[American Journal]

after Robert Hayden

here among them     the americans     you know what it is
what it was     what it will be     the stalks of their purple
throats like lilacs     their sounds reckless as mercy
how best to describe these beings     born alien
homeless everywhere     unafraid to die

the meek     do inherit     the earth     only after the new
world becomes the old country     with no pot to piss in
nor window to throw it out of     the children strike me
as angels of bread     latchkey kids who sell pig snoot
and loose squares to space travelers such as myself

charming savages     first world problems these are
the ones left behind     the others bound long ago for
jupiter and neptune     helmets polished like new cars
bodies covered in papier-mâché     some can still recall
the white puffy suits     how hard the fabric was to sew

under disguise     i easily pass for an american
wool pulled over my scalp     the color of day’s end
drooped across my shoulders     i know their signals
for love and anger     their etiquette for how to survive
their customhouse when fear comes to roost

i trace the great migration     follow the trail to detroit
gawk at the lions carved from stone     their stoic majesty
slippery as catfish     the air cries tear gas     grief     driven
out by water     although they want it in the worst way
the clouds no longer hand out rain

on the south side of chicago     i     watch     a man     jump off
a hospital roof     i record the way his gown inflates
his body a hot air balloon     fact and fantasy never twice
the same     i make a note     the people could fly     they leave
go north of the future

in new york i observe the women     the last of the american
dream     i was told they can still grow a body     mystical
how they bleed and do not die     birds-of-paradise sprout
from their tulips     they call them the underground astronauts
their breasts hang     a prepackaged food supply

worshippers of waste     the americans recycle the past
they swim in plastic bags up to their necks
build machines to make their lives better
then grow fearful of what they have created
technology merely their mirror

the reflection of their own fragile image
these people are grandfathered in to history
history now obsolete     to lie means to tell a story
they tell me to take them at their word
i solemnly swear to tell their truth

america     as much a problem in metaphysics as
immortality     the nation of lost heads     rolled into
the galaxy like stars     each one a grain of sand in
the night’s deep pockets     good morning     they say when
they wake     many faces go bad     go missing in the dark

today     crowds gather     in the streets     people
light fireworks     eat hot dogs     eyes red     they paint
their faces blue     don their gunpowdered wigs
for the parade     they sing the land of the free until it
hurts     their art     is pain suffered and outlived

what to a slave is the fourth of july     when
resurrection falls on the third     steadfast faith
americans believe in life     but only     in life after
death     they     say the only free man is a dead man
and in this way gain life everlasting

i am attracted to the promise of this land
its hunger     dances naked on the table     i touch
the mouth of its decadent poverty     i sit on the face
of its music     it leaves the taste of metal on my lips
sky falls     clouds melt     i write this page of snow

confess i present these findings to you     without
an objective lens     i solely report that for which we
have language     the rest     i cannot penetrate or name
in the end     i speak against silence
though it is silence     that moves me     to speak

From Black Bell (Copper Canyon Press, 2024) by Alison C. Rollins. Copyright © 2024 by Alison C. Rollins. Used with the permission of the publisher.