Poetry

April 10, 2018 Poetry , POETRY / FICTION

carlo cravero photo

 

By

Gary Beck

 

 

 

My Country

 

 

My Grandparents came to America,

immigrants

fleeing danger and poverty

in chaotic Russia,

seeking a better life

in the fabled New World

that promised a future.

 

They left oppression behind,

as well as family members

too frightened to risk

a perilous journey,

later swallowed up

in the violent strife

of the Russian Civil War.

 

They managed to survive

in the new alien land,

but did not thrive,

bewildered by strange customs,

foreign language, rapid pace

of a modernizing country,

not like where they came from

barely out of the Middle Ages.

 

But their children went forth

young Americans

full of vitality,

hungry for opportunity

denied their parents.

And the offspring of peasants

got education, good jobs,

married, had children,

contributed to the growth of a nation.

 

When America entered World War II

cousins, uncles, joined the armed forces,

never questioning who was right,

answering the call

to defend their country,

willing to shed their blood

to thwart the threat

to the way of life

in the land that nurtured them.

 

The destructive war

ended with nuclear explosions

ushering in the atomic age.

And the soldiers returned from service

in Europe, Asia, other climes,

to a country become mighty

with a powerful army

that rushed back to civilian life,

while the huge economy

dominated the world.

 

The children of warriors

got higher education

than their patriotic parents,

while living in the shadow

of the Cold War

between East and West,

the Soviet Union the enemy

supported by captured countries,

opposed by America

and dependent nations,

culturally connected

by democratic ties.

 

The youngsters who grew up

with the threat of nuclear war,

taught to huddle under school desks

psychotically protected

by mutually assured destruction,

the theoretical deterrent

of annihilation,

continued social stress

that has accelerated

since the Industrial Revolution

made increased demands on humans,

unprepared by evolution

for rapid change.

 

Swift scientific advances,

byproducts of a creative war

demanded a higher level of functioning

then previously required

of the offspring of democracy,

and they bettered their lives

joining the middle-class.

acquiring luxuries

never possible before

for so many.

 

The children of prosperity

sated with abundance

regarded the way of the world

more judgmentally

then their comfortable parents,

and questioned the myths

of peace-loving America’s

foreign policy and exploitation

of third world countries,

other issues of the times.

 

And the best and brightest

went to foreign countries

lured by the glamour of the Peace Corps,

far more appealing

then serving the needy at home.

Yet enough stayed behind

to fight for civil rights

for an oppressed minority,

and again my kin joined the cause.

 

After the noble struggle for equality,

a simple case of right versus wrong

in idealistic America,

moral rectitude was suborned

by self-serving exploiters

who brain-washed a generation

with a mindless catechism

‘turn on, tune in, drop out’.

 

Dancing to the hypnotic tunes

of frenetic pipers,

the children of rebellion

opted to make love, not war,

and protested the assault

on the people of Vietnam.

Yet most of them never knew

where Vietnam actually was

and why American invaders

were slaughtering innocent peasants.

 

And the gap widened

between parents of stability

and children of indulgence,

whose liberal arts education

had not prepared them

for the capitalist reality

that ruled the world.

Yet most of them returned

to the system they protested,

succumbing to material comforts.

 

And the nation of dreams

began to fracture.

Illegal aliens

swarmed across our borders

seeking a better life,

as countless seekers before them,

yet they were unwelcome,

formed isolated communities

working under the radar,

always fearing deportation.

 

And the nation of assimilation

no longer assimilated.

Ethnic groups

formed ethnic communities

and no longer learned English,

even stores and street signs

were no longer in English.

They lived in a sheltering country,

but didn’t become Americans.

 

The children of the Information Age

are electronically social,

but less connected.

And inequality flourished

as capital accrued more overtly

then ever before

to the prospering few,

while many lacked jobs, homes,

and the democratic promise

eroded in economic contractions.

 

The children of the paperless age,

besieged with paper,

only know confusion,

and discovered the war on terror

on 9/11,

yet still do not understand

there are no innocents,

only enemies of radical islam,

who despise the sinful West

and it’s venal ways,

especially the Great Satan.

 

Our armies invaded the Mid-East

easily defeating an inferior foe,

smashing the infrastructure of a country,

replacing flawed stability

with chaos and civil war,

our gift of democracy

to a tyrannized people.

