Maybe it was street LSD, which the Reds lacked
in Union Square, when your grandfathers promised
to topple the capitalist scum, or get a job; maybe
it was the echo of west coast stevedores driven off the cliff
by Hoover; maybe it was the bygones, a United States,
disunited, grappling then chewing off her foot.
But even if this protest is romantic drivel with nothing
to be gained, today you have plans. Today you resist.
And aren’t you and your friends undismayed, standing there,
nose-to-helmet, pressing back American History
and the cops, dressed-for-a riot, or a high school play.
Maybe you wished for just a little hollering and shoving,
or to feel fierce. Maybe you relied on your
elected allies in and out of that blood-lusty crowd.
Maybe you’d win the overturn, hold back the future.
Maybe you could make it right, until the tear gas came.
We are on the way to vigilante justice,
partnered by a tipsy redhead, her eyes
tight shut, as if she were about to cry
or sing, and a lean man who hopes
to find Aleppo out his back door,
and a Nun praying for certainty or mercy,
all of us trying to conjure a gentler nature,
from minds tangled in stochastic terror.
We are all punished, guilty or not,
for last year’s curse, optimistic greed
and its sidekick, cynical inertia.
You must go scrub the leviathan, the encrusted white shirt of it,
clear out the earwax that has made it deaf. You must
relearn the lessons you abandoned, caught as you were,
between forgetting and negotiating, plunged into the tragedies
of Twenty-Twenty, a year when the distance from honesty
to the routine lie was too great a distance to trudge.
Be brown-eyed and briefcased. Be ready to roll
up your sleeves. You’ve had a belly full of swindle.
Be dedicated to the proposition that you should take out your earbuds
and come alive, go into the dirty streets, wearing a mask
and a face shield, and carrying your cleaning supplies.
Ignore those menacing guys and the tats. Go into some building
where none of us have been lately, where the new folks
have a smile. Grin back and take up your task.
Wendy Taylor Carlisle lives and writes in the Arkansas Ozarks. She is the 2020 winner of the Phillip H. McMath Post-Publication Award for The Mercy of Traffic and this spring, Doubleback Books reprinted her 2008 book, Discount Fireworks, available free at: Doubleback Books. Her website is www.wendytaylorcarlisle.com. Photo by Greg Comnes.