Sunday, February 16, 2020


Johnstown Sleeps
Johnstown sleeps
under the giant beautiful ruins
of the machines of my Grandfather’s generation.

And on day they buried my Great Aunt Elanor
they tore my Grandfather’s favorite bar down
because Johnstown sleeps
under the weight of bad trade deals
and the even worse idea
the future belongs to coal.

Johnstown sleeps
under the haze of uncritical nostalgia
and evangelical theologies
preaching personal satisfaction
isn’t the nihilism of the soul,
because god’s chosen people
always live in the country.

And for every racist comment
on every race-baiting story
on WJAC’s Facebook page,
the guy who drives around
on MLK Day, with a noose
and a tribute to James Earl Ray
in the back of his pickup
enjoys a sense of belonging denied
to every young person with an idea,
whose daily lesson is they’ve got to get out.

Johnstown sleeps
in the memories of
my two-week summer vacations
at Grandma’s house,
since burned down by an arsonist,
and the greatness of all
this town’s lost humane architecture.

Because Johnstown sleeps.

Johnstown sleeps,
and it won’t wake up
because of every grandstanding politician
with an easy answer as to how to find the real problem
in Philadelphia, in Washington DC, at the border
and the primal need to be better than somebody, anybody.

Because when Johnstown sleeps
dreaming only of the fantasy of a perfect past
never of a pragmatic future,
Johnstown lies
forever in the restless sleep
of its pastoral nightmare.
  —Matthew Ussia

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