29 May 2012

america by the front door {a poem}

It was 7:30 on a Monday morning, and I'd run 6 miles and walked the dog and then not gotten ready for work: it was Memorial Day, and so I was on the balcony drinking coffee and writing.

Memorial Day, and I was writing about the American flag without even realizing it. I mean, of course I knew what I was writing; I'm not one of those writers who can say, "The words just flowed with barely any input from me" and not feel like a fraud. I was aware that I was writing about the flag, but I was halfway through this poem before I thought: Oh, how significant for today, to write about America and the flag and such. Good job, patriotic self.

But here's the deal: the finished poem doesn't feel very patriotic, which is a funny thing for me, the girl who often cries at "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," to say.

You could very easily go all pretentious English major on this poem and start interpreting the symbolism—and then extrapolate it to how I feel about America now. You could so easily do that: No, really, try it.

What would be your most hoity-toity literary interpretation of this poem?

Here's how to go about this:
  • Pretend to be a literary critic. Or an English professor. Or hearken back to your college days and remember how deep you used to try to sound in literature class. {Don't deny it; we all thought we were deeper than we really were, and we tried to showcase it in interpretations of Wordsworth.}
  • Consider affecting a British accent in your review, which would be even more hilarious, given that I'm writing about America, and we long ago told them no, thank you. And by "told them," I mean, "fought a war with them as a way of telling them that we didn't want to eat Marmite and that while we're thankful for BBC miniseries, they can pretty much keep everything else."
  • Tell me how I feel about America. Or how you feel about America. Or whatever interpretation comes to mind. That's the point of literary interpretation, isn't it? That you can basically make it up as you go along?
  • Awards in the form of Internet high fives will be given for the most creative interpretation.

{And then I'll tell you what I think of this poem, should you be interested in hearing that.}

America by the Front Door

Who, upon moving, left that American flag flying by the front door?
Faded old glory now of orange, cream, and violet,
it is barely a reminder of what it once was.

The stitching unravels, each stripe
whipping dejectedly in the breeze,
so the flag waves like
a bleached-blonde woman wearing a too-tight tank top
wiggling her fingers as a goodbye
to a friend she's never liked: glittery jewelry clanking
as her fingers fly in false kindness.

The house sits empty now.
The grass a forest and
the bushes grown so unruly they must be hiding something:
A secret garden or an enchanted labyrinth, maybe.

Or the truth of this little decaying graying house,
once a strong defender against the Midwestern winter—
now wholly open with its gaping holes
and its missing living room window.

Someone once sat behind that window in a rocking chair
and watched the just-hung American flag,
a bold red, white, and blue,
whipping defiantly in the breeze.

And as she waved to a passing neighbor,
the thought never crossed her mind
that one day
the flag would fade and the house,
why, it would fall,
and there'd be nothing left but
the memory of what used to be—
once when the flag was flying by the front door.

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