Easy to get emotional on the Senate floor, misspeak
extemporaneously to take the snipers’ potshots while
trying to save the arts for humanity like a little girl lost

in the crossfire, or before investing more on war.
Katrina came and left New Orleans underwater
slick with oil. New England fracks for natural gas

and Fukushima leaks real radioactivity to California’s
happy cows. Still hungry for energy, it’s difficult
to live in the moment, as we wear ever-changing fear

and panic like uncomfortable underclothes, like
sackcloth. On the surface, we exchange living green
for speed and comfort, swap our aching knees and

yesterday’s horses for more horsepower mid-stream,
planting houses in the San Joaquin that used to feed
a more patient population. The sun will dawn despite

our hopeless battle with the clock, despite the weight
of addictions we can’t escape – I write in self-defense
as if there were only moments left to live, one at a time.

                                                                       for Harry Reid

8 responses to “IN SELF-DEFENSE

  1. John:
    You amaze me time and again. If you sent “Self Defense” to Harry Reid he wouldn’t get it! Beautiful.

    Take care, Linda


  2. Thank you John. Both parties blurr towards one and it doesn’t help anybody.


  3. Thank you for posting this, and for keeping on! I first became aware of the Cowboy Poetry Gathering when I was working for A Certain Arts Event in the Black Rock Desert as a rigger and heavy equipment operator in the summer of 2000. It’s 11 years later and I’ve still yet to go though I’ve passed through Elko on a few occasions, but personally, I’d rather fund a Cowboy Poetry gathering I NEVER get to attend and live for 100 years than I would throw money down the pit of another stinking war whose benefits are (even according to some who have fought on our side that I’ve had the pleasure to meet) debatable.

    Cheers to you for spending your time growing something magical and timeless.


  4. I found your poem and this website by reading a story that appeared on the front page of today’s New York Times. I have lived happily in beautiful North Carolina for well over 20 years and I’m grateful to live in this gorgeous state, but New York City is my beloved hometown— a pulsating, exciting, city. Your poem is deeply moving to me and this site is a treasure, a little beautiful jewel. We need such things—-I’m glad the NEA supported you. Maybe if we started listening to each other more and yelling at each other less, this country would be in better shape. Thank you for sharing your wise words and generously giving them to everyone. Judy


  5. If I were in Elko at the time of the annual Cowboy Poetry festival, I would probably buy a ticket or two. It sounds like an interesting and wholesome event to attend. However, no matter how good the art or how small the federal contribution, our government should not be funding it anymore than they should be funding NPR or that museum exhibit of a cross in a glass filled with urine.


  6. Best (tax) money I ever spent. Thanks for sharing the beautiful words.


  7. John, I, too, found your website and your wonderful poems by reading the article in the New York Times about the Republicans’ mockery of the NEA ‘s support of the Cowboy Poetry Gathering. I live in Minneapolis and for many years was the executive director of the Loft Literary Center here. I’d never heard of cowboy poetry until I had the honor of meeting Charlie Seemann from the Western Folklife Center several years ago at an arts conference; and my first exposure to cowboy poetry itself was in New York–at a spectacular performance by Paul Zarzyski. It’s easy to make fun of things about which we know nothing, but hearing Paul and then learning about this genre of poetry turned me (I’m also a former English professor) into a convert. Too bad some of the folks in Congress aren’t better informed — about cowboy poetry, the arts in general, and more. Poetry can move our hearts like nothing else. We need poetry and the arts today more than ever . Good luck to you, Paul Z, Charlie and all of you who make a difference through your work! — Linda Myers


  8. Christina Newhard

    I think Reid would appreciate your poem. Just not out loud.

    That was a great piece of inspiration brother. Thank you.


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