I am an immigrant, but I came to the U.S. as an infant; this is my country, the only one I have ever known. I grew up eating hot dogs, playing baseball, pledging allegiance to the flag every day at school. But lately I have trouble recognizing America; to quote Paul Simon, “I’m empty and aching,” but unlike the speaker in his song, I’m afraid I know exactly why.
I’m eight, wearing my Davy Crocket hat,
holding onto someone’s hand, walking
toward the river bridge. We’re in Brooklyn,
at King’s County Courthouse on Adams Street.
I remember the judge looming over me, listening
as I sing “Davy, Davy Crocket, king of the wild
frontier.” “Ok,” he laughs, and pointing to my
mother, says “Go home and bake an apple pie.”
To my dad: “Do something American, take
the kid to a ballgame. Not the Yankees though.”
It’s nineteen fifty-seven. The Dodgers haven’t
left yet for L.A. though they tried to trade
Jackie Robinson, to the Giants, no less. Outside
the wind has picked up. My faux raccoon tail
swings madly, some talisman meant to ward off
doom. Clouds have gathered and it’s started to rain.
My mother has a clear plastic hat tied on her head.
She bends to my father, reaches her small fingers
up and grabs his gray fedora, which she stuffs
into the trash. “It’s an immigrant’s hat,” she says
striding through the downpour, leading us back to Queens.
The Buried Town
A long way past the buried town
small birds perch in a hemlock tree.
Indifferent to voices riding down
a highway of wind, they conduct
their affairs, sometimes flitting
from branch to branch as if to test
the air or the firmness of their tiny
wings. The townspeople left long ago
in dispirited waves, in battered
cars, carrying anger like a chalice
filled to the brim with boiling wine.
They flung house keys into the lake
or to the roadside or at gas pumps
in the station with bunting of red
and blue stripes. A tingling music rose
into sunlit sky scattering the wary birds.
Author’s Note (with apologies to George and Ira Gershwin):
She says “deplorable,” he says “adorable;”
She says “unbelievable,” he says “they’re deceivable,”
She says “unacceptable,” he says “I’m electable,”
She says “I’m appalled,” he says “I’ll build a wall,”
Lets call the whole thing off!
How Fascism Comes to America
It glides down a golden staircase
with moving stairs while we are laughing
and telling jokes. It comes with a smile
and a sneer. It comes with marbles
and nails in its mouth.
It comes while the cameras are rolling.
Sometimes it comes dressed
as a clown. It sees demons everywhere,
and promises to build a wall. Trust me,
it says, Believe me.
It comes with documents to sign
and skywrites its name on everything.
It comes dragging a tin box,
and handsome children, who kiss its hands,
and a wife who stares into the flames.
It comes in tweets and sound bites
and speeches that jangle like bells,
or screech like tires and broken glass.
It comes with wide shoulders and big arms
and the open-mouthed snarl of an alpha male.
It comes waving flags and singing songs.
It rises from hills and towns;
pours from the sky in torrents of rain.
It hides in plain sight. I have seen it
on the riverbanks parading beneath willows
and pine. I have seen its bonfires everywhere.
Its gospel is written on tee-shirts. It runs
up our flagpoles, buries itself in our yards,
spreads like oil polluting our streets with sludge.
©2016 Steve Klepetar
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