Letter to America

By John P. O'Grady

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Dear America,

This is crazy, this basket of suicide notes, these old shoeboxes crammed with losing lottery tickets, those pews out there full of worshippers speaking in tongue-twisters. And what about the rumored war in Bentonville, Arkansas going on between partisans of Baudelaire and Rimbaud, so much unmeasured shouting, come on, we each deserve a poetry prize. Where is Rod McKuen when we need him? I don’t even know what’s happening at Naropa anymore. I used to write my rent checks out to Allen Ginsberg, but things change and now I’ve got a cheap off-season rental out here in Cimmerian Acres between the sea and a lake, better than Florida and maybe even Canada, but there’s no keeping up with the dust bunnies in this place, so many rooms, and good help is too scared to find, so I just gaze out the big window all day long at groves of perishing hemlocks and—look!—the oaks are suddenly dying too. I could just crawl into a nest of weeds right now and never come back out. Making things worse, they’re out of Roundup down at Home Depot. The cemetery caretaker was spraying loads of it around the other day, maybe he’s got some extra I can have. One time he showed me the grave of F.O. Matthiessen, who wrote a great big famous book about American writers—had you forgotten?—but soon after that he was made sad in the way you often make sad your very best, and in 1950 he jumped out a 12th floor window of a Boston hotel, long since demolished and replaced by the Tip O’Neill Federal Building. None of us has it easy these days. Did I tell you—I think I did—about how, when I was a kid, I wanted to grow up to be a toll collector on the turnpike? It seemed like a great way to keep in touch with everything you’re up to—and I’m the kind of guy ancient RV captains love to unload on—Americans are always driving somewhere and stuff is continually happening to them, they get so worked up and they come back with outlandish stories and ideas and need someone to share them with, the toll collector being an ideal audience more captive than a bartender, only there’s less time for token affectation, and pithiness is next to so much godawfulness. But all this is now moot. They’re getting rid of toll collectors, tearing down their booths, and replacing everything with something called “electronic tolling,” just for you, to speed things up and put those toll collectors out to work at real jobs like piloting drones from inside a bunker in Nevada or delivering packages. These days turnpike drivers speed along through soon-forgotten toll booth sites, pinging and being pinged, bills delivered instantly to clever phones or maybe just taken out of one’s credit rating because the same private vendor handles all these transactions for you and us the people. The Catholic Church has contracted with them too, electronic expiation coming soon to confessionals everywhere, but don’t worry about penance, there’s an app for that too, it even works for Buddhists. Anyway, America, apart from certain deplorable things happening all around us, I’m doing great. I hope you are too. No need to write back. I know how occupied you are these days.





John P. O'GradyJohn P. O’Grady is the author of Pilgrims to the Wild and Grave Goods: Essays of a Peculiar Nature. His blog, Land in the Sky, can be found at the Mountain Gazette. He serves on the faculty at the University of Alaska Anchorage’s MFA in Creative Writing. Prizes elude him.

Header photo by John P. O’Grady.



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