Search this website

No Last Words RSS

No Last Words

07 April, 2017: No Last Words


by Craig Paulenich
The dead are such teases. 
They walk off to Mexico,
disappear into
nameless sanatoriums,
are improbably crushed
by random cars
on icy iron bridges. 
They pass out into acid pits,
stumble into ladles of steel,
are found slumped in the shower,
or asleep in some unimaginable posture.
They arise suddenly
in casual conversation,
always one step ahead,
just around the corner,
leave boxes of tinted postcards,
nicknames, love letters,
mute about their diseases,
the houses that burned, the speed
at which the car left the curve. 
They lift their skirts, drop their pants,
walk beneath lightning to gather up chickens.

“No Last Words” by Craig Paulenich, from Blood Will Tell. BlazeVOX, 2009. Used by permission of the author.
Craig Paulenich is the author of two books of poetry, Drift of the Hunt (Nobodaddies Press, 2006) and Blood Will Tell (BlazeVOX, 2009), and co-editor with Kent Johnson of Beneath a Single Moon: Buddhism in Contemporary American Poetry (Shambhala Press, 1991), an anthology of poets whose work is shaped by their Buddhist meditational practice. His poetry has been nominated three times for a Pushcart Prize. He is a co-founder of the Northeast Ohio Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing, a consortium including Cleveland State University, Kent State University, the University of Akron and Youngstown State University, and a professor of English at Kent State University at Salem. He and his wife, Karla, live on a small farm outside Lisbon, Ohio.


Write a poem as a letter to America: a complaint letter, Dear John letter, love letter, invitation, thank-you, or cancellation. Avoid the clichés. Surprise your reader and America.

So where did it go wrong?
Going left?
Going right?
Coming apart all along?

Are we more tree?
Or more shadow?
Where did our vision go?
Exported with jobs?
Shouted down by angry mobs?

Future comes one day at a time
So what day started this?
Evade it today
Pay for it tomorrow
Ignorance is bliss

Debts of the past?
Debts of the party?
Are we happy now?
Are our minds set?

Are we honest living outide the law?
Excluding colors,
Building walls,
Is a flaw
Stop hatred by hating?
When has that worked?

Mouth talks
Ears don't listen
Louder, louder
Vulgar, vulgar
Truth is missin'

Lost courage to be different
To welcome all
Are we still free?
Will we rise or fall?

Tragic are the heroes
We have none left
We have none right
Said goodnight
To principled discipline

More lies within
A time to begin
Anew with liberty
May it start with me
4/9/2017 7:55:30 PM

Chantelle Brady
Oh America,

You are no longer number one
In anything.
Presidents come, and
presidents fail,
to improve a country
that has greatly lost its way.
Why is Public being ruled by Private?
Why is the economy running politics?
Why is industry running environmentalism?
America, I think you are just
and I wish to help you,
but am not sure how.
You are turning away friends
that could have helped you
if you just let them;
instead of deciding to build
a STUPID wall
that you don't even know
how to pay for?
or who.
Health Care, Education, Equal Opportunity
no longer define You
you are afraid, distracted, compliant, uneducated,
poor and rich?
insured but not covered?
Doctors but uneducated?
"free" but NOT.

Your long, lost friend hopes to see you before moving away
as I shed a tear for you each day.
4/8/2017 11:31:37 PM

Chris Kane
My dearest America,

I have missed you as of late. You’ve evaporated
into a greenhouse gas, picked up your guns. I’m worried
that we won’t see each other again, or
that I never knew you at all. You are fleeting
like youth, inevitable like death. You’ve gained
weight and a bad reputation. You’ve lost
imagination, faith, confidence, and respect.
You no longer come as advertised. You’re just
a bully who can’t apologize or change, can’t
admit a mistake, can’t move forward.
You turn blind eyes on your people and bellow
from mountain tops of ashes. You remind me
Oo Ebenezer instead of Martin or John. You think
Lincoln, Washington, and Franklin are dead
people on your stacks of inflated money. You believe
those watching are more foolish and reckless than you.
You are a myth assembled via legends, a pretty construct
akin to Ozymandias, but vainer, more arrogant. A colossus of smoke
and blood and anger, a din of millions of voices. You’ve forgotten
you are not one but many. I hope I will see you
in my time before I die, that you emerge
intact from the shadows and choose
to walk in lockstep with your everyone
and accept the world on its terms.
You are so dearly missed, my beautiful, brave America.
Please come home. Please be as you are.

