Saturday, April 9, 2016

New England Rituals

New England towns still carry out their little rituals, still
March and fife their martial airs
Unbeknownst to the rest of the us (not because they're secret but because -- you know,
 who cares?) –
in this respect they are like
The Quebecois, Acadians, and the Confederátes --
In ways that I will presently enumerate.

To join one by accident—a displaced non-native
At the age of 26 –
is suddenly to enter a pageant of one’s grade school history books
Where familiar lines (“The shot heard round the world!”) take on a different hue
Like a child’s toy seen silhouetted at night
  so that it gives a kind of grue.

--Who? -- The redcoats, you know, they marched single-file –
And the minutemen plastered them from bushes
And made of them a pile
One heard it as a child,
And back then, you thought, Great!
That’s what they get, I guess, the Brits
For marching like that, like twits!
Except now, when you are old enough
To fear bushes and muzzles yourself,
This business of firing from behind some stick
Seems rather a dirty trick--

They say they gathered before sunrise
And had themselves a hearty meal
And said “This may be a cold breakfast for us
But we’ll give the red-coats a hot dinner!”
Whether that’s because the red coats would be roasting in hell, thus hot
Or because of all the molten lead and searing cannon shot
That would soon be entering their punctured flesh, I know not
But it remains
All the same
A rather chilling thought!
And suddenly one remembers (oh right!)
  that that’s what the minutemen were there for
To ensure that red coats didn’t have dinner again or
  see the people that they cared for
And this was all a good idea because of –
I have long since forgotten
Something about death and taxes, right?
Or stamps.
Or, most likely, cotton.
Anyways, you march with them then, down on past the green
Onto some sainted common, or
Some immemorial stream
  (there's probably an Ode about it somewhere)
And then they hoist some reminder of
The rebellious colonial spirit
And then the red coats come and do
A little sardonic slapstick.
This is the part you actually like, the one
Time when you don’t have to fake it
When the Brits ask us how all the independence is going
“No problems here, I take it?”

And then the people heckle them—but it's all, you know, in good fun –
Except… for the guys who really seem to get into it
And make our chuckles all a bit more strained
When they yell “Red coats go home!”
Not once, when it was funny
But so many times more

And then they yell it yet again – you thought
They were finally done!
But no, still they say “Red-coats go home,” and they actually
Start to sound unhinged
And as you stand there your wholesome American smiling
Becomes more and more of a cringe.
Oy! They’re still at it!

And finally the mock “red-coats” leave
And you remember why this type of thing,
Makes you want to heave.

Has there ever been a people
That trumpeted their own freedom from “tyranny” so loudly
And yet expressed such an unrepentant loathing and contempt for the weak?
Has any other nation
Made such a monstrous idol of its martyrs
And in fact sacrificed so little?
You know --

I can think of someone,
Who actually had some tough times to weather.
It was the New England Tory you strung up
Or the one you tarred and feathered.

Sometimes I still rummage around
In the darkened corners of my mind
To see if there’s some kernel of patriotism
Lingering there to find

And the best I can do is to notice
That America’s shame is mine
Her embarrassments belong to me as do,
Even more so,
Her crimes.

The same way you didn’t realize you were in pain until
You feel the flood of relief--
Or didn’t know you liked someone
Until you are stunned by grief

So too the sense of ache and absence I get
From my lack of American pride
Is the only thing that reminds me
I'm still a patriot

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