In corridor and street
they stalk me
Oblongs, oblongs, oblongs
In no place can I walk safe
from their flat boldness.
If I stand on the corner
of 3rd and Market
They fly, they wave,
they rattle on posts.
Oblong spirits, but tangible
spirits of man textures,
Paper, cotton, plastic, the junk
of sweatshops oceans away.

They never speak, can only honk.
Crippled, they are deaf and blind.

And, they would muffle me,
enshroud me, wrap
Their oblong selves around me,
silence me
With their stripes, stuff stars
down my throat,
Deny me breath to call them
what they are—
Emblems, something cheap and easy
to wave or sport
On breasts, suits, hats, SUVs—
to call them
Nothing but rags covering
a continental emptiness,
Nothing but flags,
red, white, and blue.

I thought it was a dream, a nightmare,
And, then I awoke, and it was true.
December 2001


As the date December 2001 indicates, this poem was written not too long after 9/11/01, the day that saved Bush from being a one-term president and from which one can date the beginning of the ending of our country as a democracy of responsible citizens.  And it has a particular place as an origin, the corner of 3rd and Market in Lewisburg, Pa.  That is where the Federal building stands, and for many years peace-loving people have held a vigil against war there, where the large flag rattles loudly against the metal flagpole whenever wind is blowing–which it always is.

Bush ruled by fear and flag, and the latter was everywhere that fall, as it still tends to be.  Our local Fourth of July parade is a massive display of militarism and “patriotism.”  A few years ago, the director of this obscene rite wrote to me and others, asking us to show flags.  I wrote back, saying that I could not wrap myself in the flag, which was a phony patriotism, cheap and easy.  I told him that I would agree to read the Declaration of Independence, which the day should celebrate, at the end of the parade, but he declined my offer.  Small flags are planted on the sidewalks for the parade, and when it was over I went out to pluck the one from my sidewalk and was struck to see that it was made from flimsy stuff made in China–cheap and easy.

This poem speaks for itself, but I must pay one debt.  On the day in 1967 when the people of peace marched on the Pentagon I had the good luck to pass by Dick Gregory, standing on a car, and chanting, “The flag is a rag.”  Unforgettable and true, and it found its way into this poem.  I present this to the Spilling Ink Co-op for David Hafer, who has an excellent, genuine sense of what patriotism really is.

Karl Patten
from Spaces and Lines


No Bottomless Holes

submitted by Karl Patten

Woodchucks, foxes, rabbits, possums,
And other small creatures live in holes
Underground. They abide in earth,
Often hibernate, with stones, roots,
Mud, familiar with the temperature
Of the planet’s surface, at home
With the silence on a dirt floor.

In the third grade, after some whacks
And bruises on the playground, children
Learn, with a secret glee, that bullies
Are really cowards, that flaunted power
Shrinks faced with the figure of justice.

Some troops found Saddam Hussein holed-up.
The unclean monster crept out trebling,
Afraid to shoot himself or his captors,
One more bully revealed as a coward,
Gone to ground in palpitating fear.
There are no bottomless holes, no exits.

We know that Bush, Cheney, all that crew
Of strutters have made well-appointed
Holes for themselves in the sad exploited
Appalachian hills and mountains. When
Will they crawl out whimpering, mission
Unaccomplished, driveling lies, scared
Shitless of the Principal? No bottomless holes.

From Irreplaceable You
By Karl Patten


“No Bottomless Holes” is a poem written in anger, despite its orderly structure and texture. I am always glad to find deliberately political poems, but, for me, too often do they go off the rails in their eagerness and damage themselves as works of art. Dante is the poet who could write in rage and scorn and dazzles us with his brilliance, but he always maintained strict meter and rhyme. Dante stands out as the poet who wrote with strong emotion – even hatred – but made a beautiful poem. I can not pretend to be another Dante, but I can think of him as a model.

This poem begins with a stanza devoted to the simple animals of our countryside and how they are comfortable living in holes. The second stanza was crucial for me because we all learn, at a fairly early age, that bullies are really cowards; that the bully in the schoolyard at recess is himself afraid of being sent to the Principal’s office, which fortunately happens. I am sure that everyone is familiar with the photograph of Saddam Hussein cravenly coming out of his hole, the big bully caught.

But my motivating anger was not with Saddam, but rather with Bush, Cheney and the rest of that gang that hijacked this nation. This poem was written probably in 2005, when it had become apparent what evil they had – and still were – doing. Now, several years later, I still want to see them impeached or punished in some way, according to due process. I had read of the bunkers they had made in the Appalachians and could imagine them in their holes and could imagine them crawling out, bullies like Saddam and afraid of proper authority.

