Night Migrations

After Louise Glück. Oils on 60 x 70 cm stretched canvas.

“Bad American Dreams”

This poem in my ongoing Nuremberg: 2027 series on future war crimes trials is about cognitive dissonance surrounding rule of law from the point of view of an émigré from pre-revolutionary California. The metaphor driving the accompanying illustrations—”night migrations”—underscores the implicit nature of preliminary brain drain that appears at first as a series of incidental decisions to change country, field, or milieu. What the metaphor of night migrations implies, the poem states—for better or for worse.

Oils on 80 x 100 cm stretched canvas. This one changes and will continue to change in drying more than most, because of how the pigment variation and pooled linseed oil play. 

I have bad dreams of America.
Mine are bad American dreams.
You might wonder if it’s hysteria.
But compare it to other regimes.

In Berkeley, California, Professor Yoo
teaches public and Constitutional law.
In Nürnberg, Bayern, ten such men said adieu
for their war crimes that held the world in awe.

I have bad dreams of America,
where from Cali to New York,
men like Yoo who green-lit torture feria
are treated like some kind of revered dork.

War criminals should at least have to hide.
When you ripped entire countries apart with your lies,
and authorized torture as legal (or tried),
the noose is your only, well-earned prize.

I have bad dreams of America,
since a million or so dead Iraqis went
uncounted along with their WMD, an area
of unfound treasure still at present.

But equality is what America is all about!
Unless you count gas-guzzling the world into drought.
But freedom isn’t free, you see!
So no taxes paid healthcare or fixed roads for me.

I have bad dreams of America—among
them, going back. Hope keeps them at bay.
Yoo should have been hung.
Might still happen one day.

Gouache and mixed media on A3 paper. 

In my bad dreams of America,
I dream of having failed
to make a new life for myself.
I have returned, and wake up crying.
Waking worsens what ailed,
because I could so fail my self.
Return would be too terrifying.
I couldn’t. I won’t. I have help.

In my bad dreams of America,
I’m telling someone who might care
everything that happened—as if they’re unaware
that America is not America
except in the general area
of leading the world in delusion.
That much is already proven.

I have nightmares that no one will care.
Despite spouting off on rule of law everywhere,
there’s none for the poor, none for huddled masses,
or immigrants or homeless or sick or strange asses.
Sometimes the hypocrisy is as bad as the crime.
Is it rape, or that rapists almost never do time?
Is it murder, or that everyone heard you scream?
Is it theft, or that courts don’t work for the mainstream?

It was a crime
every time.
But the victim
of the system
should have worked harder
popped the right pills for more ardor
taken night classes
rejected the masses
flossed more like Oprah
learnt underwater yoga
prayed to a harsher God
been dispatched a kinder squad.

Kindness is not the law anywhere.
It is simply the regime children learn
to put on like their underwear,
one leg at a time and every day.
Some of us learn something else: unconcern
for keeping injustice at bay.

Last night I dreamt
I had pulled out my right eyebrow in my sleep.
My tongue discovered I was missing teeth.
“The war is getting to you,” you said.
“What war, and how did you know?”
I smiled and smoothed over what was left.
It was worthy, to dissent.
So I was honest to one too many creep.
At least I didn’t end up dead.
Who knows how I’ll use what I learned tomorrow.
Some days yesterday still has me fazed and bereft.

Gouache on 36 x 48 cm paper. 

There are bad dreams of America,
and then there are bad American dreams.
Although I’ve had both many times now,
Bad American dreams are the worse, it seems.

Bad American dreams make you think it’s your fault.
You can lose them, if you leave. Exalt
world above country,
go where now it’s more sunny.

I have bad dreams of America.
Mine are bad American dreams.
But at least I know, when I wake up,
I’ve already overthrown the worse regimes.