Letter to America by Laura-Gray Street

Three Poems

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Dear America,

Of thee I sing, oh please—not
this way. All season spinning up
tangles of words, and look what
comes tearing through, bucking
and snorting. Tell me, my snarled
quarrels, where is this going? Raw
material for millions to make more
millions for a favored few while
more and more are gathering sub
-verse sotto voce further evidence
of a storm, an atmospheric system
of domestic—I almost wrote labor.
Maybe that’s because I was lulled
to the tune of a tornado. It trilled
the way my mother could whistle
arias (Tosca, Madame Butterfly,
La Traviata), conjuring opera
houses out of housework. But not
that day in a vernacular clapboard
two-over-two, no cellar, no wall
without windows. I’m the new-
born bundle pinched in her arms
as the twister hitches toward us
all furrowed, fluted, determined
to shake our sticky hands, kiss our
sour infants, cyclone-wire our
fields with likely scenarios. Such
open-throated testimony. As if
we listen to ourselves anymore.
As if we know how to stop it,
the baby who keeps on crying.



Dear America,

I declare a strike. I protest
the ravaged body lowered
in the coffin to join all
the other ravaged bodies
in the ground. I protest
bodies ravaged in the fields,
the mines, the factories, in
all the world’s minefields.
I protest the ravaged plains,
mountains, forests, seas. I
protest the ravages of time
in my own body, indignities
as yet only to my vanity,
trivial in light of these
other ravagings but still,
I must confess, deeply felt.
I protest the way I have
allowed myself to be woven
into the warp and weft of
history, bound by its threads
as tightly as insect prey in
a spider’s web, gagged,
immobilized by my own
lack of will. I will flail
limbs at each next venom
strike with all the impact
of a flicker on the radar,
a slub in the sheeting,
a fly in the ointment,
a wrench in the gears.



Dear America,

In a fever pitch the new
machines fabricate high-
paid waste, radiant choirs
humming ancient anger,
steeped and wide and miles
more beneath. I want to
quit with a heavenly smile.
I am swimming in my
own school of wildfire,
sponge baptisms of
righteous heat. I believe
in bacteria, the viscous
characters we meet
in thickets and byways.
Symptomatic faith crops
up like black-eyed peas
stewing in packed red
clay and cultivates such
eradicable wiregrass
headaches. I’m sunk
in oil spills, gas masks,
riot acts of worry. How
could I put this more
metaphorically? What use
reconnoitering our dark
waters until the wee hours
of the last rendering of
our puckered-up and
shuttered-factory ashes?
I’ve bagged my fair share
of infectious myth. Flame
makes a fast route from
A to B. I’ll revive old
songs my grandmother
sang when she walked
that bed of live coals on
a dare in her bare feet.




Laura-Gray StreetLaura-Gray Street is author of Pigment and Fume (Salmon Poetry) and Shift Work (forthcoming from Red Bird Chapbooks), and co-editor with Ann Fisher-Wirth of The Ecopoetry Anthology (Trinity University Press). She is associate professor of English and directs the Creative Writing Program at Randolph College in Lynchburg, Virginia. More at www.lauragraystreet.com.
Read poetry by Laura-Gray Street previously appearing in Terrain.org.

Header photo of sign by Falkenpath, courtesy Pixabay. Photo of Laura-Gray Street courtesy Laura-Gray Street.

Terrain.org is the world’s first online journal of place, publishing a rich mix of literature, artwork, case studies, and more since 1997.