SUMMER OF 2004:
an approaching election... more heat than light

 

"TORN"

I.

Like a hand above the fire
The unease gathers as the limb moves closer;
But to move away from the source of unease,
Like the hand from the fire,
Does not mean the flame and the fire
Are not there:
You can run but you can’t hide.

The older you get, the stronger the tendency:
You never will fit in, and solitude is the
Only solace: people bring out the worst
In you, and intellectuals the most:
“An intellectual hatred is the worst.”

In a country where the soldiers have no subtlety,
And the intellectuals no backbone –
The Scylla of rigidity
And the Charybdis of softness,
I am cursed to belong to both –
One foot in either camp,
I never will belong.

II.

A contested election
a terrorist attack and a “war,”
America the “red” versus American the “blue,”
these divided States of America,
another election approaching this fall,
as I hold my breath and brace
for another round of shouting -

America, land of the free,
and home of the hoarse:

Those who never think about politics,
the bad,
Those who think of nothing else –
the worst.


III.

“9/11 - NEVER FORGET.”
“PEACE IS PATRIOTIC.”

Is peace always “patriotic”?
Is anyone arguing to “forget” 9/11?

From whence this frightful outbreak
of bumper sticker-think?
An argument to be taken seriously?
A bite-sized claim for our bite-sized
attention span –
As we cross each other’s path
in rush hour traffic?

The best chance we’ll have
to persuade one another –
In an atomized country
of familiar strangers reading
each other’s car bumpers
on the freeway?

Or move to the “professionals”
who rant on the radio
or scream from the screen:
The two most obscene words in the language,
Rush Limbaugh and Michael Moore –

Journalism as gladiatorial combat,
“Give me fifteen words from a man,
and I will have enough
to hang him.

Why do we let ideologues dominate
our national debate?

A drop of common sense,
like water in the desert?

An idea gracefully presented,
modestly offered as “perhaps” best:

“Doubt a little of your infallibility.”

IV.

Seen on the bumper of a late model maroon Subaru
in the parking lot of the Gervitz School of Education
At UC Santa Barbara:

“WHEN THE POWER OF LOVE IS STRONGER
THAN THE LOVE OF POWER,
THEN THERE WILL BE PEACE.”

A pretty idea to espouse, said the
spider to the fly –
not even the common sense God gave
to the beast of the forest,
stalked by the lion –
incredible triumph of faith over experience,
fuzzy thinking, soft and squishy –
lambs for the slaughter.

Meanwhile, Osama bin Laden waits and plots:
the fire next time, just a matter of time,
Kill the Infidel wherever you find him, oh jihadi!

“WE SUPPORT OUR TROOPS.”

Who doesn’t?

Can you be against the war without
being “un-American”?
“America, love it or leave it” -
As if different minds would not differ
on what is “best” for our country?

A certain rheumatism
of the mind:
A block of marble, uncarved.

V.

History repeats itself, Republican and Democrat:
“The best lack all convictions, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.”

Conservatives and liberals, the tedium is excessive:

“THE ROAD TO HELL IS PAVED
WITH REPUBLICANS.”

“AIDS… DRUGS… ABORTION…
DON’T LIBERALS JUST KILL YOU?”

They appear as pouting children,
like hectoring talk show hosts,
desperately afraid you might
grow bored and turn the channel.

Do I really have to choose one
or the other?

Can I turn off the program
instead?

VI.

Is it any wonder then
that I flee to my classroom
and shut the door?

The simple mendacities of teenagers,
a blessed relief from the calcified ideologies
and intemperate passions of
discontented adults -

a nation aroused, a place untame,
an anthill, furiously upturned -

America, as I see it,
Summer of 2004.