Sometimes being in the United States
Is like walking barefoot
Over broken glass,
Or walking on hot sand.
Having a conversation with someone
Who doesn’t get a thing about me
Feels like being brushed by nettles.
Am I even wearing clothes?
Everything gets through!
The climate here is chilling.
Where am I?
Is this still home?
Where did all those corners come from
That I keep bumping into.
I’m not accident prone;
It’s the environment that has become
The news is acidic and keeps coming back up!
It’s like someone installed an invisible fence:
I keep getting zapped.
Yesterday I was listening to someone’s story
About how they dealt with a pest
And my heart skipped a beat
When their supposedly amusing story
Morphed into a confession
Of unconscious cruelty.
Like a splinter
Burying itself in my unsuspecting hand.
Or simply seeing what they’ve done
To places that used to be beautiful
Feels just plain shitty.
My native land can be a very painful place to live,
And I’m an educated White man.
I can’t imagine what it’s like,
Can’t imagine what it’s like,
Can’t imagine what it’s like
To be a person of color
In this sharply angularUnited States
of broken glass
and invisible fences.
This poem came out of nowhere. I don’t know why I started thinking of all the ways life can be hurtful or painful. . .in ways that are not always shared because we aren’t supposed to be that sensitive. But then the obvious dawned on me, that compared to people who face racism and bigotry randomly, all the time, and at every turn, I don’t have much to complain about. But then I had to look at how the reality of my socially-sanctioned White-privlege is a source of pain. . .Plus I’m still thinking a lot about how there are much healthier, less painful places to live, than the United States. If this had occurred to me, as an indisputable fact 20 years ago, I might have left (jumped ship), when I was in my 40s but at my age I’m just going to stick it out and try to contribute to much needed change in this weird, hurtful, raw place that lies between Mexico and Canada.
Let’s go to the White House
And throw a can of paint on the entrance gate!
What color paint? Asked Woo
I was picturing red,
Woo: I think yellow would be better,
Or green, so close to Easter.
But I was thinking about
How scary and hawkish Trump is, and
How he is making the whole country angry.
He seems to want to start arguments
And make wars wherever he can.
Red shows how angry I am with Trump.
I don’t like feeling like this.
Throwing paint at the White House
Might make me feel better.
You throw red, said Woo,
I’ll stick with yellow.
And let’s bring sandwiches;
They might not feed us in jail.
Onion looked outside:
Why aren’t you angry with him Woo?
Oh, I am, said Woo,
But it’s nothing compared to how happy
I am feeling about
Spending a beautiful day
Throwing paint with you, Onion.
Onion pursed Onion’s lips
And smiled for the first time in days.
In this Onion and Woo dialogue I am keeping the gender of these too ambiguous because I’m not sure if they are male or female. They keep changing, hence no pronoun. Here Woo is Woo’s usual happy self, but it is not a spacey happiness. It is more like sanguinity — Woo is confident and ever the optimist. Helping Onion deal with Onion’s anger makes Woo happy, or rather happier. Woo is rarely not happy. Also this is the first Onion / Woo poem where they are making a political statement. That feels good to me. The situation in this country calls for us making a stand and that includes Onion and Woo.
It’s come to that.
I’ve been sick of my country for a long time,
Ever since I stopped being a kid.
When I learned about the atomic bombing of Japan.
Then Vietnam brought it home.
I was writing Romantic poetry
Until the age of 12.
Then my poetic soul
Gently urged me to wake up.
I woke up like Neo in the Matrix
In a bath of amniotic fluid
Covered with suctioning electrodes
Which I pulled off,
Gasping for air
Like a premature newborn
Adult human being.
All Romantic notions
Of One Nation Under God,
Hand to the heart,
Swearing allegiance became just swearing.
Something hit the window of my house of mirrors.
I picked up the still-warm
Bird of my youthful soul
And got sick right there,
Sick of my country.
I have nothing to prove to my country.
My country needs to win me back.
Hand over heart, face mask for protection.
Stop making us sick.
I have recently heard that people who immigrate to this country experience a decline in their general health after living her for a while. That doesn’t surprise me. At 67, with chronic Lyme, I am not exactly the model of health, and we all know how stressful it is to live here. Even in the peak of health, there are stresses that can undermine anyone’s sense of well-being, no matter how resilient they may be. I won’t delve into the list of potential stresses concomitant with being an American. But, with this poem, I felt the need to document how I got sick of this country a long time ago. It has nothing to do with who is president. It is more a matter of how so much of what my country stands for, how it spends my taxes, and how it conducts itself abroad,how it treats its own citizens of color and women was obnoxious to me from the raw age of 12. I often wonder, if I had spent the last 30 or so years in, say, New Zealand,would I be healthier and happier? Duh.