American Anthem

American Anthem

I have traveled the pitted miles of melting asphalt

overlaid on rows of peeling houses with cardboard windows;

adorned with grandmothers in white gowns and pink slippers

rocking in rusting metal chairs, as if waiting.

I have warmed my bare feet on their fraying braided rings of ancient rugs

stretched across cold wooden floors of their parlors;

the smell of rubbing alcohol loitering in the room.

I have seen the youths of these cross-patched neighborhoods

riding on the amber waves of their veins,

their pain rising with the tide of the needle in their skin;

their faces turning red, then white, then blue.

I have seen that early light of dawn etched on the shadows of alleys

hidden by a carefree moon,

transforming the glittering neon streets

into dingy avenues of stacked cases of half-empty beers dripping on the walk

onto the cardboard forms snoring in the subway stairs.

I have slept in the doorways of the finest of establishments,

my face against etched glass and the disapproving glance of the night watchman;

my hands and feet wrapped in gray cloth discarded at the Goodwill drop;

my blanket yesterdays NASDAQ quotes neatly layered

over my sweat-soured pants and shirt.

I have sat in the puddles of the colonias

waiting on the open pit to rise in flame

as papa skewers the tire- scarred skinless carcass of an old jackrabbit

too slow to cross the road;

while my sister feasts on the green mud soaking our skin.

I have stood on Telegraph Tower, breathless from the climb

as black limousines pull into the circle to watch the red dusk,

my skin tight on my failing frame;

avoiding the glances of the plush children emerging from the cars

pointing at the skinny man with the sores on his face.

I have watched the ramparts of the Galveston Sea Wall

while hauling in a net of stinging shrimp,

my skin fouled with the smell of dead life,

staring at the young girls in pink and red thongs

lying prone on unfolded chairs, charring their skin.

I have seen the red glare in Fallujah

angry voices casting stones

at a burning Humvee

the spoils of victory

the tarnish of success

I have seen the burnt stalks in dry rows

being pulled by men with dirty dripping brows,

the skin on their hands broken and torn from the fine edges

of the crackling, crumbling leaves;

their stomachs aching from the fear of the coming winter.

I have seen the homes of the brave men,

crumpled in wheeled-chairs, their medals pinned to their shirts,

as their wavering hands lightly touch their faces in salute

to the raising of the morning flag;

their raspy voices restating their pledge.

I have seen the land of the free men;

their spangled flag draped over them,

as blackened widows stagger to their boxes

laying down one last rose

before the silver platform of belts and wheels

affixes them to the earth.

(Originally published in Cosmic Debris 1997)


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