At home the middle class dwindled,

the working poor struggled to subsist

and homelessness spread across

America the beautiful

 

Then our well-traveled, well-equipped armies

invaded another Mid-East country,

pledging to build democracy,

targeting radical islamists,

But again we brought chaos

and civil war.

The people of the Mid-East

do not want the American dream

that allows wanton women

to walk the streets half naked,

while demanding equal rights with men.

 

From inception,

my righteous country

stole land, killed neighbors,

until the territory was controlled

from sea to shining sea.

Then we started stealing

from foreign countries

and forged an empire,

even though no one used the word,

and we began to dominate

the rest of the world,

mostly with dollars,

sometimes with armies.

 

The seas are no longer shining,

filled with more plastic than fish.

We strew more waste

on the exhausted land

than can ever be absorbed.

We poison the water, the air

and only the rich and powerful

have the means,

though not the will,

to try to halt

the slide to disaster.

 

My country is in great peril

envied and hated abroad,

divided and conflicted at home,

and the wealthy do not care

that they are compelled to share

our eroding nation

with the poor, homeless, illegals,

and all those who still hope

for a future for their children.

The short sighted custodians of power

must think they’ll escape to another land

when they wear out this one.

 

 

 

 

 

A Mighty Sway

 

 

When the Dutch landed

in the new world

and settled New Amsterdam

no one could imagine

four hundred years later

a great city,

sheltering millions,

more diverse

than any place on earth,

where most live in safety,

most have basic comforts,

while great wealth resides

just a few miles

from great poverty,

yet crime does not outweigh

good deeds, public service.

 

Various scholars

offer explanations

of this wondrous creation,

whose enterprising citizens

built marvels,

dazzling mankind

with the biggest, bestest,

the tallest,

one after the other,

still with the mostest,

finally bowing

to other nations

who put up the tallest.

 

And as our resources diminish

our people become fatter

less able to run from danger,

while our legions

spread across the earth

no longer compel fear

in our many enemies,

alienating our friends

with wavering policies

impoverishing our people,

resources strained

by imperial overreach,

 

the loss of will

to inflict our will

on others,

halts our expansion

leaving only contraction.

 

So another empire

that dominated the world

lost the means

to control the future.

Its brief reign,

shorter then any other great empire,

is quickly receding,

greatly facilitated

by the lords of profit

who in their greed

sent jobs and capital abroad,

disowning the working class,

erasing the middle class,

until all that remains

are haves, have nots

and the fearful,

not yet reconciled

to the loss of tomorrow.

 

 

 

 

 

Hard Times

 

 

On city streets where homeless sit,

row on row, a growing horde

beseeching passersby

with cardboard signs

proclaiming need.

And as winter grows colder

the abandoned men grow older,

weakening in the daily grind

to survive, endure,

without purpose, plan,

so far removed from privilege

that only unreasonable hope

prevents suicide

of a life already lost

in the unheeding world.

 

 

 

 

 

Non-Sentimental Education

 

 

My father’s profession

was cutting furs.

His fellow workers

wanted a larger share

of the soaring profits

enriching the bosses,

so their union negotiated

for a fair deal.

 

The bosses wouldn’t compromise

and the union called a strike.

I walked the picket line,

a nine year old supporting the workers

against their greedy masters.

The riot police responded

on foot and horseback

and I was clubbed unconscious,

my first government contact.

 

My family bought a house

attached to another house

but still splendid to me

with my own room,

after living on other people’s couches.

 

I went to a new school,

where a pack of bullies

tormented the helpless,

and the teachers never noticed,

fringe benefits

of the school system.

 

The bosses crushed the union

and my father lost his job.

We lost our house

and moved to a shabby apartment

in a nice neighborhood

that at night was gang infested.

The respectable citizens

seemed completely unaware

of the polluting offenders.

The police didn’t seem to care.

 

It felt like liberation

when I finally got to high school

but the heady taste of freedom

didn’t last very long.

The teachers weren’t better

than the uninspiring coven

in grade school.

The subject matter,

except for math and science

not my strong points,

only slightly more advanced.

 

I quickly discovered

the nature of the system

that oriented some students

to middle-class careers,

doctors, lawyers, engineers.

Others drifted towards the arts.

