Thursday, August 28, 2008

It's been awhile since my last post. In the interim, on May 4, I developed heart problems which, after several readmissions to the hospital, culminated in surgery on July 23 to replace a damanged mitral valve. After a week of feeling fairly miserable and a couple more of moving mighty slow around my house and neighborhood here in Norfolk, VA, I've begun to feel more and more like a real human being.'s the first of what I expect will be a creative burst of new writings, in this case a free-verse poem inspired, I suppose, by the election season, yet encompassing, in my own life's story, so much more.

In preparing this piece for performance as spoken word, which is my preferred way of disseminating my poetry, I foresee it as having a distinct and ironic comic edge. Imagine that the narrator is ridiculing his own absurd ignorance and you'll get my intended tone.

The American Dream

There were a whole lot of things I didn’t know,
growing up.
I mean, I just didn’t get it.

For instance....

I had no idea the whole reason to go to college
was to get a high-paying job when I was through.
I thought it was to acquire knowledge
so I could be a wise and thoughtful person,
maybe not right away, but later,
after I’d lived a little, seen the world,
applied the poetry I’d read in classes
to a few love affairs
and experiences with death;
achieved the grace that hopefully would come
with understanding;
wear a tranquil smile in the golden glow
of my sunset;
stay warm in the ruddy embers of my old age.

How dumb can one person be?

But ruder shock by far
was the truth I learned about the American Dream—
way too late to modify or realign
the grievous errors of my wayward life’s career.

For instance....

I didn’t know it was the American Dream
to own a bigger house than my parents,
filled with more and better stuff!
I missed that altogether!
I thought the American Dream
was one nation, indivisible,
with liberty and justice for all.
Can you believe it?
Where did I get my crazy ideas?
It sounds like Communism to me now.

And what a surprise to me it was to learn
from no less a revered source
than the President of the United States
that the American Dream
is about every American’s right
to get rich.
He said it on national TV!
And here I thought we had inalienable rights,
to be sure,
endowed by our Creator,
to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.
How could I have been so inattentive
for so many years of my life?
How so fatally misguided?
Where did I get my fuzzy-headed notions?

And imagine my chagrin when I learned—
from another President of the United States,
no less—
that I had it all wrong again,
thinking, as I confess I did,
that the American Dream was an evolving thing,
a striving—toward a more perfect union,
to establish justice, insure domestic tranquility,
provide for the common defense,
promote the general welfare,
secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves.
And to our posterity!

No, no, no.
The American Dream—which
as the President of the United States sternly admonished,
is non-negotiable—
is to shop until you drop,
to vacation in Belize,
to own the latest electronic invention.
It’s to have more than you need
so you can prove that you're rich—
better off and smarter
than your relatives, friends, neighbors,
and certainly all foreigners.

The American Dream is to win, win, win
until you become great in the eyes of others,
which happens when you are both rich and famous,
like the President of the United States—
more feared than loved, more envied than respected,
more a proud legacy recognized by historians—
a statue, a building, or an air port—
than a real, flesh-and-blood human being.

Now that I understand the American Dream,
I am much chastened and humbled,
cautioned to speak no further foolishness
about a nation conceived in liberty
and dedicated to the proposition that all men
(and now women) are created equal.
A President of the United States mentioned that, too,
though not recently,
but it seems he was prophetic:—
clearly such a nation cannot long endure.

Which, frankly, makes me sad and embarrassed,
that I wasted my life
subscribing to such nonsense.


At 9:08 PM , Blogger kate loving shenk said...

Hey DD--Yes the DNC certainly raises the specter of memory when Democrats were Democrats and not Corporate puppets.

The American Dream?? Just another phantom, a misguided joke--and that's the theme of this convention.

A good show though.

Love, Kate Loving Shenk

At 10:21 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

You've reminded me of an old friend's mother's philosophy: All she wanted was one extra dollar in her purse after she paid her bills. I think that's a fair American Dream -- just enough to pay the bills (the essentials!) and the slightest bit of wiggle room. Thank you for reminding me of this.


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