A Rescue Call Despite the Odds
By Sheri Reda
Why do you lie there, United States? You made your self
America! You stumbled here out of a forest of predators
into a party already going, which didn’t look like any party you had seen
hanging by your fingertips from a ledge that always edged away.
So you crashed it, wounded yourself; watched warily
as the partygoers wrapped your hands; punched them and ran off
to make it your own party, by God, not a dork party like that one.
And people came to your party from miles and miles
and hectares and mil and meilen and miglia and Yīnglǐ,
though you were bumbling and rude and clubhouse crazy:
no girls allowed and no new kids either.
but your bravado was more infectious than your blankets, even,
awe-inspiring in its innocence of cause and effect.
What’s the matter, why don’t you know who you are? Wake up, America,
it’s me shaking you by the shoulders like Jim shakes any given guest star
out on the Final Frontier: Remember, you came here from somewhere
else! You hiked across the land bridge to mammoth plains.
And you shipped yourself across the Atlantic to marry the prosperity
that whipped you ever since you were a child. And you took refuge
here, squeezed out of your village like a cyst, an abscess
that could be drained and forced to conform to the rest of the empire
and taught the value of a good day’s work—and also, in the manner of those
called your betters, to find someone else to do it—a defensible strategy
in its way because someone else was always faster and stronger and better,
almost as if they were made for servitude, except they kept dying
in captivity like the zoo animals you took them for, or secreting themselves
away and luring the best among you to join them, or coopting themselves,
giving away their game. What the fuck were you thinking, America,
your sale price twenty-four bucks’ worth of beads? I know: it wasn’t just
baubles, it was really cool imports in exchange for some lousy skins
and an island where your neighbors lived. America, you’ve been selling yourself
since long before you took this name. You came here bound by the power
of commerce, traded by white and brown and black marketeers
who stacked you like pillars of salt into the bottom of a hold, dragged you
here to serve and observe the party, which is always about being seen.
And you escaped the trade with a deep thirst for the goods you once were.
And you outran the hunger that tracked you like a beast
through the land of fairies and left you on a cliff of cold, hard dreams.
And you rushed here greedy for pots of gold and streets of gold
and veins of gold and gold that became a rage in your eyes, turning everything
into fire. Everything is on fire, now, but we’ll get to that later.
And you trudged here to work, just to work, and then decided not to leave
because the danger and the endless hours and the name calling and the lynchings
were still better than back home, or because you had a contract
to scrub the floors but someone wiped the floor with you
and then you couldn’t find your way back
to whomever it was you once were, or you died along the way
and were lost forever to the wide open sky overhead, or you became
a hungry ghost in a place that didn’t believe in them. And you sauntered in
just before the gates slammed shut behind you and made a life taking
lives. And you coyote’d here to live near your ancestors and the border
patrol turned you away but you kept coming back until you made it
here and it’s already cost you an arm at the processing plant
and a leg jellied by a bullet on the South or West Side of Chicago.
Is this what’s up with you, America? All your marks getting wise
while more keep coming, from every place you’ve cucked? They trace a path
by the remnant beam of your liberty, your dying star. They read your will
and see themselves in it, though you never pronounced them fit to live,
and you can’t disown them because you never staked a claim,
just as no one ever owned your wild, true self. What’s the matter with you,
and I borrow the phrase from my bullying beloved Uncle Mark, whom I hate
that I loved—white supremacist son of immigrants, scion of patriarchy—
his what’s the matter with you not a question or a statement but a demand,
America: See yourself as I see you! You act like you’re not on the river,
you act like you’re the river itself. And not really the river, but the destination,
the place where the river ends. You act, and don’t apologize later, Whaa’d-I-doism
your foundational faith: Wahabi’s jingo–jangle but with none of the pesky rules.
Pull yourself together, America. You’re America! Every part of you
came here, willingly and unwillingly, seeking a life, seeking glory, seeking
wealth, seeking God, seeking freedom, seeking escape, seeking a throughway,
seeking a way to go home again though the best among you have warned in writing
that no one ever can. What’s the matter with you: You’ve dropped your lantern
and lit the hay and left your back door frozen shut. Burning and freezing,
your hell has it all, America. Your gods avert their eyes in shame.
Wake up! Wake up, and stomp the fire. Smash the ice. Come out of hiding.
America, there is still air out there. Save yourself. Open the door, and breathe.