A Land of Fortresses (Poetry)

I wrote this last week during a poetry workshop at the High Plains for Applied Anthropology. This poem is dedicated to Howard Stein, who always inspires us to remember how powerful poetry is as a tool for understanding our humanity. Thanks Howard!

A Land of Fortresses

We are a land of fortresses,

Solitary, we treat only with those who think like us,

We are surrounded by a moat of toxic water,

Where the corpses of diverse ideas fester.

Our noses burn with their smell.

So we plug them and avert our eyes,

Staring only at the safety within our walls.


It is safe in here,

Like in the dark ages.


The world out there is dangerous,

Trolls pick their teeth with the bones of their victims,

The ones who wandered too far from their fortress,

They gorge under crumbling overpasses at the intersections of cyberspace.


Hoards of hairy monsters circle the walls,

Pounding on the portcullis.

Longing to cut their teeth on fresh fleshy argument.

Their wicked smiles gleam,

But only at 2 am, with beards unshaven,

Their cry of, ‘actually’, screamed at rhythmic intervals.


In the moonlight mist,

Even robots wait in ambush.

With strange requests for our most intimate knowledge,

To be used against us.

Your mother’s maiden name,

Your first pet,

Your high school mascot,

A way inside.

Our memories are our vulnerability.


There, waiting in a tower of thorns we hide behind walls.

Ignoring the needy who gather at the gates by day.

We stay closed for business,

To those with needs unmet.

Never pondering,

Only pontificating from the ramparts.

And the guards pay no mind,

Until the siege weapons arrive,

Well past the time of asking.


They erect the weapons just beyond our reach,

With great desperation.

Then we dig in.

Prepare the boiling oil,

Prepare the volley of flaming arrows,

And slings, to keep our outrageous fortunes,

To ourselves.


But know,

The walls will fall.

They always do eventually.

Even with our pride bolstering them.

Even after they crumble,

We cling to their illusion of solidity,

And believe everything we think.

Until it rots us through to the core.


Then, we stand amongst the rubble wondering why.

Screaming in the darkness at some imaginary god to save us.

Requesting thoughts and prayers,

Rather than doing anything at all.


And so we join the lost,

The homeless.

For we have no home in ourselves.


Wandering,

Pounding at the gates of another

Begging for entrance,

Pleading for compassion.

Cut by the thorns as we try to scale their walls.

And we construct siege weapons,

To topple the towers,

And bring all to ruin,

Because we have been ruined by our indifference.


I have built a wall

I have dug a moat,

Made of algorithms.

To cling, to avoid,

Both are poisons.

I have turned away,

I have clung until my fists bled.

My own life, slipping through my fingers.

Only to find Saturn return and demolish my walls,

With the weight of its gravity.


Open the gates.

Smash the walls.

Feel the freedom of the open-air,

Of strange conversations in dense forests,

And find the wisdom in the unkempt grass,

Or roll in the mud until you are baptized.


There is no choice.

To ignore is only to delay.

To ignore is to forfeit your will,

Your choice in the matter.


Go Then,

Be forced naked into a wilderness that no longer wants you,

But claims you anyway.


We will make good mud.


We are exiles of our own making.  

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