Michael Rothenberg


It can happen any time of the day.
A dislocated anxiety begins in the feet.
Something close to synesthesia,
a red spasm walks through the clock
towards some vanishing imagination.
A war.

Ameliorate, vilify, shield.
Placate, mollify, hide.
There’s nowhere to hide.
Static, static, static. . .

It starts again.
The war.
Topical weariness.
Itchy blades pierce the cheek.
Toxic waves stick to the back of the throat.
A swollen billow, thickening, septic fruit chokes.
Something dirty, dry and tart…

The pills I take to cure the tremors don’t work anymore.
I don’t know that they ever did.

And I’m convinced there never will be
a spirit, powder, plaster, tonic, ointment, filter, malware,
neural concoction that can seize the day
from infectious panic once and for all.
Cure the holocaust.
Untwist the elastic present.
Make love tolerable.

Static, static, end the war, static, love is the answer, static…

There never will be a pink calamine,
stainless weed or fermentation,
existential fava or kava
that doesn’t have some caustic side effect,
induce some statuary blindness,
dizziness, blurriness, palpitations.
It’s an everlasting war.

There never will be a medicine or
moral splint that brings the conflict to an end,
terminates the unceasing war

between consumption and denial.
It’s always a war.

There never will be a fizzy pill you can take, with a tall glass of water,
a splash of lemon, a yoni mantra to align the senses,
ease the pain or repeal the punishment
that flows out of the wreckage.

the universal noun and verb,
moniker for everything we are and do.
Action, inaction, reaction
Re-feathering of the dove.

Static, static, war static.
There’s nothing we can do about it.
War’s the word.

Good, bad, and average wars.
Wars against war.

All cheer for war between imaginary gods
and god’s sinuous, righteous armies.
Flags of the rich, flags of the poor crowding the heavens.
Titular banners, combustible standards.
War between the sexes and twitter personalities.
War between us all!

the unrelenting Dionysian roller coaster,
carnival of megalomaniacal clowns on a Ferris wheel in flames.
Bloodlust bloodbath.
Uncompromising global, local, personal war
waged upon on this planet’s rape weary spine.
Everywhere war.
At the toy store, action figures in “the machinery of loss”,
“toy soldiers are our business” “taking war to a whole new scale.”

On billboards fiery chrome bumpers and monster cylinders
grind out the proto-masculine vendetta against proto-feminine nature.

Static. Static. Static…a symptomatic loop…

Do you support the troops?
Kill for cash?
Speculate on The Death Contractors Index?
Military Industrial Complex built into your retirement
pension and health plan, traded like Ebola virus
on the stock exchange.
Where there’s money to be made there’s no cure or rest.
War is the essential and fundamental currency of a free enterprise economy.
It’s good for me!
I don’t care about you!

“A War of Words Apocalypse pits you up against 3 other players
for an all-out word destruction brawl!”

War against the common cold and sensational rash.
War against poverty.
War against hunger.
War against big gulp obesity and flabby ass.

War against swollen prostate and rectal inadequacies.
War against reluctant and overactive kidneys.
War against lung, lip, tongue, throat, and brain cancer.
War against emotional co-dependency.

War against sociopathic tendencies.

War against psychopathic apathies.
War against ambivalence and engagement.
War against silence.
War against speaking out.


War against drugs and warrior drugs invented to win the war on drugs.

War against poverty.

War on the suicidal catwalk between… static, static, static…
dystopian fashion designers and anorexic supermodels.

War against disbelievers, unbelievers, over and underachievers.

War against aliens from Mexico,
or aliens from anywhere else in outer space.
Star wars!

War against terrorists, roaches, mice, ants, chinch bugs,
silverfish, moths, lice, bacteria, molds, and poetries.

War against lime deposits in the toilet bowl, soapy film on the silverware.


War for the simple thrill of it all.
It’s fun to blow things up.
Flame throwers.
Jellied gasoline.
The daily grim game of Reapers in Nevada war rooms.
I hear the screams in Pakistan, the collateral damage.
It’s all good.
Send a camera into the mysterious and magical
charred wound of a long distance trophy.
Take a picture, then go home and forget about it all.
Burst into the living room to greet
the loving spouse and happy kiddies
engrossed in more war game videos.
Daddy’s home.
Mommie’s home from war!

War games!
Barrels loaded, bomb bay doors wide open, the rectum release.
The shit of war.
Static. Static. Static.
Whoever they are that gets in the way.
Trained assassins and sharpshooter school teachers.
Serial killers and black men in hoodies.
Children on their way to school.
Anyone who stinks up the view of our perfect static world.
Positives and negatives torn to shreds,
liquefied, emulsified, liquidated...
Offered for ransom.
You know who you are!

War of the imagination!

Static. Static.

War between vying lovers.
War against creative anxiety crisis and inspiration.
War against maddening crowds and ecclesiastic paradigms.
War against indifference and concern.

The assault of the orgasm.
The soporific split.
War of polar opposites.
Black and white war of shadows.
A colorless war of dichotomies.
The merciless conflagration of yin and yang.
We’re here to win and adore the disemboweled challenger.
Show me that trophy again!
End the shame and embarrassment of dreamy pacifists.
Wage more glory!
Wage more war!

Wage more…
Static, war…

Tuned to the War Channel history and nature collide,
decide the fate of a hundred extinct civilizations.
The survival of 100 thousand species.
We fill our minds with misanthropic, immortal angels of war.
Mars navigates the ship of death, while Ahab
heralds in the call of the wild.

We imagine the shark a killing machine.
We become the killing machine.

