On Doing Good in America

If you are born poor it’s not your mistake, but if you die poor it’s your mistake.”- Bill Gates

 

We admire the philanthropist for “giving back”

and ignore what they first had to take away.

 

It is a sin to need help and a blessing to offer it;

there is profit in not asking too many questions:

 

How does one with no boots

pull himself up by his bootstraps?”

Why teach someone to fish

then deny them access to the lake?”

 

We are only 4.25% of global population, and yet

we own 28% of Covid-19 fatalities. But don’t worry,

 

our billionaires, dying to restart their factories,

donate to food banks so the underpaid don’t starve.

 

But we do not weep for the hungry—this is America!

We are each one sixty-hour workweek away

 

from striking it rich. We refuse to quarantine our dreams;

If 200,000 perish, that’s the price of freedom.

 

Someday we’ll erect an immaculate monument

to those who died for the good of the economy.

 

Helium

 

His Momma died 18 months ago. For Mother’s Day,

he bought one of those shiny Mylar helium balloons

and some Carnations. It wasn’t easy to do, between shifts

at work and wearing a mask to the store—it’s dangerous

for a Black man to protect himself against a virus—

but he wanted to honor the woman who,

in spite of the odds, had kept him alive.

 

He tied the balloon to a vase on the kitchen table

where they used to listen to music and cook dinner.

When the store clerk was filling it, he

stifled a laugh-turned-cry, remembering that birthday

when she got him 20 balloons and one-by-one

they inhaled the noble gas,

nearly dying of laughter at their squeaky voices.

 

Leaving for the final time, he caught his reflection

in the Mylar. Hours later, dying beneath a cop’s knee,

he called out for Momma.

The last thing he saw was the joy in her eyes.

 

Back home the flowers have wilted and the balloon,

twisting slowly in the now-stale air,

sinks lower and lower to the ground.

 

in memory of George Floyd

 

The Beauty of Bipolar Depression

 

Too musically disinclined to rap or sing the blues,

too bound up in striving to retire

to the vase of my bed like an ersatz flower

(not even 300mg of Seroquel

can reduce me to mere ornamentation),

I instead write this poem,

which few will read.

 

You may wonder if it matters

that you read this, but

I’m not one to lavish much on myself:

For whom else would I obsess

over this comma, that

enjambment?

To survive this world’s lush, radiant, burlesque

suffering,

It’s best that you understand

why I will never self-immolate, never

give what’s broken in me or the world

the satisfaction of my surrender.

 

Peel back my eyes

and touch the still-healing wound

oozing cerebral fluid from the Big Bang.

It’s in this blind space of raw pain

I often dwell. Here everything is reduced

to elements, genes, math, poetry. Here

my life to date plays on an endless loop like

propaganda. And here originate the florid

manifestations of myself: the video gamer

and the coder, the lucid dreamer

and the psychoanalyst.

 

If you could join me here,

you would understand how I’ve endured.

 

You would find immortality in anguish.

 

Election Day

“Power is not what you have but what the enemy thinks you have.” – Saul Alinsky

 

Elections have consequences.

So say the victors to justify

their ends and means.

 

Perhaps the American Dream

is to live without consequence:

no mistakes, only cheapness

 

we are free to later discard.

Why deliberate honestly?

Abundance is our temptation,

 

prosperity the lie we tell to

expiate our original sin.

Elections have consequences.

 

Had Lincoln lost, how many

would we still count as slaves?

 

Who voted for mass incarceration,

child detention, soaring inequality?

 

In America anything is possible.

A Black president. Rags-to-riches.

Our poets, scientists, entrepreneurs

 

have proven their greatness—

the full flower of individualism—

Yet something blights the soil.

 

We are good people but not a
Good People. We welcome the Iraqi

refugee, ignore the crime that made him one.

 

Who voted for the War on Terror?

Who paid for the lies that launched it?

 

How much is too much to spend on

defense? On political ads?

 

Alinsky argued that what matters

is a particular means for a particular

end. Democracy not in the abstract

 

but in the flesh, the messy world

of action and reaction. I’m ready to commit

murder at the ballot box. I hope it’s not

 

too late to stop the carnage. America

forgives itself so easily, as though

we weren’t forgiving but forgetting.

 

If we knew the difference between

poll numbers and corpses, budgets

and starvation, we might have avoided

 

this moment. A pandemic. A fraud.

I cast my vote uncertain it will count.

That is, be counted. That is, matter.

 

When my blood is on the ballot,

there is only one outcome I can accept.

Elections have consequences.

 

Andy Posner

Andy Posner grew up in Los Angeles and earned an MA in Environmental Studies at Brown. While there, he founded Capital Good Fund, a nonprofit that provides financial services to low-income families. When not working, he enjoys reading, writing, watching documentaries, and ranting about the state of the world. He has had his poetry published in several journals, including Burningword Literary Journal (which nominated his poem ‘The Machinery of the State’ for the Pushcart Poetry Prize), Noble/Gas Quarterly, and The Esthetic Apostle.

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