Poetry

America in 5 Lines

America has a fever. Get in line.

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America in Five Lines


There are hundreds of cars
at the Philipsburg Y
At lunch and after work
they descend in droves
For food
To stretch a dollar
And make ends meet
Thousands of meals
Free for the taking
Less destitute,
this bread line of SUVs
Need which is
less humiliating
Drive up and go
in your sunglasses
They won’t see that you
need

There are hundreds in line
at the drive up testing center
In Houston’s
Summer heat
They had the sniffles
a headache
a cough, you know,
They need to
Ease their fear.
To see
If they are among the lucky
…It was just a scare…
Silly really
Negative.
Negative is good.
Or among the banished
The quarantined
The lonely ones
The untouchables
Who must try
to survive
Pray
It’s not too bad
The germ
May it pass over
May it have mercy

There is a line of a half a million
Choppers
And dressers
And trikes
And hogs
In staggered rows down highway 90
From Rapid City
And Spearfish
And Deadwood
Gettin’ their motors runnin’
Like some lost
Peter Fonda dream
Star-spangled gas tank
Ride
Or die
Or both
Freedom
From fear
Of the germ
That they share

We laughed
In those days
At the users
Who trickled in
Selling their blood
To get high
But now
There are throngs
Like robots
on an assembly line
trading lifeblood
For rent
Different times
Different reasons
But the need
is no less
Pressing.
The taste of your pride
You get used to it

Hundreds of millions
Ballots in hand
Wanting one shot
at decency
They come
Determined
From everywhere
To the line
At the window
To say
Enough
They have paid
in blood
They have paid
in fear
They have paid
in shame
They have paid
in loss
They have paid
enough.


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Author's Dreamscape

I started to see lines of people everywhere. This piece was originally written as an op-ed for some local newspapers in my area but my editors needed paragraphs. They said maybe the poem was over the heads of our readership. If I could just explain it.

Our readership needs to stretch a bit.

Perhaps our editorial staff has to stretch a bit. It is possible, in the heart of Trump country, where four-wheel-drives with lift kits prowl the streets with pipes spewing black smoke and flags flying and Trump winning the county by 50 points, that the editorial staff just didn't want the headaches. Or didn't like the work, as is their purview.

The first line was a line at a local YMCA that was offering free meals. With people out of work and trying to adapt to a new reality where just being in public could be deadly, suddenly there was much less of this judging of folks on public assistance. When "good people" needed help, that seemed different. Was it? Or was the cognitive disconnect too obvious to contemplate. I suppose when people need help, they just need help. And being people, we all need help sometimes.

The second line was on the television. Lines of cars in Houston waiting to get COVID tests.

For me, this line gets at the gnawing fear of disease. I am brought to mind of a Steven King book where a character is driving down the road with a fever and stops at a diner. Where a simple cough freezes you in your tracks. Or of scenes from "The Seventh Seal" where miserable flagellents enter town scourging themselves, doing penance in the sight of their angry God Germ. I had a vision of some strange Passover where the faithful prayed the germ's mercy, may it pass them by.

The third line is that staggered line of motorcycles heading for Sturgis. They are fond of saying they will not live in fear. They are fond of exercising their freedom. In retrospect, that line was the fuse to the pandemic time bomb that has exploded across the nation. Now, officials can only shake their heads and claim that nobody could have known what would happen. It wasn't, in my view, that these celebrants were living without fear. It was that they were living in ignorance. And the toll of ignorance is deadly.

The fourth line is that of a plasma donation center. Back in my younger days, addicts would line up to sell plasma to buy drugs. We used to look down on those unfortunates. Now... well, paying the bills. Making rent. Things like that... just a different kind of need, isn't it? The virus will take your human pride and smash it up into tiny bits and feed it to you.

The fifth line is that of the voter, despite all of it, determined to do the one thing that remains for Americans to control in a society that no longer works for anyone but the very rich. Despite pandemic and ever shifting rules and more and more blatant voter suppression, they vote. Try to stop them and they will vote MORE.

Casting a ballot feels good. It feels like fighting back. The average citizen doesn't get to change the rules. And the only illusion of power we have is tiny and in aggregate. Even if things probably won't change and the parties won't be responsible. In a democracy that has been purchased wholesale by corporations, and where there are only two parties, the democracy depends on both parties being responsible.

Good luck with that.

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