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America First

in Identity by

If US was LGBTQ

If US was LGBTQ they would spend large portions of this life hiding
who they were for in America the only person who seemed safe
at just about any time was the naturally straight white male.
Naturally US would dance behind club doors. They would kiss
and admire. US would write poems about longing and long
waits to be seen by the mainstream. US would teach college
courses in Drama. They would work in the Mouth of Wilson
Safeway with their partner and bag groceries. US would one
day became a parent as more and more people came to appreciate
that Jesus did not discriminate. Though there would be many still
that would continue to do so; lips are lips, hands are hands, nipples
are nipples. The fallacy if US was an LGBTQ person and thus
a threat to democracy or a moral high road or the laws of decency
held as much water as air held lemonade or Eve a lotus flower.

If US was LGBTQ they would still daily remember the confusion
thrust upon that body by parents and the circle while becoming
a teenager: girls were toys, sex was cool, boys were dumb, and no
place in God and Man’s world existed for homos except
San Francisco. Bi’s who read, queers who empathized, transmen
who dressed well and talked of art, cowboys, dyke cruisers,
financiers and technology officers. Laborers. If US
was LGBTQ US would march in the parades, would
believe US when reciting that “It gets better.” Yes US
had had that red big heart broken more than once like almost
everybody else out there. And like almost everybody else
out US would serve and sometimes die for this kind of America,
pay taxes, do whatever it took to not swindle people regardless
of race, agency, orientation, etc., lead by example (a true believer
in “Well done is better than well said.”), and enjoy having money
yes but also enjoy the struggle when coin was scarce.

If US was forced to choose between conversion therapy
and jail US would choose instead to work within the system
and go to court. US recited summary explanations invoking
human history, rewritings of religion, each word of Fear of
a Black Planet and the world as it is now. US would know
evolution as a deep pride. US would know that Pulse still sadly
happens. If US was LGBTQ and removed cloak & hat, US
would sit at tables without shame, with you, and you, and you.

If America was Black

If America was black it would have to ask for permissions:
to piss, to enter buildings, loving by its choice.
And if America was black it would never drive Florida
roads after dark in the Volvo. No, America would ask
friends to drive instead cuz the police would not shine
too well off blacks, nor would other insufferable swamp creatures.

If America was black and living in the South it would
understand both righteous fear and furious anger
simultaneously; cuz America’s life could end any moment –
Skittles, loud music, walking, sickness, desirability –
for any reason seen fit by the systemic racist and
unwritten policy. Gospel, sadly, a permeable sanctuary.

Opportunities. Yeah they didn’t come round often.
And when they did there was America asking proudly
for a turn, a chance. But America was black and more
often than always the doors that opened to America
led to a cell or a job no one would be glad in having.
And what America had to do for those few dollars
a day created entitlements for quashers pushing levers,
crackers whip whipping, pale stingers of loss.

America’s life could end any moment – Skittles, loud music, walking, sickness, desirability

If America was black it would celebrate its culture
in the public spaces a country provided citizens.
And though America thought itself free…Man
the sad little truth rested always around its neck,
close to its jugular, its sacrifice. America could feel
the weight of the past; thousands of men, women,
and children strung like popcorn or tree lights
struggling against the palsy of the white race
holding America and its kin responsible for blackface,
actors stealing white women, molesting them at will.
For refusing to remain anything but equal and solid.
America fell slave before tripe and confusion, before
dark, dark stars answering only soft inquiry
from a planted fourth estate: America was black
and never, never lost sight of its back.

If my Country was a steel worker

A long time ago my Country could be a steel worker. She would earn enough. My Country and its family would not want for food, shelter, or medicine. If my Country was a steel worker, overtime and overtime pay would be bounteous. Down time – the winnowing down of actual time – would be the folklore of alarmist liberals & myopic conservatives. My Country would be bulletproof. Until it wasn’t. Competition had a way of penetrating the most tin-hearted of protectionisms.

Chinese steel would come though and bare all before those who build. And those who build would create more robust opportunities for themselves only while those in their charge would dig deeper; maxing out credit cards, struggling with 2-3 jobs, giving their children and spouses the options of being given away or beaten. American steel would eventually return in tiny scattered bursts only. Steel industry had relocated and local erections settled in with an admittedly inferior product.

