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Wednesday, July 03, 2019


by Alan Walowitz

. . . In a democracy, you can only ignore the will of the people for so long and get away with it.                                                
                                                                                                         --John Boehner

Grammar School we sung them 
till the vocal cords popped from our throats,
such scrawny things we were, 
Adam’s apples bobbing, toes tapping,
the girls lined up the other side of the room
their skirts gently swaying in the breeze the radiators made—
all to please those witches, either evil or kind,
who had us in their clutches all day, a year at a time,
these ladies out of Normal School—Miss Johnson and Cochran,
Mrs. Murtaugh and Golsner—with their black high-top lace-up shoes
and penciled brows and rouged cheeks
that always made them look like they’d come through a storm—
and in the wake of the war, maybe they had.

My Country is of Thee—what the hell did that mean?—
O, say does the Star Spangled Ba-a-nner yet wave?
Just look in the corner of the room
where the flag’s hanging limp as the janitor’s mop.
God Bless America, never mentioning the guy who wrote it
was born on the other side.
And shouting the refrain, This Is My Country,
giving it all we had, just like the Mitch Miller record
we’d learned it from. 

They even said we might get to build it.
Though one look now, soft and creaky most mornings,
lovers of the easy life—you’ll know we didn’t help much. 
But our grandparents and parents did—
after hunkered down in steerage, a long, bitter crossing.
Still, that’s not walking from Guatemala
one kid in hand and another tugging at her breast,
and climbing in the back of a rickety old school bus 
to cross pitted roads and streams
and sleeping in rotted VW vans 
along with the hosos and the other takers
who might as soon rape you as get you there.
That’s courage worthy of sparklers and Roman candles
and bottle-rockets whistling, and bombs bursting in air.  

All those patriotic songs--
This is my country! we sung, sometimes even shouted.
Loud and proud, our teachers told us.
Build that wall, my ass!
We say, what Woody Guthrie said,
This land is your land, this land is my land—
you can only hold us off so long. 

Alan Walowitz has been published various places on the web and off.  His work was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2017 and 2018 and he is a Contributing Editor at Verse-Virtual, an Online Community Journal of Poetry.  His chapbook Exactly Like Love is available from Osedax Press, and his full-length book The Story of the Milkman and other poems is published by Truth Serum Press.