“Elegy for a Ringmaster at Civilization’s End” by Dante Di Stefano

Dante Di Stefano


After all, we are living,
now, in your America,
the air thick with arias
of insults, our neighbors mic’d,
their grievances caroling
out into the howling crowd.
Here, everyone arms themselves
with slurs & secrets & shock-
ing revelations about
lineage & history.
We used to watch your show in
dorm rooms & in living rooms,
waiting for the fuse you lit
to explode. Now, all we do
is follow fuse after fuse;
our mother tongue has become
the language of bombshell &
shrapnel, but this is how it
always was. You showed us how
America always breathed,
skittering on the lip of
apocalypse, this knowledge
a legacy of your grand-
mothers who died in the camps,
genocide encoded in
your DNA, urging you
to pull spectacle’s golden
filament time & again,
& weave it into sound bite
& fist fight & all that’s wild
& primal & screaming up
against what’s wretched within.
We watched because you showed us
the beasts & ghosts & monsters
clambering in our own chests.
Today, no final thought will
wing itself into the night,
but we will end on one last:
“take care of yourself, & each
other.” Take care of the dark.
Let the inside of your eye-
lids bead the braille of a prayer,
mumbling us into the tough
work of doing enough to
run another episode.

from Poets Respond
April 30, 2023


Dante Di Stefano: “This is an elegy for Jerry Springer who died this week. Like many people my age (44), I disliked his show, but sometimes watched it, despite, or maybe because of, my dislike. For better or worse, Springer was an archetypal American figure, part carnival barker, part confidence man. He harkened back to snake oil mountebanks of the nineteenth century and presaged the age we live in now, where the double helix of reality television and social media compose and decompose and writhe through our national DNA.”

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