While most youngsters

were just prepared

for factory work

in our beckoning factories.

 

Then there were the misfits

who could not adapt

to the sterile surroundings,

outlaws, slackers, dumbbells

consigned to the fringe,

to be dispensed with

as soon as possible,

no room for the unwilling

in a stratified environment

designed to promote the facile,

stultify everyone else.

 

I did not thrive

in the luke-warm habitat,

my talents and abilities

unexplored, unchallenged.

I could only resist

being swallowed up

in the swirl of thousands,

most desperate for identity,

only finding comfort

obeying the system.

 

Again I was an isolani

in an alien world

I could not penetrate,

even if I wanted to

in a moment of weakness.

So I read, wrote, thought on my own,

growing further away

from the kids around me

who did not follow politics,

read newspapers,

lust to understand

the world they lived in.

 

A naïve part of me

still hoped for guidance,

recognition of my potential,

but I did not know

how to approach

the ossified portals of learning,

and my rash efforts

generally gave offense

and were speedily rejected.

 

Yet I was no longer a child

swayed by ignorant teachers

and my urgent search for knowledge

on how the world really worked

put me in conflict

with pompous drones,

fragile egos

threatened by questions,

preferring mindless acceptance

of stereotyped answers.

 

Weary of superficial mindsets

I went to college,

part of me still hoping

to find a love of learning.

It didn’t take long

to recognize the same system

slightly more sophisticated,

still focused on careers,

the logical continuation

of grade school, high school.

 

I quickly reached the limits

of tolerance for questing students,

questions and disagreement

disrupting pre-conceived notions,

unappreciated, even threatening

to the insecure custodians of knowledge

who preferred mindless acceptance

of rote lessons,

to industrious efforts

of understanding.

 

I met one instructor

willing to extend the boundaries

of pre-determined meaning.

But he aggravated his department

by allowing unauthorized discussions

and they fired him

for illicit deviation

from the standard course.

Inspired by the arbitrary dismissal

I left college to learn on my own.

 

The world I set out to explore

was not new and I was not brave,

just stubborn, determined

not to be another mindless token

shuttled across a restricted board.

But how to proceed trusting no one?

So each day I reinvented the wheel

groping diligently for understanding

only realizing after prodigious effort

the someone had done it before.

 

One lesson learned the hard way,

there was no scientific method

to comprehend life, art, ethics,

and trial and error became my way.

So many trials, so many errors

I did not know

the passions of youth

burning for enlightenment

could not achieve understanding

merely through urgent desire,

the most frustrating lesson of all.

 

 

 

 

 

Does History Repeat?

 

 

The Senate in Rome

hemmed and hawed

about threats to the state,

divided by class,

special interests,

personal ambitions,

yet the empire survived

longer than any other

artificially contrived

political entity,

until overwhelmed

by inability to govern,

barbarian hordes.

 

The Senate in America

hems and haws

about threats to the state,

divided by class,

special interests,

personal ambitions,

while vulnerable citizens

endure assaults,

foreign and domestic,

hoping not to be overwhelmed

by inability to govern

and defend the nation

against many enemies

at home and abroad.

 

 

 

 

 

gary beck

Gary Beck

Gary Beck has spent most of his adult life as a theater director, and as an art dealer when he couldn’t make a living in theater. He has 11 published chapbooks and 3 more accepted for publication. His poetry collections include: Days of Destruction (Skive Press), Expectations (Rogue Scholars Press). Dawn in CitiesAssault on NatureSongs of a ClerkCivilized WaysDisplays,Perceptions (Winter Goose Publishing). Fault LinesTremors, Perturbations, Rude Awakenings and The Remission of Order will be published by Winter Goose Publishing. Conditioned Response (Nazar Look). Resonance (Dreaming Big Publications). His novels includeExtreme Change (Cogwheel Press) and Flawed Connections (Black Rose Writing). Call to Valor will be published by Gnome on Pigs Productions and Acts of Defiance will be published by Dreaming Big Publications. His short story collection, A Glimpse of Youth (Sweatshoppe Publications). Now I Accuse and other storieswill be published by Winter Goose Publishing. His original plays and translations of Moliere, Aristophanes and Sophocles have been produced Off Broadway. His poetry, fiction and essays have appeared in hundreds of literary magazines. He currently lives in New York City.

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