A POEM FOR PATRIOTS
Brand new shiny unopened bottle
The squeak of the ironing board in the next room,
On TV between shots of suicide-bomber carnage
In post-9/11America, the word "patriot" has gone through a curious sort of renaissance, achieving a new popularity and currency, albeit with very ambiguous definitions. You can be for the war in Iraq and for America and be a patriot, or you can be against the war and for America and still be a patriot. As an expatriate American living in Europe for the last 22 years, I'm neither for the war nor "for" America, but I can still muster up patriotic feelings when reading Kerouac, Dos Passos, Whitman, or listening to blues and jazz, or watching old Humphrey Bogart films, etc. And when I hear Europeans bad-mouthing America by way of a lot of poorly informed generalizations and biases, it certainly seems to bump up against some kind of patriotic "pride" which still dwells somewhere inside me.
During a recent late-night channel-zapping session I saw part of a documentary about the Mississippi River, which showed how the lotus plant grows in the various swamps and bayous along the river. I had always thought that the lotus was indigenous only to Asia. I'm also well aware of its use as a symbol for enlightenment in Buddhism and Asian philosophy. So when I saw all those lotuses blooming there along the Mississippi, I saw it as a sort of metaphor for the possibility for Americans to transcend both the limitations of language as well the glut of imagery constantly being projected by the media, and to perhaps even attain some kind of enlightenment. It's a political poem based on idealism, all in a very positive sense.