Words for My Twelfth Grade English Class on Inauguration Day after Reading Malcolm X’s “The Ballot or the Bullet”
Don’t Mayflower yourself into forgetting
that today, once again, your government
has wrapped you in a kerosene embrace,
has gripped you like a cavalry officer’s pistol.
You are bright-eyed and beautiful despite
all of the red hats and low rhetoric
parading down Pennsylvania Avenue;
you deserve a better America than this one.
Last night, the masts of the Niña, the Pinta,
and the Santamaria burned down my dreams;
my dear ones, we pledge allegiance inside a hood
at Abu Ghraib with mouths full of shrapnel.
Scalpel us out of apathy; take sides
with freedom, with fire, with freedom again.
The Redneck in Me Unmakes America
Let the theory of America still be management, caste, comparison…
— Walt Whitman
There’s the kind of man you are, and the kind
you could be. There’s the ain’t that aches your knuckles,
and the can’t that sends your muscles rainchecks
and spasms. There’s the bullshit unfolding
in the rearview, and the quandaries you dodge
with your high beams on. Your body’s a pond
stocked with catfish and schooled with dying cells.
A gun rack tickles your ribcage when you
make love in the extended cab’s back seat.
You shoot the breeze with angels and sing hymns
that harmonize buckshot and wildflower.
When you boot the ground you leave bluebonnets
as footprints. Your blood of Christ is Jim Beam
mixed with flat cola in a reused can.
You know the doxology of John Deere,
Bud Light, and Monday Night Football by heart.
You kingdom regret and palpitate false hopes;
you’re a stained map held down by shotgun shells,
a township of one way streets and dead ends.
When I look at you striding through Walmart
I see myself, stuttering in anthems.
Dear white cross on the side of the highway,
dear God inside a cracked Chickasaw skull,
dear God, goddamned, inside my own two hands,
let me be the despair I throb, sugared,
into being, let me take the hundred
hundred hearts of this minute, ruby them
into a prayer of home, and brandish it
somewhere purple-mountained and majestic.
He lives in one unending instant, this dog
I walk and love and feed, whose yawning love
will bound beside me through the heavy snow.
I long to live in one long warm moment
as he does, gnawing a bone, curled between
cold and heat by the front door, thresholding
what he knows without knowing: this is home.
This is all there is for him: to sleep and stir
and show affection by hurling his flank
against the honeyed flanks of all the world.
I wonder why it is so difficult
to get outside an hour and to adore,
to pat the gentle animal within,
to let the light nuzzle your own sweet fur.
About the poet:
Dante Di Stefano is the author of Love is a Stone Endlessly in Flight (Brighthorse Books, 2016). His poetry, essays, and reviews have appeared in Brilliant Corners, The Los Angeles Review, Shenandoah, Prairie Schooner, and elsewhere. He is a poetry editor for DIALOGIST, the poetry book review editor for Arcadia, and a regular contributor to The Best American Poetry Blog.