficult to see this
As the memory fragments
Circle your mind
The brain is fastidious in its efforts
To create boundaries and bind

The things you owe to yourself
Are both significant and unclear
They are not gained by rumination
They do not grow closer with fear

There is value in a quiet moment
With eyes facing toward the now
Today might not represent your soul’s meaning
But it might just lead to the creation of the how

Gene G. McLaughlin 2020

A Priori Me

Staring at machinescapes
Fractal music in my head
The inflammation of my spine
Let’s me know I am not dead
A priori me
In the wind, dust, and shadows
A posteriori me
Weighing and measuring my battles
Knowing what I know
Without knowing the reason
The eerie absent answers
Feel like my mind committing treason
I accept the betrayal
My consciousness shoulders on
Knowing some framework exists
Both before and after I am gone

Gene G. McLaughlin 2020

What I Did With My Summer Pandemic Vacation

I’ve been spending the pandemic kicking the habit of nihilism
It has an acrid taste, but it presents itself as a path to freedom
It goes down easy after a few
Many times I have made the choice to embrace it
It really is the easiest one I suppose
Requiring no code or framework
A bit of a short cut to the end of things
Yet when viewed as a path taken by so many of my countrymen
It looks much less like freedom
And much more like despair
When you make the choice on a personal level
It is an internal issue
It can eat away at you
You don’t have to look within though
You get to look forward
Out at the world
When thousands of people make the choice together though
It looks less like something internal to the individual
And more like a raging infection
Spreading across the land
Despair on a national level
Requires one to make a choice
If the choice is between working to find meaning
Or succumbing to despair
Well then,
I suppose I better put my Dickie’s on and get my lunch pail out
There might be some long days ahead
Each day I’ve been trying to think of things I look forward to
Even if they don’t exist right now
Might not exist for some time
They will again some day though
I can carry them as aspirations in my mind until then
Each day I think of remarkable things I have experienced in the past
Things I read
Things I saw
Things I felt
Things I heard
Almost anything
So much seems more remarkable than it did at the time
When looking back at it during a plague year
I don’t know exactly how my nation overcomes its despair
But maybe me working on mine is a start
Gene G. McLaughlin 2020
Curiosity was far greater than our fear
It felt so simple and so prodigious at the same time
Incredible things are happening in the world
Magical things are happening in this world
-Stereolab/Gabriel Garcia Marquez

The Scale

Let us look at how we value violence

As a path to behavioral societal corrections

As part of necessary sacrifices

Let us assess our own silence

By measuring the connections

Between our comfort and its ever-raising prices

The costs stem from the choice

To view violence as a problem’s viable solution

Without acknowledging to the maimed and the buried

There is never restitution

We make the pivot to violence causally

We put it into games and entertainments

We view it as a path to power and strength

Instead of as one the souls most damaging contaminants

Sometimes judgement is the mirror

The sentence a song you hear in your head

Now the singer’s voice is growing clearer

Lilting the names of the dead

Maybe you know one among them

From Fallujah or Ferguson

From Aleppo to Attica

Maybe your fist is clenched

As you look upon the protests

Maybe your heart is wrenched

Seeing the agony and the tears of the oppressed

Maybe we start today

Acknowledging a scale that weighs our choices

And that the price we might pay

Is our loved one’s silenced voices?

Gene G. McLaughlin 2020

Be Brave

I have been thinking about people I have known the past few days who didn’t back away from the moment like the people in the streets fighting for reforms in name of the dead. Here is a story about two of them I have known.


Be Brave-

In the mid 1980’s a van broke down by my house in rural Pennsylvania in the middle of a snow storm on Christmas Eve.  It was a middle aged man and his wife and the man walked up the steep hill to the apartment I lived in with my mother, father, and sister.  My grandfather was visiting for the holidays also.  The man was very apologetic and all he wanted to do was use the phone to call an emergency truck to get the van.  We let him use the phone and they told him they would be there as soon as a truck was available and could make it through the snow storm, but they were not sure when that would be.  He said thank you and walked to go back to the van.  My father stopped him and said that he didn’t like the idea of them waiting in the storm down in the van on Christmas Eve and they should come up and stay with us while they waited.  The man said he would ask his wife and left.  He came back a little while later and said his wife didn’t want to impose and they would wait in the van.  My father quickly put on his coat and went back to the van with the man to change her mind.  He returned a little while later with two slightly bewildered people in tow. My father was a bit of an oncoming storm. At first it was awkward, but after a little bit it wasn’t too bad.  Later in the evening my neighbors came over and a friendly card game was started that went late into the night.  The man and his wife ended up staying for almost two days until a tow truck could get them to a mechanic to get repairs made.  Sometimes it was awkward and crowded, but it was always understood you don’t let someone freeze in a cold van on Christmas day.  I am not sure it was even my father’s choice to offer; it might have been part of his being.  As a child I was annoyed at the lack of space (there was none already), but I understood.  You had to be brave and deal with what came your way.
In 1999 my father had lost a long difficult battle with cancer.  I didn’t have much money and was working at a job where I didn’t get along with my boss and I was worried things were not going well.  I was depressed and unsure what to do with my life or what the future would lead to.  One morning on the way to work I ran out gas.  I managed to pull over and get out harms ways, but I was stuck far from any gas station.  I was going to be late and had no way to contact my job which didn’t seem to bode well for my employment status. I was hungover and thought about sitting there and watching the cars go by, but decided against it.  I wasn’t even sure where the closest gas station was so I started walking in a direction I thought there might be one.  It was a grey day and there were drops of rain in the air.  I walked for about five minutes until I heard a car pull up next to me.  It was a Cadillac driven by an elderly black woman.  She rolled the window down and asked me where I was walking to.  I said that I ran out of gas and was looking for a station.  She told me there was none in the direction I was walking toward and it was a bad neighborhood.  She asked if I wanted a ride to the nearest station.  I accepted and got in the car.  I will always remember what she told me next.  She said ‘I was real afraid to pick you up.  I wasn’t sure if you might be trouble to me, but I decided I should.  My husband died recently and I sure miss him.  He said his whole life that you have to do right and be brave.  He would have picked you up and helped you.  I figure he is gone now and I might not have much time left either, but I am going to be brave too.  Just like he was.’   I said that I was so thankful and that I was sure her husband was a great man.  I wanted to tell her I lost my father recently and he was brave and I missed him too, but I couldn’t.  I didn’t want to put any burden on her.  She gave me a ride and I got a can of gas.  She even took me back to my car.  I made it to work only slightly late and thought about the elderly woman’s grace and bravery and how proud her husband would have been of her and how my father would have done the same thing as her in the same situation.  I also thought about how I probably would not have.  In my life I have never been able to be as brave as them, but I hope someday I can be and I am forever grateful that people like them sometimes exist in this world.

Gene G. McLaughlin 2020

Merchants of Anger

Merchants of anger

See no color

Hear no melody

Offering immediacy

Gritted teeth

Clenched fists

Ease of blame

Vague contours of control

Outlines of outrage

A road of broken concrete

Leading to a tire fire

In their statements

Evidence a faraway promise

If even thought of at all

Profit and power

Wash over them

When they steal your joy

Hollowness aches inside them

Disdain burns in them

For signs of growth or hope

In any of you

I will let you name them

You don’t need me to

Perhaps you scoff at me

Turn to them and indulge

What they offer for a while

To feel something

To fill yourself with

To provide meaning

Despite its acrid foul flavor

I know though

If you pause

You will realize

You are crying

For what you have lost

It is yours to take back

Your mind is forever changing

But that mind is forever yours

Gene G. McLaughlin 2020