We imagine, in rusty high grass plains
the king of the jungle announces Armageddon.
We become the clarions of destruction.
We roar!
We understand our nature as such.
We know it to be true.
Survival of the fittest is the death of us all!

Everywhere a song of war, fairy tale, lullaby,
whispered in the ear of every child each night before they go to bed.
A hymn to the species.
Before they go to bed each night they hear this sweet song:

Rock-a-bye baby, before we shoot.
Rock-a-bye baby, a 21-gun salute.

We sing it slow in breathy rounds, rounds and rounds.
Sweet war, sweet, sweet, gentle, war.
We know it to be so.
We’ve heard it all before.

I don’t know why I feel so tense at night, lying on my back,
un-soothed by the turning fan.

Once more. War…

Now I lay me down to sleep, sleep is war, and war is cheap.

Rock-a-bye baby nursery rhymes waged against daily somnambulism.
Sleep, you little bastard, sleep!

I don’t know why I wake up so angry?
A metabolic strychnine creeps through my feet.
I jolt and twitch.

War, war, static, static… love is the answer…war static, war static, war.

War between pampered ballet dancers,
amniotic pop singers with sociopathic dreams of stardom.
Beauty queen infants in stiletto heels,
hot red lipstick and a corset of grenades.
Athletes with steel balls.
Gorgeous reality stars with big tits.
Ugly reality stars also with big tits.
Big dicks and big tits flexing a war physique.
Built for war!

War at war with reality.
All at war with fantasy.
At war with joy, employed in war and desperation.
Desperation the high key virtue to war, the engine and prayer of war.
A table of warring chefs with knives and peelers flash through flesh.
A stream of fois gras and piss.
Drenched in lust while trivia game show contestants
beat the clock to death.
Then finally, the lone gunman drops in to Sandy Hook School one day.
“We will never forget.”

Static, static, the flag is lowered
and for a moment… love is the answer…static, static.

War against kids.
War against the weak and naïve.
War against the genuine and sincere.
War slaves follow the rhapsodic brass of policy,
the litany of fear, conspiracy, propaganda and patriotism.
It’s always the battle of Jericho!
War to win the proudest grave,
the shiniest ring, the loudest rattle and darkest rose.
War for a lotto ticket in some bingo crucifixion.
Bring down the wall!
The trumpets call!
War in the cocaine filled nose of a Titan.
An alcoholic war to death on a fatal play-land metronome.

It’s war we enjoy for the good of mankind.
A war of immutable truths.
An armchair siege against the insufferable moment.
With a cold beer, pill and an endorsement contract
we let the whole genetic act,
spatial twitch, contraction, eclipse, convulsion, reaction
take its epidemic course all the way home to faithful Penelope
weaving an atomic shawl.

Eventually resistance decays, the death of us all!
The wishbone and laurel create a placebo effect.
Self-control is a dog chasing its own tail.
War resumes.
In the name of war, faith exacts its own judgment.
In a cloud of dust.

War between The Jones’ or Gonzalez’s,
or whichever demographic elects the politicians these days.
It’s not enough to simply keep up anymore,
to wear the trim and greenest lawn around our broken necks,
or to box the squarest hedge.
The journey to equality is supplanted by war to surpass all wars,
to exceed and exterminate, dominate and destroy,
to flex and control, to own it all!
The winner must leave no bone unburned
or stone un-thrown.
In any line or lane, love is crushed underfoot on opening day.
On any shopping day.

War consumes us to posses any device and uselessness,
all of which become meaningless the moment they are
undressed or unpacked.

War to pay less, war to pay more.
Winning the bet.
Get out of my fucking way or I’ll take your fucking head off!
I own this lamp, this dress, this house, this car, this road.
This highway destiny, this peak, this crest.
I am the metabolic genetic victor.
I own the spoils, the waste.
It is my right.
My reward
My religion running you down because
somewhere it says I can,
somewhere in some ancient testament,
some constitution,
it says I can stand my ground and so I must.
Somewhere in the constitution
it says winner takes all.
I am sure it does.
The right to war!

Static. Static.

War static, war static.
I hear that love is the answer, a quickly, extinguished sigh.
Then more static, war static.


In my body, every nerve that permits
and justifies a fright and flight aggression,
unburned by a vestigial conscience.
There’s a place for me
in The Guinness Book of World Records,
where future generations can read and know all about me.
I am the one who won the war.
Who ate the most all-beef hotdogs
in the least amount of time,
in a competition of consumptive gluttony,
one afternoon at some brutal county fair or rodeo,
the last rights festivity of squawking
chickens, grunting pigs and masticating cows.

More war.
And before I am engraved in this record of warrior Kings,
I must annihilate all trace of the future to secure my eternal authority.
for I am god and nothing else.
The Great God Destroyer!
The last word always belongs to me.
The body and progeny is a meaningless task.
Only a means to the end, and to know this is all that matters in the end.
Nothing needs to be left, not a seed or crust.

Who cares if I never sleep again?
Who cares about this approaching neuropathy?
The blisters on my brain?
I must go beyond that disease to extinction and annihilation.
With all my strength and breath,
The war is won only once the superior position is guaranteed
for the very last time,
and the last and loudest “fuck you” is mine.
An echo through the galaxy!
Not even that.
No, not even an echo...
Nothing remains.
Proof the war is finally won.


More static.

I thought I heard her say, “Love is the answer.”

But love is not enough.
The florist is a gladiator!

                                             January 2013-May 5, 2013, December 10, 2014

Michael Rothenberg is the editor of the online literary magazine Big Bridge (www.bigbridge.org) and co-founder of 100 Thousand Poets for Change. His most recent book of poems is Indefinite Detention: A Dog Story (Shabda Press, USA)
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