Five Poems

What We Knew: The Deep Fifties

We knew we always won. And always would. TV rasseling and football and Friday
Night Fights showed us. When we had to learn to duck and cover our coaches, good
as granddads, showed us how. And when our mothers called the uncles filthy—heroes
we trailed through news reel muck the colors of Italy, Corea, and Iwo Jima filthy
we all knew what we knew. No one could tell us Jack

Palance war movies, gritty as burning tire-smoke, were not the real McCoy, straight
from the shoulder jabs, Buckeye to Buckeye. If Commie subs slid the lake’s eerie
belly, and bombers combed the horizon any day we didn’t watch, we knew we were
born to take what Lady Luck dished out. We waited the chance to hurl ourselves on live
grenades, and live to walk away and tell the tale. To prove it,

We stood in line and bared our skinny arms, grinning at needles long enough to spike our bones to the cafeteria walls. We hurled ourselves hog-wild through afternoon recesses screaming Geronimo! Wedrove our fists wrist-deep into the sky’s blue ceiling to showhow always winning felt. Even our nightmares in swampy thickets of hodags and fantods where hoop snakes, splinter cats, and sleek grizzly abdominals seethed,

told us the world waited for us. We knew TV worked the way people flew on carpets.
Didn’t we invent Pizza? And Elvis? And Freedom? Technicolor movies? Hula hoops?
What we had no clue about was the uncles, who stood beautiful enough to win anything. They wouldn’t talk about jungles they found their ways home from. Or how we might survive our blood we’d just begun to feel stir us dizzy. We only knew we always won.


The American Century

Safe out of mom’s sight, beyond sister’s picket fence-fantasy and brother’s corporate expectations, dad sees no chance of failure. What could go wrong? Shadows of conference tables turn furry and foreboding in night’s tricky light? Not to worry, dad maintains. The wilderness surrounds us? Relax. Immensities happen. Computer keyboard-chatter sounds like rat feet scurrying through civilization’s shards? Night may fall, but the market remains our shepherd.

Firing squads of Bekarovka, Pliska, and Schlivowicz take strong positions along the line between invisible and bullet-proof. What about difficult birth? Piffle. The kind of regret that leaves stains? Nothing makes dad flinch. He feels spring’s milky joints, and grins among the gleaming ribs of longing. Opportunity surrounds us, he maintains. Each day’s bridge to nowhere reaches a satisfactory destination. Not a deal-breaker in sight.


The Future

            The new tyranny depends on a systematic abuse of language

                        —John Berger

NalPowCHes—National Power Celebration Holidays—occur each season. Merry power to you! TelePrompts into chainlink fence-secure, spontaneous-mingle zones. Any power failure reveals the starry sky—so far! so cold! so lost!––and causes hysterical security breeches. Suspicion permeates daily life because arbitrary justice, the ultimate equality, holds accountable whoever it chooses to select. Personalities flutter like fluorescent bulbs. Identity theft is a national pastime. Paranoia suppression is freedom’s hallmark. Self-medication is a principal civil right.

So much about the past is puzzling. We understand its delusions of autonomy to be risky and naïve, akin to breathing without air filters. What was meditation, for instance, and why permitted? What meant humor? Wasn’t it what some people knew and others didn’t? How did alive feel before RealPulse Security? Ritual solved what? What did teachers tell children before Mindmerge? Children, those tenuously documented aliens, remain unpredictable. However we tweak their DNA, the mantra continues: You’ll never believe what we bring from where!

Lipmerge always means trouble. Falling-in-love’s anarchic energy challenges comprehension. What results from the smell of cheese or perfume, the sound of music, or other symptoms of the senses, always unpredictable? We feel that most implications of the flesh are best resolved by litigation. But simulations of chocolate, pumpkin pie, ejaculation, and similar illusions exist on a need-to-experience basis. Don’t ask how or why. Speculate instead on devil’s head brooches or coral snake tattoos, the mentality of cave painters, even the quality of rain. Merry power to all!


Attention America: A Code Red Alert

            I’m a stranger self than here.
You can’t miss it.
                        —John Woods

Those American flag-pins stuck
like barcodes on business suit lapels?
Their blue and red boulevards wind

out of nowhere and dead-
end in gated houses posted No
Access. A chorus of white noise

says we can’t get there,
no one really can
from here. Barefoot tribesmen

lean as our ancestors hide
up in the hills. We fear their shadows
stalking the suburbs’ empty mis-

and dis-info transfer-points
along the freeway. Curveball talks,
and we feel corporate

Novocaine’s hidden hands
do its numb work. Men
without pulses lick their chops

and sneer business-warfare’s
deadly dialect. Phrases
like preemptive strike and collateral

damage race through our sudden
groves of gooseflesh
like surgery gone wrong.

Our eyes grow vacant
as flat TV screens, showing
what chance we’ll evolve

smart enough to collar banksters
and scare K-Street lobbyists
before it’s too late.


Central American Improv

We’ll have improv?
Close to as Republicans get.
—overheard before a show

            We come up out of Central America
Traveling so fast our cinnamon-filled tracks
Smolder. Stuck on improv,
Our dreams rearrange tree roots
And bird migration routes—whatever Republicans
Toss and turn about, fearing most
            What they long to know.

            What’s genuine? Hunger
Moves by improv. Cassava-colored birds flutter
The way banana leaves curl. Honduras may
Or may not be the tropical dream
We thought. Regardless,
Your cinnamon-rhythms fool
            Most Republicans.

            Poets question the relevance
Of reality. What’s your alternative?
Architects ask. Artichoke’s complexity,
Poets say. What jungle ruins match
Those intricate pyramids
Splashing like birdsong in
            Yucatan’s morning

            Mist ? Not to mention melons
Big as Guatemala, gaping like memories
We can’t lose. All of them float
Through a world of Republican
Spin. When warbler songs conspire
To weave their improv
            Through our lives,

            Everything almost works. Hunger
Keeps our dreams alive. Crossbills trick our tongues
To improv. Republican voices seem to wind
Into Costa Rica’s ripe
Chimeric mist. Each voice helps one more
Cinnamon-colored note form
In dawn’s song.

—David Steingass, Madison, WI