No More Mease Please

submitted by Chris Schell

Ken Mease begins his letter to the Daily Item (2/22/09) by recalling that he read the National Recovery Act of 1933 was two cover sheets filled with newspapers. Not true. This “socialist” legislation was a 9300 word bill that enabled Roosevelt to enact codes for business and labor to help end the depression. Businessmen wrote the codes to their own advantage. The Act mostly failed, became unpopular and was declared unconstitutional just as it was due to expire. Darn socialists.

Mr. Mease ends his letter with a quote from John Adams about democracies committing (economic) suicide. However the word “economic” was a Mease addition. In context Adams’ quote is about his fear that democracies tend to give too much direct power to the people resulting in the people forcing their wise leaders into unwise, vengeful, empire-building and eventually self-destructive wars. Our recent history seems to reverse this result: Our leaders are the ones urging self-destructive wars.

Thus this latest piece of Meas-itry begins with a memory of reading an inaccurate history and ends with an altered quote taken out of context. In between we learn that Roosevelt, Johnson, the Clintons and Obama are conspiring, lying stealth Marxist-socialists. I’m sure glad they are no longer communists.

Mr. Mease closes his letter with the plea “save our constitution”. I never heard from Mr. Mease when our previous president was making the Justice Department into a Republican re-election organization, using the vice-president’s office to avoid accountability, secretly editing congressional laws to his whims, and attributing to the President powers that were unrevealed but absolute . Adams believed fervently in the rule of law and in checks and balances between the branches of government. Save our constitution? Help save it from those with the views of Mr. Mease. Please.

The Economy: Do We Have Any Idea What We’re Doing?

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,

Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

William Butler Yeats, “The Second Coming

The Economy: Do We Have Any Idea What We’re Doing?

John Peeler

It is a commonplace these days to argue that the Bush administration helped to bring on the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression by clinging blindly to the dogma of the free, unregulated market as the solution to every problem. That is certainly an accurate accusation. At virtually every opportunity over its eight years, this administration has moved to loosen or eliminate government regulation in every sphere. The result, as Barack Obama has said, was the absence of “adult supervision.” The excesses are now bringing the economy down around all of us. The roots of the debacle were recently and extensively chronicled in The New York Times by Jo Becker, Cheryl Gay Stolberg, and Stephen Labaton http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/21/business/21admin.html?_r=1&hp

We are witnessing—living—the end of the cult of the free market. This very administration, bereft of any theory to guide it, has plunged headlong into a leading role for the state in protecting the corporate economy from collapse. Bush and company stared at the specter of a complete economic collapse, realized that only the state had the capacity to stop it, and moved to throw money into the widening maw of the crisis, but without a serious plan.

The death of the god of free markets follows that of Soviet central planning after 1990. When the Soviet Union imploded, western analysts usually saw the collapse as largely attributable to the failings of a state-controlled, centrally planned economy that was too rigid and unproductive to cope with the demands of being a Great Power, and the challenges of economic globalization.

The cult of central planning, as developed by the early revolutionaries in the Soviet Union, flatly rejected the market as a means of ordering the production and distribution of goods and services, substituting the rational deliberations of public servants for the egoistic competition of entrepreneurs. We now know that central planning, extended to every sphere of live, became like a dead hand strangling the spontaneity of human activity.

The death of each of these gods—central planning and the free market—was followed by gross excesses. In the former Soviet Union, we saws the emergence of gangster capitalism as the economy was swiftly privatized by allowing public firms to fall into the hands of former state officials who thereby became instant millionaires. The Russians are still paying for those mistakes.

The Bush response to the crisis of the free market has been similarly ill-considered, and promises to have similarly dire consequences. By focusing the bailout on companies that are “too big to fail,” we risk simply compounding the concentration of wealth and power in contemporary American society. Now, the surviving big corporations will be directly sponsored by the state. That amounts to the economic facet of fascism (to go along with the political manifestations that have become so familiar in the course of Bush’s “War on Terror”).

Neither the post-Soviet Russians nor the post-market Bushies had a theory that made any sense. Meanwhile, overshadowed by this war of the gods, a very sensible, pragmatic, theoretically well-grounded alternative has survived: social democracy, or as it might well be termed, managed capitalism.

Social democracy as practiced in Scandinavia, the Netherlands, and in attenuated form elsewhere in Europe, leaves the means of production largely in private, capitalist hands, but regulates the economy to serve the public interest by maintaining a high standard of living, using state expenditure to soften the impact of recessions and to provide directly such essential services as health care, regulating corporate conduct to limit market excesses, and thereby assuring private companies of enough profits to stay in business.

We may hope that Barack Obama will move us toward social democracy. If not, we are on the brink of fascism.