“Politicians” by Rebecca Starks

Rebecca Starks

POLITICIANS

They rely on your forgetting. They forget
themselves, or everything but. Around forever,
always the same, but always distancing themselves
from who they were. Like the first secretary
of the regional party committee—responsible
for not putting iodine reserves in the water
after Chernobyl—they aren’t criminals
but products of their time. The time is always now.
The place now is Flint, that prehistoric tool.
The same products, but made of cheaper ingredients
in deceptively slightly smaller packages
with new health claims. They want you to buy them.

They don’t remember how the refrigerator died
one summer and they didn’t get a new one
for a biblical seven years—maybe a few weeks,
they say now, refusing to look at the proof,
the email where we refused to come home
again until they bought a new one. My guess is
it’s the capitulation they meant to block out,
not the seven years they bought bags of ice
for the freezer each day so they could keep a jug
of milk cold in it. Once a week they bought
a few pints of ice cream and ate it all at once.
But the seven years had to go, too. It’s a process—

They couldn’t decide on what kind to get.
The new ones were bigger and didn’t fit.
Double doors, freezer on bottom, ice dispenser,
novelties they shelved as too radical a change.
We don’t like the new one when we visit,
we can’t reach things, we bump our heads,
it takes up too much room but doesn’t hold enough.
We haven’t forgotten what the old one was like
or what was where on the shelves: Velveeta
and pimento olives and Mrs. Butterworth’s syrup
and Smucker’s jam and gallon jugs of skim milk,
and margarine and D cheese, we called it, for its shape.
The food is still there but it never goes bad.

Now there are leafy greens and grass-fed butter,
at least when we visit. Great Harvest bread
instead of Roman Meal, and in the cupboard there’s
low-sodium Progresso instead of Campbell’s.
That’s progress. It feels like progress
until you look for a functioning can opener.
But I understand, with all due respect, why people
give up and vote for their parents anyway. Because
they know them, they aren’t so bad anymore,
they’ll do what you want. They were never that bad.
Though didn’t they—did they really?—rent a car
every day for fifteen years, when theirs died?

They laugh.

Poets Respond
February 11, 2016

[download audio]

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Rebecca Starks: “I wrote this after watching the New Hampshire Democratic debate. I was thinking about how voters are expected to have short memories and often accommodate the expectation. The Flint water crisis and cover-up has also been on my mind, and I was struck by the parallels recently when I read Svetlana Alexievich’s Voices from Chernobyl. And it all took me back to my first experience of politics, if it’s not everyone’s—the family I grew up in.” (website)