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The Pandemic is Over: Ruminations Inspired by Phil Ochs

In 1967, political activist and singer-songwriter Phil Ochs wrote a song called “The War is Over.” Reportedly inspired by Allen Ginsberg and presaging John and Yoko’s peace crusade and Christmas song, Phil declares the Vietnam War over. Phil had a cultural sense of Vietnam. To him, the war wasn’t simply the fighting but a larger narrative that included the response (the marches, the teach ins, the alternative press, the music) and the emotionality of the times (passion mixed with frustration turning to rage).

Likewise the pandemic is more than just the germs. It includes the shifting information (and disinformation) about the disease, the public pulling together to support each other and the frontline workers, the shades of fear, the partisan political posturing.

It is in this broader sense that I feel the pandemic is over. The public outrage at the murder of George Floyd and the various responses to it has quickly supplanted the pandemic as the dominant vibe of the day.  A stretch? Perhaps. In any event, I have stopped writing my series of coronavirus poems, at least for now. I will post excerpts over the next few weeks.

These are confusing and troubling times. I am finding them exhilarating and exhausting. I am heartened by some of the things that have unfolded. Prosecutorial justice is moving much more quickly than it has in recent police brutality cases. The “blue line” has been obliterated, with cops speaking out against the murderers of George Floyd, with some even kneeling with protestors. There are folks on the streets all around the world supporting the African American community. And as Jackie Salit, president of Independent Voting, said recently, the American people have outgrown their political institutions and are way out in front redefining what this country needs to be.

History is moving fast. We are taken up in it and making it. I’d like to spotlight a call for a conversational process from All Stars Project leader Antoine Joyce, who penned a recent piece in the Dallas Morning News:

https://www.dallasnews.com/opinion/commentary/2020/06/02/dallas-we-need-to-have-some-angry-conversations-about-race-in-order-to-heal/

And I’m posting two pieces. A dedication to the extraordinary jazz bassist Henry Grimes, who died of covid, and a short essay on the roots of my poetic style. I hope you enjoy them.

Henry Grimes 4.19.20

we lost another
sweet soul
this week

for the
second time

given up for dead
in the late 60s
henry was discovered
in 2002

for the 
second time

ironically
his second career
was longer
than his first

i feel blessed
to have seen him
many times

once i saw him
play a duet 
with himself

feathery 
round bass notes
accompanied
by airy harmonics

i hope you
come around 
again
henry

Practical-Critical Poetry

I write poems in the style of David Lerner. I came up with David, also a red diaper baby. Our parents were political friends. We were political too, but more counter culture types. That is, we experimented with what are now known as recreational drugs. We enjoyed the word “experimented.” Life as a grand experiment.

David turned me on to Bob Dylan. Need I say more. 

His poetry was Dylanesque. Like Bob, he was influenced by Beat literature. Also Hubert Selby and other angular pulp fiction. 

Dylan’s poetry, both his lyrics and the epics on the back covers of his 60s albums, had an in-your-face, forever-in-the-present feel. His observations were comments and vice versa. David picked that up from Bob. I picked it up from both of them. 

David’s poetry is more strident than mine. Hey he was more strident when we were kids. I’m a college dropout. He was a high school dropout. 

His work is also more provocative than mine. He’s the son of Jewish Communists and his most famous poem is titled “Mein Kampf.” Need I say more. 

There’s a Memoir piece on this site about David and me. It’s called “David Lerner: One for the Holidaze.” It’s the first piece I ever had published. 
If you’d like to read some of David’s work, google “David Lerner poet.” 

Life During Wartime 3.30.20

This ain’t no party, this ain’t no disco
This ain’t no fooling around
This ain’t no Mudd Club or CBGB
I ain’t got time for that now

                                    David Byrne, 1979

so this is war
(xmas is over)

unfortunately
the germs
didn’t sign on
to the geneva
agreement

john lennon’s
imagined world
turned unsafe
for hippies
and just about
everyone else

kim and i are
living in a studio
she calls it our
student apartment

in honor of that
she’s playing some 
joni mitchell

joni didn’t much like hippies
but hippies adored joni
as did just about
everyone else

hospitals are overrun
restaurants are closing
the economy is in shambles

as the freak brothers 
used to say
dope will get you through 
times of no money 
better than 
money will get you through 
times of no dope.

i’m just lookin’ to 
separate the high 
from the anxiety

with some measure
of success

trump just announced

he was extending
the federal 
social distancing
guidelines till 
the end of april

and moving
easter to
mid may

the shape of
the space time
continuum
keeps shifting

ambulances
keep pulling up
to my building

my niece ami
in new haven
gave birth to a boy
at 2 am last monday 

life goes on

C(the)VOID-19 4.06.20

First there is a mountain
then there is no mountain
then there is

                        Donovan, 1967

uncle andy 
is talkin’ apex these days
awaiting its arrival

according to webster
a near antonym 
of apex
is abyss

cuomo called it a
bad groundhog movie
as he closed
the playgrounds
in the city parks

applied
alienation

now he’s supplying stats 
with breakouts by 
county age race gender

like exit polls
in an election
where candidate
coronavirus
gets all the votes

the bronx’s 
father gigante
writ large

folks are making
fashion statements
with colorful masks

fauci meets gucci

street people
on broadway
congregate
near public kiosks
craving curbside
cocktails 

they have gone from
asking for change
to pleading for
a ten or a twenty

we’re all 
character actors
in a slow motion
dystopian movie

half the world
is now on
lockdown

my old 
racquetball buddy 
karim is playing 
virtual reality
table tennis
with some of them

i ventured 
across the street
to the convenience store

i like the arab guy
who runs the place

he does a brisk
lottery ticket
business

and sells some
other stuff too

now it’s one
customer at a time

i go there 
for the
other stuff

gum and 
rolling paper

as i picked up
a few packs
of bambu
i asked
the arab guy
you still selling
winning tickets

he said yeah
people need them
more than ever

love is
contagious
too