Arlen Riley Wilson: Selected Poems

“Quam quaeritis in seplche, O Christicolae?” *

Ye Christian ladies rejoice with me
And think of the solace we must be to Him
As we celebrate His descent into Hell
With a hot cross bun
And His victory over death
With a new hat.
Let us today be doubly sure
That our country’s cause is just
And that our hemlines are straight.
Let us be strengthened by the fact
That although our-nation-is-beset-
Abroad, we did not eat untimely meat
Or forbidden sweet and actually
Lost several pounds during Lent.
Let us resolve once more to leave
The running of this world to men
Who make it the rewarding and
Well-organized existence that we know,
Those of us at least who have deserved
It so, who by our virtue
Merit decent homes, hope for our children
And a hat with paper flowers
For our social call this Sunday
On the risen Christ,
The nice Christ.


“Quam quaeritis in seplchre, O Christicolae?” 
Why do you seek Him in the grave, O little Christian ladies?

c 1956

Eheu, fugaces, labuntur anni…
In these gaunt times
A princess, chained to rock,
Is eaten up by dragons every day.
Her Perseus stopped for coffee
On the way
Or just decided to forget the whole thing,
Who can say?
Even Andromeda, eviscerated,
Must condone:
Poor Perseus has problems of his own.

“Alas, past times have flown away”
(Horace, 14th Ode)

My God, I think, what am I doing bringing kids into this world
of slicks where happy families feast
on breakfast candy, poison milk
and flesh of corpses, vitamin enriched,
where Gramps, Mom, Dad and Sis and Junior reach orgasmic bliss
by contemplating latest models:
where hebephrenic TV clowns swill endless glop that’s good for you
and if you don’t get to it fast enough
when Bugs and Donald momentarily
are finished with their sadomasochistic fun
you get a newscaster, brisk, cheerfully detached
from fall-out figures,
or a reassuring scientist,
or a calm and prayerful leader speaking of our way of life and of the
mass death necessary to defend it:
and where Mental Health says talk it over with a friend or neighbor
and if necessary seek professional advice….

But when, after the slow flash and warmth of love I leave your arms
to change the boy
and carry the wet diaper dreamily through the familiar dark,
the world is quieted and sensible, and I am quite content to have
brought children into it
and even quite content to think of bringing more.from The Realist, 1960

Chicago 1968

The Democratic Party giveth
And the Democratic Party taketh away.
Blessed be the name of the Democratic Party.

O donkey-eared Deity, friend of the poor,
How social is thy security,
How urban thy renewal,
How central thine intelligence.
Thou art the Good Shepherd
Who knoweth full well
The uses of sheep.
O mightiest of fleecers
How internal is thy revenue,
How federally administered thy
Foods and thy drugs,
How federally commissioned
Thy communications.

The party loves me
This I know
The precinct captain
Tells me so.
Little guys to it belong,
They are weak but it is strong.
Yes, the party loves me,
Sure, the party loves me,
You bet the party loves me,
The Liberals tell me so.

Ass-headed God, have mercy
Upon me. Thine were the vows
Of my radical youth;
Thou wilt not forsake me
In my mature and responsible
Old age. Golden-Hoofed Quadroped,
Look with favor upon me.
Even as with Abraham and Isaac
Have I offered unto thee my sons
Upon the altar of Obedience.
Of the first fruits of the heathen
Have I made thee burnt offerings.

Yea though I walk through the valley
Of the shadow of slump I shall fear
No recession. Thine initials
And thine agendas they comfort me.
Thou preparest before me a table
In the presence of Republicans.
Surely welfare and relief checks
Shall follow me all the days of my life,
And I shall dwell in Public Housing forever.


As a former love freak
I have an announcement to make:
I have learned to hate.

Hatred is a liberating thing,
It releases energies.

For many years I despaired
Of ever experiencing
True hate.
I always tripped
On the fallible,
The forgivable,
The understandable.

But as the film of love
Cleared from my eyes
I saw them clearly etched:
Those to whom I, my children,
My loves and my friends
Are casually expendable —
For principles, or for
Convenience, or as
A regrettable

All we have built
And hoped for and done
Are nothing to them,
To the grey men
With the artificially
Human complexions.

They are not only here
But everywhere,
An exclusive clique.

Moral appeals
Are pitiful squeaks
Of rats in a trap.

Far better
The bared teeth
And the poisoned

Small things can be rabid.
Witness a mad rat.

So tremble, grey men.
Not only I have teeth.
The Day of the Mad Rat
Is at hand.

c 1970

Dear is my family,
/var/folders/6r/qn6lcm7j1js0mx43cmjb66k00000gq/T/ my home,
/var/folders/6r/qn6lcm7j1js0mx43cmjb66k00000gq/T/ yet
I like to leave
/var/folders/6r/qn6lcm7j1js0mx43cmjb66k00000gq/T/ times
/var/folders/6r/qn6lcm7j1js0mx43cmjb66k00000gq/T/ tended garden, trimly hedged,
to watch unruly things that grow
/var/folders/6r/qn6lcm7j1js0mx43cmjb66k00000gq/T/ go and tramp alone
/var/folders/6r/qn6lcm7j1js0mx43cmjb66k00000gq/T/ watch the violet
in deep of woods
/var/folders/6r/qn6lcm7j1js0mx43cmjb66k00000gq/T/ rest my head upon moist weeds,
disown all wordly cares.
/var/folders/6r/qn6lcm7j1js0mx43cmjb66k00000gq/T/, as I do,
/var/folders/6r/qn6lcm7j1js0mx43cmjb66k00000gq/T/ level with my eyes I see
around the violet there is
/var/folders/6r/qn6lcm7j1js0mx43cmjb66k00000gq/T/ would be alright, too,
except a war is coming
/var/folders/6r/qn6lcm7j1js0mx43cmjb66k00000gq/T/ I have no place to hide
/var/folders/6r/qn6lcm7j1js0mx43cmjb66k00000gq/T/ children

