The American Journal of Poetry
"Strong Rx Medicine"®


Vince Gotera

I Am

I am the rice you ate at lunch today and you didn’t even notice.

I am the pork that was sweet and sour in your lunch. I was raised on a factory floor standing in the shit and piss of my sisters and brothers who were shoulder to flank around me. I am the pesticides and antibiotics that kept me not sick but also not sane. I am the confinement building floor. You know this about the meat you eat but you put it out of your mind.

I am the sweet. I am sugar. I am corn syrup. You prefer to forget that I stood in regimented rows in tilled fields. I am the regiment. I am the tilled field you drove by on your way to lunch. You are unaware of the sweet oxygen my regiment pumps into the air for you to breathe. I am the oxygen. I am the air. You just pull me inside your body like a bellows and use me.

I am the sour. I am citric acid. I am created in giant factories, fermented from molds and treated with calcium hydroxide and sulfuric acid. I am the factory, the mold, the calcium, the sulfur. You do not understand the process that produces me. I am invisible. I am unknown. But you could see. You could know.

I am the water you drank at lunch. I am the ice in your glass. I am the ocean. I am the salt you sprinkled on your sweet and sour pork. I am the beach on the edge of the ocean that was melted into the glass that is the container you drank from. I am the sweat of the people who worked in the factory that made the glass. I am the rain and the snow that poured from the sky and became the liquid you take for granted. I am the particulate matter that was strained from the water to make it pure for you. You assume that the water, the glass, the process that made me—clear water, clear glass—will always be there for you.

I am the car that took you to your lunch today. I am the robots that repeatedly bent and stood and reached and welded and spun screws and performed manifold actions to create your vehicle. I am the sheets and masses of plastic and glass and steel and other metals that are stamped and molded and fastened together to create what you do not notice. You do not think of the woman in her thick leather apron and plastic safety visor who spends most of her daylight hours assembling the dashboard that will absorb the force of your body hitting it when your car is stopped suddenly in an accident. I am that woman. I am her leather apron. I am her safety visor. I am her children, two girls in grade school, for whom she assembles ten thousand dashboards so they can eat. You don’t think of these when you put your cell phone on the dash. I am the dashboard. I am the cell phone.

I am the grass you walked by between your car and the restaurant. I am the flowers and plants edging that grass. I am geranium. I am lavender. I am morning glory. I am marigold. I am the woman who mows the grass. I am the clippings of grass discarded and converting into nitrogen. I am the man who plants and tends the flowers. I am the lawnmower the woman guides. I am the trowel he wields. I am the knee pads they both wear so they can walk when they are not gardening. I am the garden. You notice the flowers or at least they are on the edge of your consciousness. The grass that bends under your feet is pliant. It does not scream under your weight. Or I should say I do not scream. You rule my existence.

I am the ground you stand on. I am the bedrock that holds up the building that is the restaurant. I am granite. I can open a million maws, ten million sinkholes, and swallow. I can quake your proud buildings into piles of riprap. I can vomit forth as molten lava and raze your houses. I can shove a thousand tsunamis down your puny throat. I can with my great mass, with gravity, pull in my siblings the asteroids and comets to rain down upon you and your works. I can do all of this and more to destroy you. I sometimes do but only in small doses. I can change those doses into colossal, enormous lessons. I can devour you. I can waste, vaporize, exterminate you.

I am earth. Remember.

I am earth.




VINCE GOTERA serves as Editor at the North American Review. He teaches creative writing and literature as an English professor at the University of Northern Iowa. Poetry collections include Dragonfly, Ghost Wars, Fighting Kite, and the upcoming Pacific Crossing. He blogs at The Man with the Blue Guitar.



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