After I heard It’s a Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall
played softly by an accordion quartet
through the ceiling speakers at the Springdale Shopping Mall,
then I understood: there’s nothing
we can’t pluck the stinger from,
nothing we can’t turn into a soft drink flavor or a t-shirt.
Even serenity can become something horrible
if you make a commercial about it
using smiling, white-haired people
quoting Thoreau to sell retirement homes
in the Everglades, where the swamp has been
drained and bulldozed into a nineteen hole golf course
with electrified alligator barriers.
You can’t keep beating yourself up, Billy
I heard the therapist say on television
to the teenage murderer,
About all those people you killed–
You just have to be the best person you can be,
one day at a time –
and everybody in the audience claps and weeps a little,
because the level of deep feeling has been touched,
and they want to believe that
that the power of Forgiveness is greater
than the power of Consequence, or History.
My father is a businessman who travels.
Each time he returns from one of his trips,
his shoes and trousers
are covered with blood –
but he never forgets to bring me a nice present;
Should I say something?
I used to think I was not part of this,
that I could mind my own business and get along,
but that was just another song
that had been taught to me since birth
whose words I was humming under my breath,
as I was walking thorough the Springdale Mall
“After Tuesday,” the pastor said this weekend, “God will still be God.”
And, after Tuesday, we will still be us, and America will still be America, for good or for ill.
And, after Tuesday, the planet will still spin. Life will go on.
Traveling abroad even briefly in the past two years, the conversation most people outside the US have wanted to have with us was our opinion about the election. And we quickly got tired of talking about it. Especially after going through the mail-in ballot so early in the process, we both have sort of pulled back from reading about politics, engaging about it on social media, etc., etc.. There just comes a limit, which we reached roughly about
six twelve months ago. It is all too easy for us as Westerners – and, perhaps as human beings – to retreat into endless self-preoccupation which limits our point of view. There’s a lot more happening in the world than the bloviating nonsense currently occupying the national stage.
This poem resonates because so many of us have felt that if we disengage and claim that, “it’s not my issue,” that going along to get along is good enough; that leaving well-enough alone is fine. But, we are all connected in so many ways; every act is connected, and we are not only involved, we are complicit. This is not to say that every act of living is guilty, but that we all ultimately hold some responsibility for each other. Giving a hand-up and paying the gift of what we have forward to our communities means getting involved on behalf of others. Speaking on behalf of those who aren’t heard is our privilege. If nothing else can be learned from this national conversation it is that listening to those who are not usually heard is just so much more important than speaking.
Whatever way the world shifts, at least this election season has taught us that.
After Tuesday, here’s hoping that perspective remains, and that all sides in this contretemps can agree to disagree, and to compete again without so much rancor, perhaps. If nothing else, may we remember that we are not opponents ordinarily, but community, with many of the same goals and beliefs, and the same hopes for our future.