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Sunday, November 13, 2016


by Jim Bartruff

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has made a solemn promise: no more swearing. Duterte, who famously cursed the pope and used a slang term that translates as “son of a whore" while denouncing President Obama, said he was flying back from Japan late Thursday, looking at a vast expanse of sky, listening to his colleagues snore, when he heard a voice say, ‘If you don’t stop epithets, I will bring this plane down now.’ “And I said, ‘Who is this?’ So, of course, ‘it’s God,’” he told Filipino journalists late Thursday. “So, I promise God,” he continued, “Not [to] express slang, cuss words and everything. So you guys hear me right always because [a] promise to God is a promise to the Filipino people.” . . .  Asked if he would really stop cursing out his allies and opponents alike, the president demurred. 'There's always a time for everything, a time to be foul-mouthed,” he said. —Washington Post, October 28, 2016

He descended as Manila's infested
laundry lines and drug dens began to shadow
the landing strip beneath our Tokyo flight,
and I was made to hearken, certain The Lord
had personal messages for my ears only.
The vernacular obscenities
I speak as easily as I lift the safety
and assassinate a sewer village,
these little slips creating images
of untouchable dictatorship,
were not for me, according to Our Father.
Once one accepts the crown, what one projects
profanely through the Age of Distractions reflects
a crudeness on our Catholic island states,
diminishes the purity of our trials,
our power, to the circumspect worldly.
I had for far too long allowed flechettes
too petty to be seen to enter my body
and combine into a hammered metal
like the Roman spear that ended Christ,
and in the pain cried out, "Ecce homo,"
in the language of a prostitute
whose john had used her hole and refused to pay.
The jet's tires hung suspended above the tarmac
when His words extracted my soul and tore it,
so that every rent in the fabric mouthed
my idiocies and insults as we screamed
to touchdown or to death. He said to me,
"Thou shalt not curse again. This promise Me,
or I will scatter you in hellfire fuel
across the landscape of your coming home."
What can one do when God himself instructs
but obey? When the imminence
of His threat is so Old Testament
and by the balls but yield and moan, "Yes, Lord."
Of course, our tires scorched down the dotted lines,
and flagmen led our armored Humvee to where
the palace porticos, the Doric columns,
the air-conditioning, cigars and desks
recovered us from such a holy squalor.
In those few seconds, when He spoke to me,
and I agreed to terms, I uttered nothing
untoward to any stewardess
or bodyguard. I truly kept my words,
He His. Now that is done, and lifted is
the interdiction and collar at my throat,
with conscience cleared of any bargain, I say
what must be said about that American bitch
senator who blocked the sale of weapons
needed to protect our innocents—
"You son of a whore, how dare you interfere,
how can we cleanse our country of the crude
without those thousands of assault rifles
rusting on a freighter in fucking Newark?"

Jim Bartruff's work has appeared in Gambling the Aisle, Fat City Review, TheNewVerse.News, Two Hawks Quarterly,  American Tanka, JAMA, Canto, Barney, and many others. He is a past winner of the William Carlos Williams prize while attending the University of Rochester School of Medicine, and Academy of American Poets prize as UCLA undergraduate. He lives in Portland, Oregon.