John Roche | 3 poems

(as 2016 leaves us)

All the songs of the singers
All the poems of the bards
All the spells of the brujas
All the ceremonies of the shamans
effect less than the flick of the pudgy pinkie of Donald Little Hands

Leonard Cohen is dead
Democracy is leaving the USA
Pete Seeger's dead
Bowie's dead
Prince is dead
Leon Russell’s dead
Dylan's in Nobel heaven
Jim Harrison is dead
C.D. Wright is dead
David Meltzer is dead
Huston Smith is dead

Jonah's tomb has been smashed
The museums looted
The ruins of Mesopotamia bulldozed
The dervishes flogged
The ancient Zoroastrians buried alive or made sex slaves

The waters of Flint run red from the pipes 
The Water Keepers of Dakota are beaten and gassed
The oil vultures get ready to plunder the Arctic
The glaciers keep melting
The cheetah is mostly extinct

It looks like all the Bodhisattvas may be leaving us
Is this the prophesied death of the Dharma?

Is there no balm of Gilead?
No flower of Gilgamesh?
No sprig of lilac such as Walt offered?
No psalm such as Marley sang to help us endure the coming Captivity?
No song such as Woody sang to rally us to fight?

I fling these ashes of a nation into the eyes of the tyrant.

The Poet's Bike

Oh for that old black single-speed policeman's bike I bought in Dublin 
through the classifieds when I was young and my gleaming new red 
five-speed had been cut from the gate at Stephen's Green. It was sturdy 
and made you feel confident in the saddle and you could ride it in any 
weather. Its gears were strong enough to propel you o’er the lip of the 
Grand Canal or up the high ground past The Castle and smooth enough to 
let you cruise down to Belfield or all the way up to the Phoenix Park. 
It would guide your way back to Rathgar or Rathmines after that fifth 
pint. And best of all no one would try to steal it because it wasn't 
flashy and it wasn't new and it wasn't American or German-engineered. 
But let me let you in on a little secret: it possessed a soul. It was a 
magic bike such as you can read about in The Third Policeman or The Crock 
of Gold. It was a poet's bike. Its molecules entered you and your mind 
entered it. Some strange things could result. But it was a joy to ride, 
and a boon to own!

[appeared as The Sunday Poem on The Ditch Rider’s Blog. Duke City Fix. 
November 11, 2016.]

78 Grandmothers

When Sinjar was liberated
in November 2015
the Peshmerga uncovered mass graves,
one containing 78 Yazidi grandmothers.

When the black-clad conquerors arrived in August 2014 
they sorted the Yazidi women by age, a simple triage:
The maidens to be sex slaves, their mothers to be servants, 
their grandmothers to be shot or buried alive.

This poet will refrain from comparisons to the Rape of Nanking, My Lai, 
Sabra & Shatila, or countless historical parallels. Neither posit the 
Rape of the Sabine Women as the starting point of Roman Civilization. 
Nor equate warrior culture, religious fundamentalism, and patriarchy. 
Nor analyze the rise of this particularly savage apocalyptic cult.

Only say, there is a grave in Sinjar
containing 78 grandmothers.

Only say, the poet's curse be on those who disrespect grandmothers.

Only say, the poet's curse fierce and ineradicable be upon the heads of 
those who slay the 78 grandmothers, and upon those who slay the 778 
grandmothers, and upon those who slay the 7,778 grandmothers.

May they be immediately rendered impotent and suffer a thousand 
humiliations and torments, and may a coward's death soon follow.

Only say, may peace come to Sinjar, and children play with grandmothers, 
and brides be dressed by grandmothers, and babes be held in the arms of 

[appeared in Truck July 2016]

john_rocheJohn Roche now lives in Albuquerque, where he helps run the Poetry Playhouse with Jules Nyquist, while still teaching online English classes for Rochester Institute of Technology. His first two full-length poetry collections were On Conesus (2005) and Topicalities (2008), both from FootHills Publishing, Kanona, NY. His 2011 poetic memoir, Road Ghosts, is available from theenk Books (through  Albuquerque’s Beatlick Press published an anthology of 120 poets called Mo’ Joe (2014), inspired by his Joe Poems: The Continuing Saga of Joe the Poet (FootHills, 2012). Mo’ Joe was a finalist in the 2014 Arizona/New Mexico Book Awards and was nominated for the 2015 Pushcart Prize. He also edited the collection Uncensored Songs for Sam Abrams (Spuyten Duyvil, 2008), co-edited an anthology of poetry by inmates at Auburn Prison, and edited Martha Rittenhouse Treichler’s Black Mountain to Crooked Lake: Poems 1948-2010, with a Memoir of Black Mountain College (FootHills, 2010).

Roche is currently editing a five-volume anthology series called Poets Speak. Information on the series can be found at the Poetry Playhouse website.


3 thoughts on “John Roche | 3 poems

  1. Thanks John. “Poet’s Bike” took me back to my Schwin 5-Speed, vintage 1970. “78 Grandmothers” did what
    excellent poems do: put me in a vivid, historical time; then evoked powerful emotions and ended by connecting human history and the human spirit.


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