America the Ugly
A Mythical Ode
By Jane Tawel
Well, hey! How are ya’?
Just me here.
‘Member how this road used to run straight on through the fields and fields and fields?
And at night the houses looked so lonely you could cry with the windshields keeping time.
And by day there was absolutely no sound at all for miles and miles and miles.
You could take this ‘ole turnpike to the next little Edenic town ‘cross the state line, maybe stop for a Dairy Queen cone and sit on the patio out of the summer rain.
But ‘til ya’ got there to that one-road town,
the same ‘ole gray road lined with Apple Trees –
That same long road you’ve been riding on all afternoon, Well, hey…
Until you reached Home,
The horizon–like muscles holding up that ole bone of a road– it bled gold and green
Out in all directions no matter which way you turned your head.
But straight and straight and straight ahead stretched the long gray plumb line of road.
No need to look in your rear view mirror to see it still stretching straight behind
You knew it’d always be there
Left behind with your kids’ singing voices spent on the breeze through the back seat open windows–
A thin stretched out old gray string of a road ready to darn Time.
We spent time travelin’
With nothin’ to outrun
Nothin’ to hurry away from or to–
No hurry at all.
‘Cept if Grandma had the potatoes ready to mash.
You sure as heck best not keep Grandma’s potatoes waitin’.
What were they thinking when they thought the gold of short returns held out more than the golden fields we could touch and see and harvest?
What were we thinking’ when we sold our birthright for a fast-food stew?
‘Member when you went to church to see your friends? You listened to the Bible and sang some hymns around the organ, every one fitting around the altar nice and snug and the kids fiddling with quiet toys from mommies’ purses and the dads itching in their suits to get back out there, and the sun or the rain beating down – hurry and open the windows or shut them fast. ‘Member?
What were they thinking when they built a mall to worship in?
What were we thinkin’ when we thought we’d like to be entertained instead?
And now we’re in a God-forsaken, God-damned stew all right.
A stew of tract houses behind flimsy gates where there once was a house in need of paint with fences to keep animals in not neighbors out, and walls of corn and cows and alfalfa. I asked a kid about alfalfa the other day. He had no idea. He sure as heck knew what a Wall was though. He can’t go to the Mall though any more, his mommy makes him shop online so he won’t get caught in cross fire. At least we can thank the almighty american god, the kid’s freedom is protected– online and in the line of fire.
And the houses are so big that a person can rattle around in ‘em nicely all alone. And the fields are all so small that the Company’s big combine gets home in time to watch Ti-Vo. Dear Oh Dear, John Deere is no more
We fill our ever empty spirit-bellies on stews of Walmarts and Nordstroms and Mickey D’s and save up for bigger screens and more thrill rides. We are obese with want.
‘Member Flo’s Coffee Shop and Jerry’s Diner? Where there was just enough space for everyone on Saturday night? ‘Member on the menu how “Specials” used ta’ be Special? Give me the Manhattan Plate Special with extra gravy. We thought getting a turkey sandwich and mashed potatoes covered with gravy had to be just a bit better than taking an actual trip to Manhattan, New York!
‘Member dinners on Sundays after church, with cousins ‘round the table at home and all the little kids sitting in the kitchen with Aunt Barbara?
Now I sit at home and click to buy. The clicking never seems to fill my empty gut.
The only click I used to hear was my daddy clucking and clicking his teeth to get that swishin’-tailed pony to pull that little cart faster down the road between my house and Grandma’s.
Or the quiet clicks of mothers’ tongues to quiet us down so they could hear the preacher.
Or the close clicks of crickets in the summer dusks, singing us forward on the gray road as my family headed home.
That little road is a major interstate now. And my Grandma and my Daddy are riding a road upstairs with the back road angels. All the time in Eternity they have now to explore the roads — clicking and clicking and clickety –clacking, riding along with the swooshing angels’ wings soundin’ like that ‘ole pony’s tail.
There are no gray roads where I live now. There are only and always lines and lines of tangled threads of cars and cars and cars covering up pavement meant to take you to work and back home to shop some more. Plumb crazy not plumb lined.
This Land – This LAND – was our birthright.
But we thought rich people from fancy schools and other countries had better ideas. We let them snake-like point us in new directions and we traded our compasses for Orwell’s certain Siri-d voice. We trusted in One Nation Under Siri. And all the voices talked so much, we forgot we could be the Quiet Americans. We thought because They said it, they could do…
We somehow began to believe we weren’t already like gods ‘cuz’ we started to feel so god-damned red-necked naked. Do you think I don’t mean literally God-damned? Damned Yankees and Confederates alike?
We decided we’d rather be One Nation over God than one under.
Under sounds so ––un-American.
What were we thinkin’?
