“God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.” — Kurt Vonnegut
This war cannot be won.
The memory of the garden illusion caught me up
again in the turmoil, viewing my inner self
as an old person looking at distant scenery.
Add whenever the owner was asked to put on a demonstration.
When he gave the mule his first command.
Add the badly painted backdrop. Plus
my gaze to the left. It is not a good place to be,
to follow any verbal order you’re given.
First you have to get my attention. Someone
somewhere is trying to get my attention.
The query came from somewhere inside me, quite gracefully.
Add tired. Tired, tired. Plus decide
what such-and-such really is. Add effective
tools in the war against so monstrous a wrong.
Add ideology superimposed on us during the course of our learning.
Add the maverick must be allowed to retreat
to his private domain and live in any manner
he finds rewarding. Add interminable
conversations with your cats. Plus
watching television all day long. Plus as long
as we don’t interfere with the freedom
or well being of any other person.
Plus easier enforcement will catch more criminals.
Plus the international politics of debt.
Add a lot of what I’ve been talking about
has to do with the other guy. Add more and more
companies are requiring pre-employment urine testing.
Not just bus drivers and policemen, add furniture salesmen.
Grocery store clerks. Add recipients of public housing,
university loans, or academic grants. Add veteran cops.
Add the daily
shaving of the head and body. Today verbal assurance
is acceptable, but what about tomorrow. Add tomorrow.
Add what extent do you feel it is justifiable
for someone else to control your personal behavior
if it contributes to the public benefit?
Add I have questions in one pocket & secrets in the other.
Add I’ve got nothing to hide.
To this delicious feeling of being alive add definition
of a police state, were it to quietly materialize around you.
Plus proportions of any serious effort to help those
with debilitating mental illnesses. Add children
who have no families, no food,
no education and no hope.
Plus interactive software.
Add we’re a drag strip.
Add redneck gangs with names like the Spook hunters.
Add panicky local authority.
Add propaganda. Reasonable suspicion. Swift action.
If you are a person in authority,
you now don’t have to confront the suspected wrongdoer;
you confront their possessions instead.
Add quick-witted reporters.
Add legislature. Boot camps.
To “six pack” stucco tenements add weed & seed urban rescue.
Weary populations preoccupied with fantasies of becoming Byzantium.
Electrified teenagers of all classes.
Add your personal limits.
Add our parents’ permission.
The social burden of servicing the deficit.
I had a horrible nightmare
last night, far more intense than any dream I’ve had in years.
Add I was at a hotel. Add everything I owned was in the room.
Plus I’m naked.
This wonderful glow inside my being—
the expanse of green grass and the shimmering
leaves vibrating in the sunlight
making this a wonderful place
to sit and contemplate. Here is what happened.
—for Greg Purcell
This poem is part of BR’s special package celebrating National Poetry Month.