This is the world that man made.
These are the ills that plagued
The world that man made.
This is the doctor prescribing the pills
That treated the ills that plagued
The world that man made.
These are the plants and labs and mills
That manufactured all the pills the doctor
Gave to treat the ills that plagued
The world that man made.
This is the banker with tellers and tills
That backed the plants and labs and mills
That manufactured all the pills the doctor
Gave to treat the ills that plagued
The world that man made.
This is the general with trumpets and trills
Who made the war that saved the bank that
Backed the plants that manufactured all the pills
The doctor gave to treat the ills that plagued
The world that man made.
Here is the mother all forlorn
Whose one and only child was born
To die in the war the general made to save
The bank that backed the plants that made
The pills the doctor gave to treat the ills
That plagued the world that man made.
This is the angel that blew his horn
To comfort the mother all forlorn
And fired the general and closed the banks
And shut the mills and scattered the pills,
Retired the doctor and cured the ills
And ended the world that man made.

Reach down for the sun, reach down
for the stars, reach deeper for the secret
places of the body of her the stars adorn.
You are lost and found in her embrace.
There is nowhere else for you to fall and
no escaping from her love for she is
black and pulsating source,
her million twinkling nipples
nurse all life,
her jewelled ardent body
twines around you always
and there is no place
to go but

Is the body of my enemy my enemy.


Is it my friend?


Is it neutral?


What then?

It is an organ of your body.


Risen in revolt as in disease.

How to control it?

How is the body already controlled?

By the mind.


I don’t know how.

You’d better find out.

Where and from whom?

Enough has been said.



Don’t budget deficit me you old men with eyeglasses and no

/var/folders/6r/qn6lcm7j1js0mx43cmjb66k00000gq/T/ who say we can’t afford to house the houseless or
/var/folders/6r/qn6lcm7j1js0mx43cmjb66k00000gq/T/ heal the sick.
Don’t fiscal responsibility me you devourers of the fat of the
/var/folders/6r/qn6lcm7j1js0mx43cmjb66k00000gq/T/ may it clog your devious up-for-election arteries.
Don’t balance of trade me you horny-handed peddlars of
/var/folders/6r/qn6lcm7j1js0mx43cmjb66k00000gq/T/ shares in finger-crossed bonanzas based on
/var/folders/6r/qn6lcm7j1js0mx43cmjb66k00000gq/T/ enterprise.
Don’t national security me you who make deals behind our backs
/var/folders/6r/qn6lcm7j1js0mx43cmjb66k00000gq/T/ cover of law-proof dark.
Don’t family-values me you who force apart man woman and
/var/folders/6r/qn6lcm7j1js0mx43cmjb66k00000gq/T/ in the interest of an ever-grosser national product.
Don’t state of the union me you unctuous apologists for
/var/folders/6r/qn6lcm7j1js0mx43cmjb66k00000gq/T/ horror may you choke on your aw-shucks-
/var/folders/6r/qn6lcm7j1js0mx43cmjb66k00000gq/T/ charisma.
Don’t pay your speech-writers one more cent on my account
/var/folders/6r/qn6lcm7j1js0mx43cmjb66k00000gq/T/ your column writers or The News Tonighters.
Epoxy in my ears before I hear another word.

Thank you for reminding me I live in a world
no longer home
To any of the seventy thousand
counted by the Red Cross/Crescent
Dead babies, with such parents, playmates,. siblings, elders
As were incidental to a thing called victory.

Both sides
were claiming victory today. I had forgotten that I live here
in this multiracial residential club that howls with glee
as members kill its members.

I must have joined. There is
No protocol for resignation. So cheers and here’s to heroism
All around.

Surrounded as I am in this small corner by the
Kindness and intelligence of deviates I almost had forgotten
How it is, but thanks to this reminder
you can bet
I won’t forget again.


I sit crosslegged under the moon
Unto myself
My substance went out
a few men
A few women
certain children
Now it is back with me.

I sit crosslegged under the moon
Unto myself
I am back where I have been
no better
no worse
no different.
I like the smell here
It roars in my nostrils.
The salt
the rot
the sweetness

All the mess of birth
And death
All equal and dissolved
Its breath
my breath

2 April 1999

This magic joint
That half a star’s age
And a million writhing errors
Finally and perfectly designed for me
To make a hand,
To take, put, bend around,
And bend around again,
And at last to make be.


I am not sure these rumors are about
A place that’s real or not, nor is it likely
I will ever know. Inquiring out loud
About such things would be a mark
Of….what? Ingratitude. Come closer though.

They say that ordinary women there
Could walk outside at night without fear.
I try to imagine what it would be like
To see the moon through branches
While my heels click down a street.
I cannot finish the thought.

I know our dangers are the price we pay
For freedom. This has been explained to me.

Then on the other hand they say
This far-off place has freedom
But no maddened poor.

I know
This isn’t right. That’s not the way
We’re made. It’s lies.
Still just to see
How it would feel I think yes
I would like to go there once
Before I die.


This is the end

of the tunnel

and guess what

there is

a little