Sunday, June 12, 2005

A Poem in Progress

A Poem in Progress
Yesterday, I put an American flag
on my motorcycle.
It's been a while since I've wanted
to think of myself as
an American.

Growing up, we boys all
looked forward
to becoming American heroes
bailing out of swing seats
pulling our ripcords
and floating to the ground.

Then Vietnam: Noble friends
with noble intentions--
freedom for others
fighting communism--
sent on deadly, fools' missions
by wealthy civilian leaders:
victims fashioned from their best intentions.

We learned that our leaders often,
like all of us,
come up short of answers;
yet, needing to lead, they
wrap their own ignorance
in the sacred fabric of
our flag begging our patriotism
(something that, each year, renews itself in every school yard
of every nation as predictably as teachers and bullies).

If this works for what turn out to be mistakes,
it works twice as well for lies since
few of us really want the job of holding the rich and powerful
who have come to rule us

And so, too often, our flag became the shroud over great consequence
a symbol of our denial
our willingness to be deceived
by talk show hosts--some who never served
or others who, when they did serve, betrayed the public trust
yet show no shame for criminal convictions.

They and their friends can be heard...
"Courts are full of activist judges accountable to none," they complain
not recognizing that the Constitution
they swore to uphold and defend
against all enemies
foreign AND domestic
calls for an independent and active judiciary.

Patriotism was used to hurt its believers
much like others used religion--faith in a loving creator--to teach hate.
Patriotism was used to blind us
while we were being robbed.
Thirty years after Vietnam
the same tricks still work.
Yet, I put the flag on my motorcycle.

At Daniel's, a bikers' bar and restaurant
on Highway One
between Baltimore and Washington
I ate breakfast with a bunch of
good old boys.

One taught journeyman classes
in air conditioning.
An engineer knows that a group of people
can't make something work just through their own consensus
if it isn't right.

Two others spoke of a possible job
ferrying cars at the airport.
"It would be better than sitting around doing nothing," one said.
A retirement check didn't eliminate their need to be useful,
and with a retirement check securing their future
such people will come to hold the spoiled rich accountable
--if retirement checks aren't eliminated by the rich.

Each man had a flag or patriotic statement
on some part of his clothing.
They might not be getting rich,
but they were leading good lives
and finding happiness in the company
of others like themselves.

I put the flag on before going riding
with a Canadian friend
who is concerned we Americans are
forgetting the virtue and value of
and with a former CIA asset
who is under federal indictment
after taking evidence to politicians
that pointed out that some Americans
paid to protect us, in the Agencies, were awake
and warning before we were attacked...
each time.

I put the flag on remembering teachers,
like my Mr. Rae and Mr. and Mrs. Reeves,
who teach young Americans
to think for themselves.
Remembering bosses who rewarded critical thinking.
And dreaming of a time to come
when we will value our critics,
when statues will be erected
of such citizens,
who dare speaking truth to power,
who execute God's mission, humbling the proud.

I put on the flag, remembering a country
wherein the bankers' children
go to the same school
with children of farmers.
A country where a Republican senator from Idaho
will still stop and chat for 50 minutes,
at a party, with the son of a former Democrat constituent,
of no current usefulness,
who now lives near the capitol.
They chat about those both knew, and
he shares good news of those who remain
there at home.

Idaho: a place where conservatives still
like to keep governance and theology
each in their own institutions...
Where people of both parties like the government
that governs the least
yet helps those most in need.

There is hope
if more critics
become senators
or just start waving flags.