The American Journal of Poetry
"Strong Rx Medicine"®

 

Pamela Sutton

"Big Tree, USA"

(Fox Network typo for“bigotry in the USA”)
 
“Cherish your fantasy! . . . Don't let the Freudians coax it away
or the Pharmacists poison it out of you. Hold it dear, for when
you lose it “ you begin to cease to be.”
                                         --“Dr. Hilarious” (from Thomas
                                         Pynchon's The Crying of Lot 49
 


The sky is blue and blousey
but there are no ladders.
Delois! I am still falling and you are still buried. Sometimes
I wish you had taken me with you.
Sometimes I wish I could leave you alone.
I’ll bet you wish the same thing.
So, Delois: here’s my latest report:
This morning’s black, tropic thunder blasts
its heavy artillery through low clouds
baptizing my forehead.

What is the lightning planting?

Right now an un-manned drone shreds children like classified documents.
And now a 19-year-old Marine steps on an IED.

You were smart to die when you did, Delois.
Lightning rakes the true face of America.
It is monstrous. It is Grendel.
Rich and I met for dinner in Orlando.
We still miss you.
Rich takes 50 mg of Prozac; I take 60
of the North American sacrament.
It numbs us to the taste of muddy, third-world,
feces water and blinds us to the children drinking it right now.

I wonder why I’m still talking to you and if
you can hear me in your heaven.
Is heaven segregated? I didn’t think so.
Say hello to Michael Jackson for me.

I wish you had lived to see the first half-Black President get elected.
For 24 hours the nation quaked ecstatic. Everything went Pentecostal:
For one brief day America was possessed with the Holy Spirit:
trembling, weeping, babbling in tongues only the dead could hear.
Did you hear me, Delois?
Did--You--Hear--Me?

Can you hear me now?
And can you hear the hate miners
drilling in the secret dark? Can you hear them harvesting
that vein of racist, Silurian coal? America has discovered
its endless supply of energy.

Delois, I thought the Civil War was over, but I think it’s just getting started.

I speak to you, Delois, because I want to know what the dead are thinking.
I’ve heard what the living have to say and it is always: god and war and
god and war and god and war and god.

Delois I speak to this storm and hope your ears are the round
grapewood leaves flapping, catching my voice, singing it back to me, translated.
How I wish I’d stopped dead in the street at 6th & Pine
and given you a full hug on your way into Lippincott.
But it wouldn’t have been professional. I pretended not to see you.
And that was the last time I ever saw you.
You gave me a good job and a good life for as long as possible.
You’re the only one who ever did.

9/11 destroyed our company--the oldest publishing house in America: 1792.
We published To Kill a Mockingbird and Pynchon’s The Crying
of Lot 49. Dr. Hilarious was right: “cherish your fantasy! . . . don’t let the Freudians
coax it away or the pharmacists poison it out of you.”


Do you laugh at the jokes I tell only you when I’m alone? --
which is always now. No one notices that I am falling; or hears the wind
my harrowing scream. They are blind to my flailing arms grappling at sky.
They’re all just walking around like everything’s normal.
No one smells the acrid smoke billowing from my lips
or sees that I am on fire. No one reaches out to catch me.

Delois: It’s springtime in Philadelphia.
Cherry blossoms and snow rush
to the cobbled streets. Twenty years ago, kicking up those petals
I felt anointed and certain that life would be good no matter what,
no matter where I worked, just walking through petals washing
the round stone paths of glory.

But the mockingbirds, Delois, the mockingbirds:
they’re being slaughtered in Biblical numbers.

Women and children are being raped and starved right now
in this poem in Darfur;
We are still at war with Afghanistan.
Something is rotten in the state of Denmark now. It is monstrous,
it is Grendel X-treme and Supersize Grendel and Grendel multiplying
according to Moore’s Law: every 18 months the microchip shrinks, and
Grendel grows.

I watched your son and mother carry away
a cardboard box of your office things.
9/11 killed us all in a way:
Sarah FitzHugh jumped off the Ben Franklin Bridge;
Rich started drinking;
I began listening to mockingbirds;
then I started talking back.
Now I am speaking to you:
to the Black, wise, dead who know what I could never have imagined.
And when I’m not speaking to you I am silent
and listening:

A mockingbird trills on the telephone wire above my rented yard.
His tiny throat bulges with the fierce urgency of now.
Maybe his song is pure language and ours the bad mimicry of
“ancient scar, ancient scar, ancient scar. . . .”
which we can only hear as “god and war;
god and war; god and war.”

He might be warning of Apocalypse, now:
telling me what to pack, where to hide;
what kind of batteries, how many.

But all I hear is your voice -- the deafening ocean of the universe.
And all I see is the Earth flying up fanning my business suit into flames.

 

 

 

PAMELA SUTTON's poetry was chosen by Robert Pinsky to appear in Scribner's 25th Anniversary Edition of BAP:  The Best of the Best American Poetry, 2013.  Her poetry was chosen by David Wagoner to appear in BAP 2009; and by Rita Dove for BAP 2000.  Sutton's first book of poetry, Pocket Gospel was published by Sheep Meadow Press, 2012.   Her second book-length ms. of poetry, Burning My Birth Certificate, was a finalist in several national contests.  The first chapter of her novel, Tamer of Horses, won First Place and was published by Glimmer Train Press, 2010.   Sutton was nominated by her students for the Charles Ludwig Teacher-of-the-Year Award at the University of Pennsylvania, where she taught Critical Writing and Creative Writing from 1993 through 2009, while also working as a Medical and Math Editor.   She worked as Associate Editor for The American Poetry Review from 1989--1993; then, Contributing Editor from 1993--2014.  She holds an MS in Journalism from Northwestern University, and an MFA from Boston University where she was awarded the George Starbuck full scholarship-fellowship.

 

 

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