Even my Country had to laugh about what great once was, and what my Country once used to be.

And while the cost was alluring and the homeland easily distracted by, and addicted to, meme and vitriol the outcry – the tiny whisper of protest – would be largely ignored. And my Country, frightened of fire, scared of getting lost in holes, of coming face to face with timid rabbits, would acquiesce. Time and punch card and score clock and OSHA violation and lost time accident and repetition and steel-toed boot and a hell of a lot of smelt became my Country.

Until it no longer did. Girders and bolts and I-beams and rivets would disappear. Retraining programs would get cut. Benefits would get cut. And the jobs would fly away like an American pipe dream. Even my Country had to laugh about what great once was, and what my Country once used to be.

If Home was Asian

Morning at the camp, a cup of tea in hand, waiting in line
for a vaccination shot. Vaccination? For not being Von
Trapp white, trying to subvert this country from within,
assiduously focused, working, succeeding in the cat-waving
rigged public educational systems, raising a concomitant
family. If Home was Asian and got the shot it was less

factual vaccine and more placebo power demonstration
by a vanishing and increasingly vanquished working
class beast of burden. The Asian riots and lynchings and
distortions faded to tacit and just a little bit racist affairs.
If Home was Asian it would be no longer thought only
of as exotic sex candy, a musical toy, or launderer

or grocer. Home complied with the rules for it knew
that fear and resentment, once fanned, inflamed yellow
and red, destroyed lineage and upward mobility. Home
and debt. Home and gambling. Home and diet. Home
understood vice and massaged both Asian and White,
both Black and Mexican, each race overly susceptible

to trappings of illusory thrill. Addiction to be
exploited and milked and teased out and nurtured
and for this perhaps more camps would be established.
White culture left to its own devices needed stones
upon which to step, needed goats to scape, thrived
upon any deviled truth having little to do with light.

If Home was Asian and got the shot it was less factual vaccine and more placebo power demonstration

If Home was Asian it would conflate its own worth
so that it would be more competitive. Home devalued
its soul and mass produced its many vituperative
cookies. In this way color metaphorically faded,
washed out, and Home would be as all others were
seen: blood, bones, and calloused hands like caked soil.

If America worked for minimum wage

For America the only jobs available paid just a minimum
wage, meaning minimum dignity, minimum food
and minimum living. America washed dishes and pasta
salad tins and leafy green bins. He was not seen ever
by diners. He said very little while at work for fear
of losing his job or fear of making a fool of himself
or the family name. If America did not support the house
or his cousin’s feet or his mother’s tears or the family
dog-pound euthanasia campaigns he may very well
have been afforded the luxury of dining at his Soup
Plantation, of having choices and variety and endless
plates of nothing but unanswered questions. But he
worked as a dishwasher and could just afford floss
and toothpaste and children’s mittens. When America
worked a minimum wage job working 40-plus hours
a week he regularly returned home with wet and
soiled clothes. His feet hurt. His matted hair smelled
of solvents and vegetable wax. But because he could
not verify the presence of either soil or wax America
was compelled to recuse himself from reporting
on the presence of either for fear of losing his lowly,
low paying job. America almost marched once during
one of the local Fight for $15 campaigns but lost
the nerve, lost his verve after he swerved to avoid
hitting Napoleon or all of the cart-horses or another
damn vicious dog-eared reporter reporting again
on how a near-aborted country can resist; can be reborn.

 


Sean J Mahoney works in geophysics. Sean helped create to the Disability Literature Consortium (www.dislitconsortium.wordpress.com), which made its physical debut at AWP16 in Los Angeles. He co-edited the 3 existing volumes of the MS benefit anthology Something On Our Minds, and works as an assistant editor for Wordgathering.com. His work has been published in Occupoetry, Breath & Shadow, Nine Mile Magazine, OTV Magazine, Catamaran Literary Reader, Your Impossible Voice, and the Antithesis Journal, among others.

Original artwork by Joseph M. Gerace.

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