Well, the kids all moved away didn’t they?–to buy blu-rays from outer space and to buy people to pick up their dog’s poop. And when the kids didn’t want them anymore, what could we do with our long roads and wide fields?
What do you do when no one wants your hidden treasure in the field? What is a pearl of great price worth in a world economy?
My ancestors fought wars that meant something because it was our Land.
But how do you go to war for something you can’t touch? For someone you can’t touch? How do you go to war for people you don’t know? How do you go to war because you need the money and it’s your job or, hey, come to think of it — maybe they’ll let you become a citizen of this country that you are bombin’ other nations for. Why isn’t that illegal for an immigrant?
It’s war we’re talking about here.
Lots of folks want to point out how prejudiced we all were back then and how exclusive and you know, some people were, but do you really honestly think that today behind our walled rich cities with motorized gates that you don’t have to get outta’ the car to open, just give a button a click—behind thick walls with gates that even a Tesla can’t fit through—Land-a-mercy! Do you honestly think that we love each other more? Do you think today with the freedom to say anything about any one we want and with everybody not just keeping black folk out but killing black and brown folk with freedom owned machine guns – do you really think we’ve come further in not hating each other and keeping our heads down? There aren’t enough gated prisons for all the free and incarcerated people in the world to keep America beautiful.
Land-a-mercy!….. Well, I guess not even the oath makes sense any more.
We used to believe in heaven and hell. No color code for either. Now we believe in freedom and grace and we are all secretly filled with politically correct hate and despair.
And now all my friends have families I don’t know. Some traded up and some just moved away. And I go to church because I always have but if I don’t show up, well, I guess no one will notice. I don’t have that much money to give.
I work all the time and can’t remember what I spend my money on to make up for all the time I’ve sold.
It feels so good to get angry at the tricksters and hustlers who have made America great and only want to make it greater and speak their Barnum and Bailey hype into the arena of our nightly news. We just keep clicking Re-post/ Share while the circus ponies go ‘round and ‘round and the riders throw out cake for us to catch and repost and we don’t read history any more – Marie Who? Was she a Khardashian or an Idol? An American Idol? Sounds like a socialist to me.
And the sky-risers in the deserts babble back and forth while the babbling brooks run dry.
When did we put the cart before the horse?
Are we the cart and they’re the horse?
Or is it the other way ‘round?
When did we stop tending our Eden?
When did we hand over our Souls and our Roads to get paved?
When did we first begin to mask with cement and botox all the naked ruts we want to hide from God’s Eyes and each other’s?
‘Member tar stickin’ to your hot bare feet as you skipped home unafraid?
‘Member Grandma’s wrinkly mouthed kisses?
Now I can’t find a long straight gray road to save my life.
We listen to the talking heads night after night and ask ourselves –Why?
‘Member when sometimes the talkin’ heads were quieted cuz there wasn’t any reception to feed their angry mouths and you had to just sit and listen to the raindrops or the crickets?
Or Each Other?
How did we get so ugly, America?
When did we put on these threadbare, gaudy clothes like fig leaves from an ancient world?
‘Member when you couldn’t pass someone on the street, even a stranger, without recognizing they were human? Without sayin’ “hey.”? “Hey there.”
How did we get so lonely, America?
When did The Three of Us become –not enough?
We paved our fields.
We computerized our friends.
We went to war.
We put on masks.
We incorporated our churches.
We left each other.
We asked too much.
We asked too little.
We ate The Stew.
We didn’t stop -by.
We didn’t have time.
We became I.
We thought the Pearl of America was not as beautiful as the plastic walls around our Apple I-phones.
We were hungry and we didn’t want to wait for the harvest this time – the harvest of our fields, the harvest of our studies, the harvest of our children, the harvest of our hard work, the harvest of our learning, the harvest of our own hands, the harvest of our hearts, the harvest of our souls . . . . .
And we saw the Stew of Immediate Gratification and just like the First People everywhere from the time God started Time on this earth, the time from Adam and Eve, from the beginning of Peoples Everywhere, from the Time of kingdoms upon kingdoms stretching back to Eden. . . . We wrapped a snake around our dollar sign and called our country, “god”.
And we stopped and veered from the straight gray road we were created to travel by. And that pathetic meek ‘ole naked gray road become Ugly in our eyes. And we forgot that no matter our culture or creed– that narrow path we were created to travel by, One Under God – that route ordained with room and time for all, was Our Inheritance. And we sold it for a time-share in Maui.
We thought we knew the difference between Good and Evil and we couldn’t – we wouldn’t –stop after the first intoxicating bite.
We took out second-mortgages on the Garden.
We sold our Birthright.
We left the Long Straight Road.
And in our own eyes, our nakedness became Ugly, America.
We looked at each other and were ashamed.
So we hid.
We left the Land
And the road filled up behind us
And we lost our way Home.