after Ginsburg’s “America”
for Brian & Julia
America, just now a pigeon fell
into a falcon’s troubled circle.
It is dying under the usual
nightmare circumstances. I hear
the whole thing happening
from where I sit, waiting for this
small pill to start its work.
Come out from the shadows now,
America. I know you are around
somewhere, saluting my grief
with your strange grin. I know
it was only a pigeon. I know,
but I can’t help myself, America
any more than you can keep
that chemical blush from creeping
into your skyline. I must have
been sleeping because a dream
blew up. Awakened by death’s
hands inside my hair again,
America, their wet dog smell.
That’s when I caught you with
the wrong mask on. Can you
comment on that? Have you
got anything to say? A mile
from here, my friends share
a fire escape with an ashtray
and a basil plant. Most nights
they climb out through the window
to smoke and watch the Brooklyn
-Queens Expressway. America,
for them this is an oceanfront view,
with waves of light on loop.
But they are really looking up
from the depths of you. And it’s
busy down here. It is crawling
with your fabulous mechanisms.
You won’t be still, America, and soon
you’ll feel that same-same itch
and flinch. This is the nature of you,
always almost coming through, like
a deadbeat dad with a glittering toy.
This is you, our passing strange,
our ghost in rags and chains
with all manner of beautiful trash
on the wind in your wake. You are
looking like hell in a flammable suit
but, America, as ever, everybody
wants to leave with you. Exhale
a wand of smoke and muse After all
it is you and I who are perfect
not the next world. Never mind
your hairline’s peeling. We’ll all
ignore your pickled bath of gas
and bleach. See, we, each of us
dream a little bug specked dream
that you will pick us special, take us
up and out. We want a joyride
in your sidecar, America, our arms
outstretched for miles, slicing
the lids off trees and silos. But we
tremble impossibly when you
pass close. We know that we are
each too small, too strange. We are
too old or still too young to be of use.
We are too poor, or frail—already
wounded by, and in, your hooded
gaze. We halfway hope you never
notice us. We halfway hope to fly
into your night. How we tremble.
How we dream that you’ll forget
where you are going. Turn around
and claim us, America. Turn around
and be, instead, good. We will be
yours, either way. We are forged
to your side. We grip what light
is left in the sky, with our very teeth,
as you continue to accelerate.
Chelsea Whitton is a southern poet and essayist living in Ridgewood, Queens. Her poems have appeared in various web and print publications, including Sixth Finch, Forklift,Ohio, Bateau, WomenArts Quarterly, Cimarron Review, Ilk and Valley Voices. She hold an MFA from the New School. Read more of her work at www.chelseawhitton.com.