TO BE READ IN THE AMERICAN MOOD
in response to the 2020 presidential election
My grandmother told me:
Everybody’s got warts. One among many pieces of bare wisdom she bestowed.
I don’t speak to my father, like I used to.
When I look out the window, I see no good. A dying pear tree, the last of its leaves still attached, for now.
There are those who say we live in unintellectual times, and my neighbor says of the homeless,
If you pay them, they stay that way. That way.
We’ve built a public square, but what we need are rounded edges. A room for nuance. For truth. That sparrow caught in the cat’s jaws, still breathing.
I asked my grandmother why she didn’t attend college.
With eight siblings, we didn’t have the means, she said. And even city girls were lucky to get that chance. I was a country girl.
How do you glean the difference between the stages of descent? This collective falling into darkness, is it unevenly dark?
People who may mean to be good people mean less and less to me. People who are not good people have begun to unfasten their belts.
My father no longer speaks to me, openly.
And I am not unblemished. The small wart on my hand that multiplies.
I cried when I thanked my grandmother for lifting our family from poverty. She was too humble to cry herself.
I have refused to write political poems because I hoped poetry would be the one piece of myself I could save from this country. Had hoped.
When I try to speak to my father, my mother says
In refusing to confront the enormity of loss our country has faced, the president said,
It is what it is.
She was a country. She was a girl.
The body of our politics: fragile and cold, but still breathing. And who is not burdened to reach into the mouth and save it.
A black cat, was it, at that baring tree’s base, and a bird still singing on its branch? Unseemly, like warts, these warnings.
An American paradox: my grandmother so wanted to make me proud.
But to name this moment one of “unintellectual times” implies that the present wasn’t there in the past. And that intellect offers the cure.
My father tells me he loves me. My father tells me to fuck off.
Everybody, she told me.
On a stage much larger than we see, a man addresses his political adversary:
It is what it is because you are who you are.
That sparrow lain down in the grass, the green eyes of the cat still watching.
It is what it is, because you are who you are.
The last of the leaves do fall.
from Poets Respond
October 20, 2020
Michael Martella: “I started writing this poem as a response to the first presidential debate between Joe Biden and Donald Trump, which led me to reflect on America’s collective communication problem. Our political discourse appears to consist of people plugging their ears and shouting, whether in person or online. Few people seem to listen, few people seem to be heard. And over the last several years, this prevailing mode of public communication seems to have subsumed our private communications as well. This has been my experience with my own friends, with my own family, at least. The difficult task is to be both careful and true. Nor am I guiltless, even as I long to be a bridge between.” ( web)