Wednesday, November 19, 2014

American Exile: a poem

“But what when all your fields are rotten,
your waves of grain, amber waves of grain?
And you hide the dead

while my friends had to die in your name."

--Two Gallants, "Waves of Grain"

In the days of the colonies,
I moved to Merry-Mount,
and married a Pequod girl
and danced around the May-Pole,
Until Bradford and his
Puritan army killed her,
and tore down the May-Pole.

In the French and Indian war,
I fought with the French and Indians,
because they were my friends,
and hadn't killed my wife.

In the days of the Revolution,
I was a conscientious objector,
because Washington and
Jefferson owned slaves.

I moved to Alta California,
seeking peace in the west,
but found more death among
the coastal tribes forced into Missions,

I walked the Trail of Tears,
limping and starving all the way,
pursued by the Cavalry,
and more friends dying.

I wept at the Treaty of Guadelupe Hidalgo,
when Mexico lost half its country
in "The Executive's War."

At Gettysburg,
I met Walt Whitman, army nurse,
and we wrote poetry and dressed wounds,
(really the same thing).

After the war, my heart broken,
I moved in with Thoreau at Walden,
and learned to live among the trees,
because people frightened me.
I had PTSD from non-stop war.

Two voices
called me from the wilderness:
Frederick Douglas and William Lloyd Garrison,
and I rode the Underground Railroad.

"I hope we can leave you in peace," 
I said to Crazy Horse.
Afterward I apologized to
the corpses of my friends,
and wet their feet with my tears.

When another war came around,
They threw me in jail
for protesting with Eugene Debs,
another dear friend,
who spent most of his
time in jail.

I nursed T.S. Eliot through
his nervous breakdown,
and we spoke of the Lost Generation,
and we were lost together,
drowning in alcohol and death.

When the Depression hit,
I wandered Hoovervilles,
with Woody Guthrie,
singing songs and watching grapes
growing heavy, heavy for the vintage.

During World War II,
I visited Japanese Internment Camps.
I wrote newspaper articles,
my words falling on ears
made deaf with patriotism.

In the 1950s, I wore a t-shirt
that said "No Nukes"
I limped around New York
with Allen Ginsberg,
Smoking grass and writing poetry,

and when the 1960s came,
the world felt alive again,
a great wave of music and poetry.
We danced around a new May-Pole
and I married a flower girl.
We marched and sang with
MLK and Cesar Chavez.

And then people started dying:
JFK in '63
MLK in '68
Bobby in '68
and my flower girl in '70
at Kent State.

And Nixon got elected,
and things got dark and paranoid.
I crawled back undergound,
seeking shelter from the storm.

I moved to San Francisco,
and met a guy called Harvey Milk,
and for a while it was beautiful,
and then he got killed.
All my heroes got killed.

I was filled with so much rage,
I moved down to Los Angeles
and formed a punk band.
We played the Whiskey a Go Go
with Bad Brains and The Middle Class
and Black Flag and Dead Kennedys.

Reagan said it was
"Morning in America,"
but to us it felt like midnight.
I couldn't afford to live
in 1980s America,
so I became homeless
along with lots of others
who filled the ghettos of
major cities. 
American refugees.

In the 90s, I moved to Seattle
and I became a "tree hugger."
I spent a lot of time hugging trees
because they had never hurt me,
had only nourished me.
I hugged apple trees
planted by Johnny Appleseed.

I rode trains when
everyone else drove cars
and saw the oil rigs
along the coast of California,
and whispered,
"Put it back, put it back."

I am an American exile,
and I'm still wandering,
a stranger in my own land.
Today I ride on rails and wires,
whispering the names of the dead,
across borders real and imaginary,
I am ageless memory,
And still I cry out,
"How long, How long
Shall we wander in exile?"

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