Ralph James Savarese

Root Hog or Die


The phrase is Davy Crockett’s.

It can be traced back

to the Middle English word wroten,

to dig with the snout.

It means you better hope hard;

it means you better get down there

in the dirt with your schnoz--

we’re all just Weberian swine.

Crockett, of course,

took his final breath at the Alamo.

He stole it, you could say,

from the indigenous sky.

King of the wild frontier!

If we could put condos in the air, we would.

If we could put facts on the ground, we wouldn’t.

Americans love a last stand:

the hero principled before going prostrate.

From woolen to wooden his overcoat.

Myth, like the soul, flees the body.

It’s snowing in Ukraine.

The comedian is down to his final joke.

The lines of this poem advance upon Kiev.

(Would somebody, please,

blow up the page?)

Here, at last, genuine valor:

a man surprised himself

by turning lead into gold.

The alchemy of fear holds much mystery;

the alchemy of fear holds much pain.

A bomb goes off on television;

night’s steeple has fallen.

All I can do is lie

in this pen

and root

from afar.



Checkpoint


At ten, my son named his penis

after the man who raped him

in foster care—his own tumescence

like a river at the front door.

Limp meant little; limp meant left alone.

(The present needed sandbags.)

At twelve, he saw the man’s face

in a window at school and promptly

put his head through it—

the glass a checkpoint for pain.

The principal said, “Out! Out!”

but the past couldn’t be expelled.

On TV, a boy and his foster mother

flee the bombing in Kharkiv.

My son, who’s teary-eyed, paces.

The people of Ukraine, I think,

will name their fists after Putin,

each curled finger a monstrous Vladimir.

Lose the body—it’s as if it were

clothing and you were told


to strip. That’s how trauma works.

Between gasps, the boy says

to a reporter—he has soot on his face:

“I’ve learned a new word: panic.

It means trying to protect yourself.”