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Saturday, April 29, 2023


by Robert Knox

“America I’ve given you all and now I’m nothing.” 
—Allen Ginsberg, Howl and Other Poems, 1956

I am frankly envious of the poet who, on Jan. 17, 1956,
wrote, in a poem entitled “America,”
“America, go fuck yourself with your atom bomb.”
Tennessee, I invite, in the same spirit of candor,
go shoot yourself with your absolutely unqualified no-foolin’, stand-your-ground
irredeemably nut-case gun rights laws,
per events on the ground taking place March 28, 2023.
I could simply echo every sentiment in that mid-century poet’s inspired piece
     of unbridled spontaneity
composed on the theme of his America, in which he that mid-century poet vowed,
amid other proclamations,
“I won’t write my poem till I’m in my right mind”…
but I do not expect to be in my right mind
so long as the YMCA in which I seek to run away from my fury and despair
offers news channels on its TV service available to rats like me
who run on treadmills of anger and despair
Networks, that is, on which the munitions-injury expert
is asked to describe the effect of AR ammunition on the bodies of children,
and what I increasingly wish somebody (even crazier than me) would do
to the persons of the elected Tennessee officials
who valiantly protected their freedom-loving constituents from any limitation,
however slight and publicly supported by official law enforcement,
on their natural right to destroy the bodies of children
with whatever armaments the Good Lord, acting through the protected mediation
    of the National Rats Association,
entitles them to possess
“America,” Ginsberg demanded in his disarming and eternally youthful way:
“when will you take your clothes off?”
“America” – how’s this for pre-visioning the paramilitary far right?—
“why are your libraries full of tears?”
America, we ask in our hair-tearing, torn-clothing way,
Why are your courthouses, state houses, ballot boxes and school boards
full of self-made demagogues who failed to read the books
in their now besieged schoolhouses when they had the chance?
who think that libraries are merely back alleyways for the gang fights
     of the culture wars?
America, we ask, why do the voters of Tennessee develop amnesia of the ballot box?
When will it end, America, your war on humanity?
When will you be worthy of your blues singers, jazzmen, street corner poets,
         dancers on the page as well as on the stage?
When will you invite Stephen Colbert to be the speaker at the next inauguration?
America, the cherry trees are blossoming
and I feel sentimental about the days of wine and roses and that legendary decade ban
     on assault rifles…
and even when the party of Richard Nixon was, by comparison, a beacon of moderation
Americans, we are obsessed by media, by the Chinese timebomb that goes TikTok, TikTok
America, the best minds of my generation are already underground
America, there is nobody left to vote for
America, our ancestors saved the world from fascism
But all the fascists have to do today is show their pure-white fannies on TV
and the writing on the wall goes tic-toc-clock, as the timebomb of private self-interest
     melts the glaciers
and brings the ocean to your living room
just before the signoff of the foxed and phony nooz
America, you are teaching all the world how to kill people,
     best result for the buck
Because that is all you remember how to do

Robert Knox is a poet, fiction writer, Boston Globe correspondent, and the author of the recently published collection of linked short stories, titled House StoriesAs a contributing editor for the online poetry journal Verse-Virtual, his poems appear regularly on that site.