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April is National Poetry Month, Part 4

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

In the Washington DC area, politics is local news. Just as Iowans follow hog futures, the folks here in Northern Virginia pay attention to what’s going on in Congress. The big news recently was the budget fight and the possible shut down of the Federal Government. Congress seems to have forgotten that they are there to run the country, not just to get reelected.

The following poem by Alicia Suskin Ostriker was published in 2005 and still seems relevant. I heard it one morning on the radio, on The Writer’s Almanac, one of my favorite sources for new poetry. The link is below.


The puzzled ones, the Americans, go through their lives
Buying what they are told to buy,
Pursuing their love affairs with the automobile,

Baseball and football, romance and beauty,
Enthusiastic as trained seals, going into debt, struggling —
True believers in liberty, and also security,

And of course sex — cheating on each other
For the most part only a little, mostly avoiding violence
Except at a vast blue distance, as between bombsight and earth,

Or on the violent screen, which they adore.
Those who are not Americans think Americans are happy
Because they are so filthy rich, but not so.

They are mostly puzzled and at a loss
As if someone pulled the floor out from under them,
They'd like to believe in God, or something, and they do try.

You can see it in their white faces at the supermarket and the gas station
— Not the immigrant faces, they know what they want,
Not the blacks, whose faces are hurt and proud —

The white faces, lipsticked, shaven, we do try
To keep smiling, for when we're smiling, the whole world
Smiles with us, but we feel we've lost

That loving feeling. Clouds ride by above us,
Rivers flow, toilets work, traffic lights work, barring floods, fires
And earthquakes, houses and streets appear stable

So what is it, this moon-shaped blankness?
What the hell is it? America is perplexed.
We would fix it if we knew what was broken.

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Member Comments About This Blog Post
    "We would fix it if we knew what was broken."

    That describes the whole world all over.........
    2531 days ago
    It so true! Its America as it is, the good bad and ugly! Poetry is not blind to truth! You see what you will in it or what it doesn't say; it may seem evasive to some, but truth alway comes thru!

    To me this poem says... Americans and America has lost its way! They dont know what they REALLY want because they have been decieved by wealth and abundance on one hand and on the other is poverty; all in the same country ; its what makes America desired... by all the have-nots! But the real America is what the individual desires.....mostly Freedom and to choose IT!!
    2553 days ago
    I feel the aloneness, the feeling of drifting about. That is what the author is talking about. It is scary that so many people are calling for help but no one can hear them.
    2559 days ago
    We certainly have "lost that loving feeling" and cannot get enough of the "violent screen". How many ways can you kill someone, yet so many people who would say they are nice and kind think these shows are fascinating and cannot get enough of them. What's that about? Is there someone in their lives they secretly want to kill - their boss, their husband or wife, the guy that cuts them off on the highway? Do they hope that the murderer on the show will somehow get away with it just this once instead of ultimately getting caught? With so much killing we and our children are numbed to the killing and death in the real world and prefer to sit safely on our comfy couches in North America watching the latest crime show, or news of the slaughter and bombing in a country far away or the mass drownings in a tsunami with equal indifference. It's all just TV isn't it?
    2559 days ago
    2559 days ago
    2560 days ago
    This so true! Thanks for posting, makes you think.
    2560 days ago

    We're in the middle of a federal election up here in Canada so this resonates with me too. Problem with democracy it that politicians "buy" our votes by promising us benefits personal to ourselves -- and we approach citizenship as if it were mere consumerist purchase, looking to maximize our most appealing features rather than thinking about the common good. But having said that, the alternatives to democracy are even less appealing . . . unless we could work with a philosopher king concept I suppose! Likely not too many who'd take on the responsibilities of the philosopher king without the power, perks, prestige which flow to our conventional politicians!!
    2560 days ago
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