Yesterday a little girl got slapped to death by her daddy, out of work, alcoholic, and estranged two towns down river. America, it's hard to get your attention politely. America, the beautiful night is about to blow up and the cop who brought the man down with a shot to the chops is shaking hands, dribbling chaw across his sweaty shirt, and pointing cars across the courthouse grass to park. It's the Big One one more time, July the 4th, our country's perfect holiday, so direct a metaphor for war, we shoot off bombs, launch rockets from Drano cans, spray the streets and neighbors' yards with the machine-gun crack of fireworks, with rebel yells and beer. In short, we celebrate. It's hard to believe. But so help the soul of Thomas Paine, the entire county must be here--the acned faces of neglect, the halter-tops and ties, the bellies, badges, beehives, jacked-up cowboy boots, yes, the back-up singers of democracy all gathered to brighten in unambiguous delight when we attack the calm and pointless sky. With terrifying vigor the whistle-stop across the river will lob its smaller arsenal halfway back again. Some may be moved to tears. We'll clean up fast, drive home slow, and tomorrow get back to work, those of us with jobs, convicting the others in the back rooms of our courts and malls--yet what will be left of that one poor child, veteran of no war but her family's own? The comfort of a welfare plot, a stalk of wilting prayers? Our fathers' dreams come true as nightmare. So the first bomb blasts and echoes through the streets and shrubs: red, white, and blue sparks shower down, a plague of patriotic bugs. Our thousand eyeballs burn aglow like punks. America, I'd swear I don't believe in you, but here I am, and here you are, and here we stand again, agape.
From Like Thunder: Poets Respond to Violence in America, edited by Virgil Suárez and Ryan G. Van Cleave, published by the University of Iowa Press. Copyright © 2002 by Virgil Suárez and Ryan G. Van Cleave. All rights reserved.
David Baker was born in Bangor, Maine, on December 27, 1954.
Date Published: 2002-01-01
Source URL: https://poets.org/poem/patriotics