“Stars and Stripes” by Catherine Wiley

Catherine Wiley


I’ve called the cops on him,
friendly guy next door who sneaks
pork fat to my cat, cookies
to my daughter. He tends
with the vigilance of love
a red van hunkered on the curb,
paint flaked and pale U.S. flag
sealing the rear window. He sings,
then weeps when he’s had one
too many beers.

The night he swears to kill
his wife—sobs and curses
through the screen jangle me
from sleep—police come fast,
five white cars block the street,
two men vault the broken gate
to pound the door and wake
with a flashlight in his eyes
the old man whose house it is,
whose son.

Morning, I ask how she is
through the fence where she rests
an elbow; thumb caressing
her bluing cheek. She says
with disbelief that someone
called the cops, she thinks she might
know who, she’ll kick their ass.
Later in full sun and heat
a different neighbor stops.
“I wish they’d get it over with,”
she sighs, “and shoot each other so
the rest of us could sleep.”

from Rattle #26, Winter 2006


Catherine Wiley: “‘Stars and Stripes’ is my response to September 11th. I found myself more and more dispirited by the excessive display of American flags, and decided to craft a more critical, and to me more realistic, version of the ‘red, white and blue.’” (webpage)

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