On a railroad car in your America,
I made the acquaintance of a man
who sang a life-song with these lyrics:
"Do whatever you can/ to avoid
becoming a roofing man."
I think maybe you'd deem his tenor
elitist, or you'd hear him as falling
off working-class key. He sang
not from his heart but his pulsing
imagination, where every roof is
sloped like a spire and Sequoia tall.
Who would wish for themselves, another,
such a treacherous climb? In your America,
a clay-colored colt stomps, its hooves
cursing the barn's chronic lean.
In your America, blood pulses
within the fields, slow-poaching a mill saw's
buried flesh. In my America, my father
awakens again thankful that my face
is not the face returning his glare
from above eleven o'clock news
murder headlines. In his imagination,
the odds are just as convincing
that I would be posted on a corner
pushing powder instead of poems—
no reflection of him as a father nor me
as a son. We were merely born
in a city where the rues beyond our doors
were the streets that shanghaied souls.
To you, my America appears
distant, if even real at all. While you are
barely visible to me. Yet we continue
stealing glances at each other
from across the tattered hallways
of this overgrown house we call
a nation—every minute
a new wall erected, a bedroom added
beneath its leaking canopy of dreams.
We hear the dripping, we feel drafts
wrap cold fingers about our necks,
but neither you or I trust each other
to hold the ladder or to ascend.
About this poem:
"I took Amtrak from Washington, D.C. to Atlanta for my brother's wedding. I'd never travelled that far south by train. I saw a familiar but antiquated ruralness—another iteration of America. On the return, I grabbed a seat next to a group of Alabamians on their way to Jon Stewart's Rally to Restore Sanity. It seemed that, in the moment, there were so many different “Americas” colliding in the coach. While conversing about work over a dining car breakfast, one of the men, Mike Laus, offered a line about roofing someone had passed on to him. It struck me, and provided an entry point for musing on how little we see of, or believe in, each other's Americas."