A House Divided

Kyle Dargan

On a railroad car in your America,
I made the acquaintance of a man
who sang a life-song with these lyrics:
"Do whatever you can/ to avoid
becoming a roofing man."
I think maybe you'd deem his tenor
elitist, or you'd hear him as falling
off working-class key. He sang
not from his heart but his pulsing
imagination, where every roof is
sloped like a spire and Sequoia tall.
Who would wish for themselves, another,
such a treacherous climb? In your America,
a clay-colored colt stomps, its hooves
cursing the barn's chronic lean.
In your America, blood pulses
within the fields, slow-poaching a mill saw's
buried flesh. In my America, my father
awakens again thankful that my face
is not the face returning his glare
from above eleven o'clock news
murder headlines. In his imagination,
the odds are just as convincing
that I would be posted on a corner
pushing powder instead of poems—
no reflection of him as a father nor me
as a son. We were merely born
in a city where the rues beyond our doors
were the streets that shanghaied souls.
To you, my America appears
distant, if even real at all. While you are
barely visible to me. Yet we continue
stealing glances at each other
from across the tattered hallways
of this overgrown house we call
a nation—every minute
a new wall erected, a bedroom added
beneath its leaking canopy of dreams.
We hear the dripping, we feel drafts
wrap cold fingers about our necks,
but neither you or I trust each other
to hold the ladder or to ascend.


About this poem:
"I took Amtrak from Washington, D.C. to Atlanta for my brother's wedding. I'd never travelled that far south by train. I saw a familiar but antiquated ruralness—another iteration of America. On the return, I grabbed a seat next to a group of Alabamians on their way to Jon Stewart's Rally to Restore Sanity. It seemed that, in the moment, there were so many different “Americas” colliding in the coach. While conversing about work over a dining car breakfast, one of the men, Mike Laus, offered a line about roofing someone had passed on to him. It struck me, and provided an entry point for musing on how little we see of, or believe in, each other's Americas."

Kyle Dargan

More by Kyle Dargan

The Erotic Is a Measure Between

after Lorde

Your body is not my pommel horse
nor my Olympic pool or diving board.
Your body is not my personal Internet
channel nor my timeline,
nor my warm Apollo spotlight.
Your body is not my award
gala. Your body is not my game—
preseason or playoffs.
Your body is not my political party
convention. Your body is not
my frontline or my war’s theatre.
Your body is not my time
trial. Your body is not my entrance
exam or naturalization interview.
I am a citizen of this skin—that
alone—and yours is not to be
passed nor won. What is done—
when we let our bodies sharpen
the graphite of each other’s bodies
—is not my test, not my solo
show. One day I’ll learn. I’ll prove
I know how to lie with you without
anticipating the scorecards of your eyes,
how I might merely abide—we two
unseated, equidistant from the wings
in a beating black box, all stage.
 

Daily Conscription

“We can no longer afford that particular romance.”
—James Baldwin

Brother Rickey halts me before I cross East
Capitol. He trumpets that we are at war.

I want to admit that I don’t believe in “white”
—in the manner that Baldwin did not—but Brother

Rickey would simply retort that my disbelief
is no immunity from the imaginations of those

who think themselves “white.” As we await
the stoplight’s shift—so I may walk and he may

holler “Final Call!” between lanes of idle traffic—
I think of race as something akin to climate change,

a force we don’t have to believe in for it to kill us.
I once believed in the seasons. (I fantasize

fall as Brother Rickey’s favorite—when his suits,
boxy and plaid, would be neither too hot nor

thin.) But we are losing spring and fall—tripping
from blaze to frost and back. And what’s to say

we won’t soon shed another season, one of these
remaining two, and live on either an Earth

of molten streets or one of frozen light? That’s when
worlds end, no—when, after we’ve eradicated

ourselves, we become faint fossils to be exhumed
by the curiosities of whichever life-forms follow

our reign? I still owe Brother Rickey two dollars
for the paper he last placed in my hand, calling me

“soldier.” I don’t have to believe that I am enlisted
in order to understand he’ll forgive my debt

so long as this idea of “whiteness” sorties above us—
ultraviolet, obliging an aseasonal, unending deployment.

Released by the signal, I advance—my head down,
straining to discern the crossfire from the cover.
 

But My Chains

But my loyalty
   	points—my purchasing
   	power. Nothing.

But my economies
   	of scale, my digital
   	compression :: companionship.

But my all-
   	you-can-eat
   	loneliness, my rail-
   	rapid integration.

But my market-
   	driven love
   	handles, my accrued
   	vacancy.

But my taste
   	in artisanal
   	bootstrapism.

But my choice
   	of protein, of pit-baked
   	avarice, of indulgences.
   	[CHURCH collects
   	as does CAESAR.]

But my supply
   	side floods, my O’
   	so buoyant home
   	staked and sandbagged
   	on striving’s pebbly shore.

But my internal
   	combustion, my miles,
   	my carcinogenic
   	Kingdom Come. Nothing.

But my fast casual
   	history—every morsel
   	wrapped in a bank
   	notes’ blood-sketched
   	hagiography.

But my user-friendly
   	righteousness, my Gross
   	Domestic Amnesia.
   	[In place of the old wants …
   	we finds new wants.]

But my comfort,
   	my tariffed aches,
   	my engorged
   	prerogatives. [I made
   	this money,
   	you didn’t. Right, Ted?]

But my ability to believe
   	that what I’ve paid for,
   	I have made. Nothing

   	to lose, except ownership
   	of this wallet-sized tomb—
   	these six crisp walls.