America in 5 Lines

America has a fever. Get in line.

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.

 

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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