(This poem originally appeared in not enough night)
A quiet humiliation? New dictators sit in ancient towers,
decreeing sad edicts to their harrowed, careworn people.
Hopefully, they stake their claims and travel to America
to raise children, fame or fortune in fields of blue alfalfa.
Language lost, they turn to pioneering trade games- from
homesteading to war. They reap a harvest full of natives,
bring home bodies, and cash in rewards- but no matter
how many tribes are vanquished, new threats emerge.
Pirates! Pirates! comes the familiar cry from the
old city center, Lock your doors and don’t dare
speak a word! Vikings, Huns, Mongol hordes;
barbarians are come to bring disorder to us all!
But their landlords rap on the shutters and call:
“No, no, no, you ingrates, this is the New World,
where the only barbarians are gentlemen of means
who invade so slowly it takes generations. Bake
your tired aphorisms and peasant fears into a spice
cake and be done with it. Put on a happy face
for the intruders, and serve them in your parlors.
Feed them well; don’t let your children pout.
A lust for shining motors overpowers Old Country chutzpah
and the world swings with new riffs on old themes.
Just pin your polka-dotted oom-pah know-how
up between the houses and watch it flutter in the breeze.”
A quiet humiliation? Hardly American. Dolefully,
they slip into undress and lie against the walls.
New flags fly on every clothesline and we are
laundered till our colors fade. The smile remains.