The Rumpus Inaugural Poems: Jaswinder Bolina


Each day from January 7 through January 20, Rumpus Original Poems will feature work in response to the coming presidential inauguration. Today’s poems are from Jaswinder Bolina.





You’re not the hero of this story.

You’re what odor rankles
the dog into snarling, what clang

in the ductwork beggars the kid
into pleading for a nightlight

against sleep, against her dreams
of violence. You’re the dread

in the cellar, the bed wetted,
what sets the adrenals leaking

their frantic mojo, what footfalls
down an alleyway force the hand

into its pocket in search of keys
to weave between the fingers.

You’re what makes the fist,
what startles the breath out of me.

You spectre in the swamp gas,
you spider in a slipper, you snake

into my sleeping bag like an overcoat
pouncing from its hook into a corner

of my eye when I enter the house
in an off light, my familiar torqued

sinister, my prairie home made
alien, and you as the pupa birthed

from an acid bath in steaming
nurseries of your landing craft,

you as invading army and secret
police berating me I’m wrong

about your best intentions, and all you
ever seem to tell me is I’m wrong

when all it ever seems to me is
the one thing worse than a good man

with a bad idea is a bad man
with a great idea, and I might be wrong,

but you are so abundant, so burdened,
so bloated with the very best ideas.

– Jaswinder Bolina




Before capitol, before capital, before cash or crony, elector
_____or college, before car alarms crooning through the bleak
_____constituencies of night before a continental breakfast
_____or a Continental Congress, before commerce,

before currency, before candidate and caucus, city or census,
_____before any colonial come converting with his convoys
_____of stink, of smallpox and famine, before Conservative,
_____before Christian, before 501(c)(4) and Colt .45,

before a single Carolina, before cotton, before collar and shackle,
_____before Caucasian, before colored only, before cavalry
_____and cannon, before Custer, MacArthur, or any alabaster
_____chessmen charting the compact geometries of war,

before you corner, accost, and attack me, call me a camel fucker
_____in traffic for whatever color the light makes of my skin coat,
_____before I can counter, you drive off in your Jeep Grand
_____Cherokee to your corner of the cellular coverage map,

but before you crack open a cold can of Coors with your bucket
_____of chicken, your Diet Coke with a casserole or Lean Cuisine,
_____before your nightly quarrel with the newscast, before couch
_____or Comcast, before you can cuss, before you can speak,

before you could crawl, before your granddaddy’s granddaddy
_____put cock into conquest before Conestoga, before Columbus,
_____before Carthage or Celt, before clockwork and calculus,
_____of course before Christ, a century of centuries before any fable

of Christ, before country, before colony, before church or state,
_____there are mastodons in the hollers, egret eggs in the marshes,
_____maize enough for sixty thousand seasons, and a boy culling
_____oysters there from his brisk Chesepiooc before chemical,

before contaminant, before English and alphabet in the bounty
_____of your absence, other gods walk upon his water, in the empires
_____of your nonexistence, other predators circle his firelight,
_____lick vicious, proficient and indifferent, they strike.

– Jaswinder Bolina


Jaswinder Bolina is author of the poetry collections Phantom Camera (2013) and Carrier Wave (2007) and the digital chapbook The Tallest Building in America (2014). He teaches on the faculty of the MFA Program in Creative Writing at the University of Miami.

Original poetry published by The Rumpus. More from this author →