DSQ > Spring 2008, Volume 28, No.2

Manifest Destiny

I love Mark Twain and the Mississippi steamboats and Abraham Lincoln's dogs.

I love the fields of wheat and corn and the smell of Virginia tobacco.

But I am not American.

. . .

Take the stripes of your flag

and give us the stars.

Saadi Youssef, "America, America"

I see you, America.

I am your dying son.

I recall your stories

of hope and of glorious

trails to true freedom.

Give me liberty, go west, go deep.

One small step one giant

I hear you, America.

I am your deaf-blind child.

I may have been cute once,

up on that poster, but America,

you are my inspiration.

We hold these truths

to be self-evident,

we who have hands to hold

and eyes to see.

You watch me as I cross the street —

I must be something to see.

Send me your tired,

your poor, your huddled masses

yearning to breathe free —

take a deep breath — now ask

why they look at us that way.

Greatest country on earth —

in the history of the earth.

In the universe. Ever. Top that.

I smell you, America

you are in my pores, you

are the dirt beneath my nails —

you are my nails. All I eat

and drink and breathe are you.

Why am I no longer high?

Why does my head hurt?

Why do I have so many staplers?

You watch me as I buy groceries —

I must be something to see.

I feel you, America,

even deaf-blind I feel you go by,

I am your comatose wife.

Yoked together by a vow

made long ago, now I lie

here, and you lie away. When you love,

when you honor, will you protect

me from yourself? Just who is

your self, America? Do I

count? Three-fifths, say? I

am the crippled newsy on the corner,

the guy on the knuckleboard, not a leg

to stand on. Now I am the standard-bearer,

standing out not up. Stand by, America —

this just in: you need me. I am your face

in the family portrait, just as you blink.

You watch me though you are discreet.

I must be something to see.

I taste you, America,

pilgrims pride and fruited plain,

turkey dinner once a year,

I am your orphan child.

I am your silenced majority.

You would pave me to make me whole,

bronze our laughter to save it,

feed the world on hamburger,

coke, fries, and freedom's tales,

talk of choice and honor

and a thousand channels.

I watch you, America,

I am your slow son,

your dumb-blonde daughter,

you are what's on. Is anyone

listening? I am the deaf-blind cripple

who is always listening,

watching, waiting to be fulfilled.

I see you, America, I see you,

see me, hear me, be me too.

You watch me like I am quite chic.

I must be something to see.

I am too hard for poems, America,

too empty. You are too brittle, too small.

One drop overflows me,

the oceans cannot fill you,

nothing soaks through.

The maw of America is open,

friendly is our middle name,

the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.

We take care of our own. We'll take care

of you, too, if you don't watch out, bud.

We have no room for poems, no time

for poems, no place for the people

of poems. Be one of us, be

a winner, be a saint, be secure

in righteousness, look forward to glory,

and take rewards both here and hereafter.

You watch me as I eat.

I must be something to see.

Liberty or death, America,

and you stand for both, indivisible,

one nation under the wrath of an angry God,

meting out liberty and justice to all

who get in our way. Forty acres and a mule,

America, paddy wagons and loyalty

oaths, banned books and internment

camps, peace pipes and more treaties,

and how about some blankets, too.

The policeman isn't there to create

disorder, America — the policeman

is there to preserve disorder.

You watch me as I walk down the street.

I must be something to see.

I have a dream, America. Ask not.

I have lost my way, America,

but I'm right here with you.

Oh, you who would eat the earth

and call it free, the only thing we have to fear

is fear itself. Take this hand, you who love arms,

take this hand, America, opposable thumb and all. We

are the people of poems. Let us bind up our wounds

and refit the prostheses we all require.

I need you, America,

I am your child and I need you.

We are all your children, the atoms of your hope.

Let the better angels of our nature

form a more perfect union,

and let us be orphans no more.

The tired, the poor, the high and low —

we are all watching.

I see you, America. We see you.

Personal Improvement

Wear this thing — it makes you look normal.

See how good you look?

Cover your legs, cover your eyes,

cover yourself.

