Wednesday, March 1, 2017

day FORTY ONE

The Better Angels of Our Nature

The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice. Martin Luther King

I

She said she was disturbed
noises at Camp Peary
Black Ops exercises
in the tideland woods
explosions, machine gun fire
blackhawks beating moonlight
                      beating clouds

She tells me this over drinks
in a bar that’s gay one night a week
after we stopped at a candlelight protest

Maybe some of the same kids are here now
some are her students
most are not much older than we were
when we met, it seems like a long time now

We haven’t seen each other in years
catching up on careers, pets and miscellaneous debris
drunkenly talking out all the difficulties of family

The next day hung over, listless
sitting on the couch passing newspaper pages
she says I can play a record if I want
we both agree on silence
the world is dissonant enough

Lately real life resembles
all my five am anxiety dreams
the kind where I wake up
stare at the dark, wait for it to lift
the only thing pleasant
in those moments is silence

It’s so hard to find silence
even in the comfort of friends
even while waiting
on the better angels of our nature


II

Big Star’s Third plays crisp
clear on this ice sunshine morning

Obsessed with Take Care
I play it over and over
long past Richmond
when I switch to radio

I love radio
especially when I’m headed
into some large American city
the mess of cultures
spilling across am and fm dials
classic rock and mexicali polka
bollywood and gospel
rai and soul
hip hop and cumbia
classical and jazz
it bolsters me
    reminds me
what America is about

III

In a burger joint
my friends and I interrupted

Mark sweeps up weekends along 6th
further up the street weekdays

He says straight away
Donnie don’t play that
we laugh, it sparks conversation

He doesn’t understand
he can’t accept
that it will be alright
but being black
you get used to be ignored
you get used to being harassed
you get used to being stepped on
its, excuse my language, he says
the fuckers who voted for him
that won’t understand
how to live
when shit
starts to roll downhill on them

IV

The Library of Congress
the sum of our national knowledge
ceiling painted with quotes
statements
on freedom
on knowledge
on equality
and against tyranny
everything we’ve come to believe
or be misled about democracy
is here on display

Everything that is knit
into our national fabric
is waiting
on the better
angels of our nature
to appear
to drink
to digest
to practice
not divest

V

I stroll down the bluff
around the Capitol
there are persons of color
humans
today, mostly Muslim
holding signs in protest
milling after the event
I try and read signs as they pass
sometimes so intent on words
it seems I’m staring
when I notice, I smile wide as I can
to acknowledge
you are not alone
often their eyes relived
smile back at me

We are all immigrants
my family came from
Scotland via Toronto
when potato famines raged

My family came from Germany
when Wilson claimed
all Germans were the enemy
when it was good for business
as it always is, to go to war

My family came from Switzerland
looking for opportunity
this is what our country
has been built on
since some rich white men
decided that freedom
was good for business
this cannot
and will not be changed
not in the name of safety
ultimately, safety is an illusion

if you ban
Iranians, Iraqis, Somalis
Syrians, Libyans, Sundanese and Yemeni
then I will be happy
to add those nationalities
to my family tree

VI

A Latina woman
in a wheelchair
pushed up the bluff
by her daughter
sign across her lap
Love Trumps Hate

The daughter struggles
extended behind the chair
the older woman
says something I can’t hear
they both laugh
a joke that meant everything

VII

Sunset at the Lincoln Memorial
wheelie kids flying across the mall
Muslims and sympathizers gather
for a candlelight vigil

I need no help with The Gettysburg Address
its burned in my heart
its his second inaugural address
that, this evening, hits hardest

I knew I wouldn’t hold back,
how can you hold back tears
when a national tragedy is happening

The blood still not been wrung from the lash
our sins indelible
it seems to me the Civil War
like the Cold War,
was a war of attrition

It seems to me
we lost both wars
but it took one hundred and fifty years
or thirty to realize it

I take heart as I see people
take to the streets en masse
I take heart
when I see civil disobedience
the protests peaceful and growing

Jeremiads to be rewritten
by the better angels of our nature
proof that government
of the people
by the people
for the people
shall not perish

VIII

The Vietnam Memorial
a wave in the dark

The wheelie kids are home
the Muslims on fire
the wind a bone saw

I have two uncles who served
neither killed in combat
one a casualty of alcohol
the toll quantified
years after he served two tours
the other still wears
shrapnel scars across his face

I am not a man who believes in violence
I wonder now about that more
as I have conversations
I see more people who feel the same way
as I watch a government unconcerned
with the people it was to serve

It seems to me LBJ
believed in guns and butter
but guns beat butter
now its only guns

Fifty years after the wave crested
fifty years from where King’s dream died
fifty years of an age of growing irrationalism
fifty years of violence, our national
jeremiad is still one of blood
we’ve been wading deeply
its stained every inch of this land

I stare through the dark
at lists of names
names of men
now gone
I am overwhelmed by the dead

IX

The fence is still up from inauguration day
it surrounds the White House
as do armed guards in digital camo

I was taught to believe
in god and country
in invisible hands and democracy

I have found no solace in god
choosing instead to believe in humanity
maybe, like Whitman, this is why
I can’t give up my faith
in democracy

X

There is a feast waiting
in a basement apartment on D Street

Beer we bought from a Korean Bodega
Chicken and Mole Sauce
Refried beans and rice
my host’s fianc├ęs cooking is perfect

We talk about the places
our families came from
the stories we haven’t lost
to time or being Americanized
we list of all the terrible things
we’ve seen and heard
in the name of freedom

Freedom in our name
freedom cannot wait much longer
for the better angels of our nature


Coda

Arlington National Cemetery
I’ve walked fifteen miles in two days
maybe more, my legs are pegs
I sprained my ankle
coming down a mountain yesterday afternoon
I don’t have time for the tour
I decide to walk
to limp to Kennedy’s grave

I stare up a Robert E Lee’s big house
I hear they’re refurbishing the slave cabins
finally making it undeniable,
the unbelievable cruelty of that era
which isn’t that much different from this era

I watch the eternal flame a minute
listen to security guard hush
each person who speaks

I start back down the hill
my legs are not working
the limp gets worse with each step
still I start for Medgar Evers grave
I get halfway, feel like heading for the gate
stop, state at the seventy degree
blue sky in January

rebuke myself
some gave all for freedom
Evers gave his life for it
a freedom that all men should enjoy
a freedom that should be
self-evident

I keep walking, finding the grave easily
kneel and rest my head on it
no prayers

only silence

 ---  Jason Baldinger






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