With great, undying, unrequited, unconditional love,

4/8/2017 1:37:44 AM

N. K. Hasen
Dear America

The winds have changed in your fortune
As you sink low to what you were once
Once you had beauty; splendor to charm
The world seemed at your finger tips
Everone looked in awe at you
Oh, how you fallen from the world's graces
Your children squabble among each other
Why can't you control; reign them in
You have distance yourself from your past
Have changed from what we once stood for
Now, you usher in deception;
Fear from others hangs arounds you
But you can't shake what you have become
You try to shake the yoke which bounds you
To accept all with open arms
But other push you down
Make you say things which once you were open to
Now you speak in ugly words
You don't welcome like you use to do
You are not what I remember you use to be
Is it possible for you change?
Will you accept everyone,
Regardless of who they are?
If not, how can I be a part of your American Dream?
4/7/2017 10:28:09 PM

Elaine Bishop
Dear America,
Falling from grace,
tears running down your face. Is it really true? Have we truly come to this?
Must we light the wick and wait, hear the hiss.
Have you forgotten, what brought us here? Is our enemy oh so ever near.
What were those truths, that we held so dear?
Will we conquer them or will it be we?
Can there be a time, when "all" we are, is who we become?
I live here, but where is the peace?
As a gay woman, with a partner of 28 years.
In those years we have shed thousands of tears,
For people Black, Brown, Red, White and Blue.
Now as a people, what do we do?
For ALL our children, women, and men.
Perhaps we all need to just learn...
4/7/2017 5:38:20 PM

John Primm
I enjoy anything by Craig Paulenich. I have all his books, and I've taken Creative Writing with him and 2 poetry classes at Kent State Salem. I envy any poet that can be so succinct.
4/7/2017 5:25:59 PM

Invitation to Enter

Dear Land of Liberty,
I invite thee
to come into my home.
Share with me what makes you laugh, and cry,
or at times sigh
and moan.
For your White and Red
tears sometimes be shed,
your Stars hanging limp in the Blue.
Is it for the people not respecting their Pledge;
or do they forget thy granted privilege,
the cost eternally be due?
4/7/2017 3:40:37 PM

Kathleen D. Gallagher
Dear America: Listen to the Voices from the Bardo
(after a talk by author George Saunder’s at the Akron Public Library)

Lincoln visited his son’s crypt many times,
and there he liberated the corpse of their souls,
in the stubborn space where we cling like a poor rhyme
in the transition of the bardo--- that comma, that semi-colon,
that punctuated vision between death and rebirth
where we cannot seem to move on toward releasing fear, showing us the quiet where the truth
of life and death’s ghosts speak to a few.
An older gentleman, perhaps as if he knew,
the value of understanding this space, asks Saunders:
“What ghosts shall we listen to in these times of angst and confusion?”
Channeling his “left of Ghandi” sensibility, Saunders speaks on:
He tells us that there is good-heartedness in people.
He tells us that not all is ever known at once,
but that the art mind bonds closely when spirit is its temple.
Clinging to hopes inside that it is true, I pray. I sigh.
That we may all go to the forest where empathy lies;
we may all rise moving into an expansive and freeing space--
But I cry, when I read the news and see, once again,
destruction’s face---a Syrian father holding not one,
but two of his children dead in his arms
from the poison of hateful projections.
What ghosts shall we listen to in this world today?
I move mindfully away from this earth.
I channel the ghosts in the Bardo;
I channel Purgatory that gives us rebirth.
I channel the spirits of the dead children’s forgiveness
as they speak to us to grasp the monumental worth,
of a path which dissolves all evil,
leading us to the true art of living
far, far, far, from the endless
hold of earth’s cold, cold, and lonely crypt.
4/7/2017 1:47:46 PM

My America quickly fades;
wide open spaces give way
to bricks and concrete to
more and more and more

The peaceful spaces of
my America are trampled
in greed and "need", are
cloaked in clatter and clang

Once lush, majestic and glorious,
alive with song and spirit,
my America grows hard and falls "flat",
a sameness creeping over the landscape

Shall I prepare my farewell? Say
goodbye to the vastness,
so long to the very character made
My America?
4/7/2017 12:27:50 PM

READ + WRITE: 30 Days of Poetry is a collaboration between Cuyahoga County Public Library and poet Diane Kendig. Our thanks go to Diane and the poets of Northeast Ohio who allowed us to share their poetry.