Don't act so deaf, dummy. Look me in

the eye, freak. Look

me in the eye, geek. Wear this thing —

see how good you look?

I know a doctor, can make you look better —

don't you want to look good?

I know a doctor, make it all better —

you're going to look so good.

I know a doctor, make you look normal —

don't you want to look good?

Put this on — no, it hurts — oh, you look good.

One small operation, make you look so good.

It's nothing, really, hardly feel it, and you'll look so good.

Sit up straight, don't drool don't twitch don't shout don't touch your hair.

Just sit still and mind your manners — go fix up your hair.

I won't wear these shades for you.

I won't hide my stumps for you.

I won't hood my hearing aid.

I won't give up sign.

And I won't cover my stumps.

I won't wear a wig for you.

I won't lose my leg bag.

I won't ditch my head stick.

I won't take these drugs — I don't want to be sick.

And I won't cover my stumps.

I won't fry my brain for you.

I won't perform pain for you.

I won't wear these shades for you.

I won't stay inside — will not try to hide.

I won't hide my chair — if you have to, stare.

But I won't cover my stumps.

I won't wear these pants for you.

I won't do this dance for you.

I'll dance for myself.

I'll think for myself.

I'll dress for myself.

I'll live for myself.

And I won't cover my stumps.

Not Dead Yet

You think you're so much better than me

You'd kill yourself not to be like me

You get out your gun

This is your idea of fun

Why can't you let us live our lives?

 Rinse out your body bags

 Put away your body bags

 We're not dead yet in here

I'd rather die than to be like you

Of course you'd rather be dead meat too

you're dead meat now

You call this living? I don't know how

I'll get out my gun

This really isn't that much fun

I'd want this myself if I were you

 Rinse out your body bags

 Put away your body bags

 We're not dead yet out here

Just listen now — I know what's best for you

If you could think straight you'd want this too

I don't see how you live that way

It's just not right to live that way

I'll get out my gun

The afterlife is much more fun

Just blink your eyes

I know you want this — one day you'll rise

This is how you should end your lives

 Rinse out your body bags

 Put away your body bags

 We're not dead yet in here

You think you're so much better than me

You don't know one damned thing about me

You don't want to know

You'd rather imagine a life of woe

You get out your gun

That's your solution, one by one

You'd steal from me my last breath.

Your left v. right is my ticket to death

Don't tell me to think straight

You cover up your fear and hate

with false sympathy

You have no idea what it means to be me

But you think you know

You think I live a life of oh, such pain and misery

Who wouldn't want to be free?

You get out your gun

You think you're helping everyone

While you help yourself

You think you're helping yourself

Why can't you let us live our lives?

This is how we live our lives.

Join us as we live our lives.

 Rinse out your body bags

 Put away your body bags

 We're not dead yet out here

Our lives count too

My ass is worth as much as you

Rinse out your body bags

Put away your body bags

We're not dead yet out here.


I am too obvious — man with limp,

with cane, man with brace, with big shoe.

My songs, they are too obvious —

this is how we learn to turn away,

this is why we turn away.

My poems walk in the door uneven —

can you hear the cane when I step?

My poems walk in the door unsweetened

and, once in a while, the reader, who

is not looking, tastes bitter in her mouth,

tastes bitter to her lover, tastes

as bitter to her husband, who

has learned to like the taste, even though

he doesn't know just why, how, who —

tastes bitter to her dog, he licks her hand,

immediately whines and curls up

in a corner. Send my poems away,

kick them — they can't kick back, can't even

stand — we are bitter enough, we have

enough of your kind, my lover won't kiss me

and my dog turns away — turn these poems

away, these limping, wretched things, veiled threats

that they are. Drop them a coin or two,

show them what you really think,

and don't look at them when you do —

appease them, propitiate, vitiate

these unremarkable things — send them away,

they are so obvious, big shoe man

and his limping poems, conspicuous,

so obvious, they should be overlooked.

"Manifest Destiny" and "Personal Improvement" were first published in the Main Street Rag 10th Anniversary Issue in 2006.

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Copyright (c) 2008 Jim Ferris

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