© 2016 by Helen Sperber

BURNINGS

 

Flowing bodies, male and female

black and white, stand, lounge comfortably

in the small space. A chair. A table. 

Pillows and blankets on the floor. 

Sounds of Brubeck. Baez. Simone.

Aroma of incense. And something else. Lighter, 

more bitter. Like burning tea leaves. 

Semester’s done.  Books are closed.

 

Talk circles around the Freedom Riders.

Buses headed for the deep south, 

mixed races, facing hatred and death 

together. One of our group is boarding 

tomorrow. I never heard his name. Tall, white, 

skinny, lightly bearded, long sandy hair. 

They called him “Jesus.” Perhaps, if 

more of us had gone, instead 

of just sending Jesus with our blessings . . .

 

Years drift by, fill with children, homes, jobs.

And war’s atrocities. Twentieth-century technology

wasting primitive villages. Young men 

who say “No” accept exile, or prison. 

Women slip their aprons. Watts in flames. 

We lie down in the streets,

and we dance at Woodstock.

We burn our bras and our draft cards.

We join the Peace Corps 

and leave footprints on the moon.

And yet, swords resist plowshares.

As the decade turned, I didn’t want to stop believing, 

so I stood in my new red and black Mediterranean-style kitchen, stirring, 

stirring, and still believing that

we would stop the wars, live in peace, 

love our brothers and sisters, 

and, somehow, hammer out justice. Even after 

JFK, Bobby, Martin Luther King, My Lai and Kent State, 

we still believed. 

 

Now, half a century past, it’s hard to believe.

Sandy Hook happened.

 

Young bodies still arrive home

from distant lands, broken, or flag draped.

War replaced by terrorism.

Guns held up as idols.

 

Hatred wears a new mask.

Korans are burned and bibles are banned.

Prophets made mockeries by their own disciples. 

Forgotten land mines wait.

Neighbors to the south waste their own land 

to satiate our addictions.

 

Cattle are still fattened, while people still starve.

We drown in plastics and oil spills,

in carbons and particulates.

Mother’s milk contaminated with pesticides. 

Coral reefs and rain forests in peril.

Denial pontificates.

 

Yes, belief has faded.

I sit now among the ashes, 

stirring, stirring,

stirring these dying embers.