Saturday, April 2, 2016

A Poem


One of those ideas from
The engines of progress and opportunity where
Kids come from the inner city and share
Their answers to a pre-selected prompt –
This one, though (I mean, its 2016)
Did seem to invite some spark,
  Some ember of the individual spirit:
“Tell us about U.S. foreign policy and how
  It has affected Latin America
    And many of the countries near it.”

Someone perhaps who actually knows
  Something about something was the one who chose
That particular prompt – and the kids, perhaps for this reason,
That we judges might know something about something too –
We did not.

It was just me and the other white suburban parents
  Wishing we had coffee.

  One of whom was the guy who very swiftly became
The resident historian and score-keeper and “captain of the judges”
The others were friendly people who were happy to let him –
Plus me, who writes --
  And also holds grudges.

The kids did their talk, most of them knew
  Something about something, a few
Knew rather more – like the one who
Placed the emphasis on the double “L” in Trujillo,
Rolling them into a “J,” and somehow one sensed this name's import
Was more, to her, than a history lesson but was a sort
Of family ghost, impressed
By private nightmares passed down
Out of the not very distant past – a sinister heirloom like
A mourning dress

  Or the one who spoke with authority about
The genocide in Guatemala.

  Then our resident historian, O captain our captain,
Applauded and waited
 His expression mild and pious
Then -- you know what he did? He marked them both down
   For what he called “anti-U.S. bias.”

Not that he disputed their facts, you see, he just thought
    They ought to give “both sides of the story”
Both sides, I guess, to genocide -- pro and con --
and try the keep the details
  Less gory.

And out of focus my mind flies so that
  The other judges and I become
  Copies of ourselves arranged in near duplicate, and we appear the kind
Of grinning white panels that have sat with just this posture
And just these dull minds,
Down through the ages
  Reviewing parole cases and the like
Marking one up for speaking about “freedom and democracy”
And another one down for speaking about – well –
  Freedom and democracy
"How nice to see clean-cut kids -- despite all those disadvantages --
  They still believe firmly in the solid principles that have grounded..."
And suddenly I can’t help but ask myself when did I
When did I
Become the one on this side of the bench and not the one
Being marked down for his speeches and his sloppy
Diction, when did I...

As to our captain's verdict, I do hope
 I said something then, in my sick of sin
I hope that I didn’t just flash an
Apologizing grin
  To the effect of “I wish I could have helped you kid,
    See? I'm not like them, if it was up to me,
  You’d win.
Please tell me I didn’t do that

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