Until now, now that I’ve reached my thirties:
All my Muse’s poetry has been harmless:
American and diplomatic: a learned helplessness
Is what psychologists call it: my docile, desired state.
I’ve been largely well-behaved and gracious.
I’ve learned the doctors learned of learned helplessness
By shocking dogs. Eventually we things give up.
Am I grateful to be here? Someone eventually asks
If I love this country. In between the helplessness,
The agents, the nation must administer
A bit of hope: must meet basic dietary needs:
Ensure by tube, by nose, by throat, by other
Orifice. Must fistbump a janitor. Must muss up
Some kid’s hair and let him loose
Around the Oval Office. click click could be cameras
Or the teeth of handcuffs closing to fix
The arms overhead. There must be a doctor on hand
To ensure the shoulders do not dislocate
And there must be Prince’s “Raspberry Beret.”
click click could be Morse code tapped out
Against a coffin wall to the neighboring coffin.
Outside my window, the snow lights cobalt
For a bit at dusk and I’m surprised
Every second of it. I had never seen the country
Like this. Somehow I can’t say yes. This is a beautiful country.
I have not cast my eyes over it before, that is,
In this direction, is how John Brown put it
When he was put on the scaffold.
I feel like I must muzzle myself,
I told my psychologist.
“So you feel dangerous?” she said.
“So you feel like a threat?”
Why was I so surprised to hear it?
Read more poems from the special “Oh Abuse” Feature in the Kenyon Review Jan/Feb 2016 issue, on sale now!