America Strange

A strange time has come to America. We keep children in cages. 
Sometimes across the parking lot a woman screams 
after her husband comes home. I think they are making love, 

but it sounds like pain. She screams very softly at night, 
a knuckle grinding my temple. I spend a lot of time angry 
at the television. Eating angry, drinking angry.

They tell us a dash of lead in the water makes you strong. 
That isotopes will protect you from cancer.   
Do you have night shakes, a metal taste on your tongue?

I heard the gunshot last night, but didn’t get out of bed. 
To do what? Investigate in my pajamas? This, I guess, is that. 
Isn’t that what the mystics say? Therefore, what my country does 

is also what I do. Therefore, the news is a vibrating needle 
scraping under the gums, making the rot bleed. And the sun, 
a red coin, a stoplight, a feral eyeball, glares at me.

“Son of a whore!” shouts the guard, sitting on the writhing boy
while another cracks his mouth open like an oyster
and shoves pills past the tongue. Then he stops shrieking. 

They have the girls fight like gladiators, tearing cheeks, 
jerking hair. The winner gets Skittles, potato chips. 
They tremble and wobble and have trouble walking.

Copyright © 2018 by Tony Barnstone. This poem was first printed in Cutthroat, 2018. Used with the permission of the author.