The American Journal of Poetry
"Strong Rx Medicine"®


Steven Cramer

American Freedom


The poet gets a call from American Freedom.

He doesn’t pick up.  He’d been reading a thriller

in which the timing device requires a code

spelled B-A-B-Y.  Punch it in, you survive.


He writes an email quoting Naomi Klein—

“for the men who rule this world, rules
are for other people”—stashes it in Drafts

to save for second thoughts.  So what’s


running the gamut in the poet’s memory?

A neighbor he saw spurt out his front door,

his face gone redder than the bloodier

verses in the Bible; then a man he watched


pray to a singing bowl struck with a mallet,

tones so lovely he considered praying too.

When the obits of seventeen students grin

from The Times and The Globe, for a day or two


poetry feels shifty, a stump speech.  “Never

write a poem about anything that needs a poem

about it,” wrote Richard Hugo. Dick, he thinks,

times change.  Meanwhile, the hawthorn


in his yard extends its sickly limbs, thick

as Doric columns, over Bedford’s thoroughfare 

to and from school.  For the sake of the kids

who scuffle by, it’s got to be cut down.




STEVEN CRAMER is the author of The Eye that Desires to Look Upward (1987), The World Book (1992), Dialogue for the Left and Right Hand (1997), Goodbye to the Orchard (2004)—winner the Sheila Motton Award from the New England Poetry Club and an Honor Book in Poetry from the Massachusetts Center for the Book—and Clangings (2012). His poems have appeared in numerous journals, including AGNI, The Atlantic Monthly, Field, The Kenyon Review, The Nation, The New England Review, The Paris Review, and Poetry. Recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, and two fellowships from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, he founded and teaches in the Low-Residency MFA Program in Creative Writing at Lesley University.


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