PLEDGE ALLEGIANCE

I pledge allegiance to the flag

 

My young eyes followed

Each word on the board dutifully,

As we spoke,

Because I had been told

That’s what a patriot would do.

 

Of the United States of America

 

My home.

Well, my country, at least,

My home was there, too,

But just down the street,

Next to Mikey’s house.

I had never been to somewhere like Texas

Or Tennessee.

Ma said it wasn’t safe there.

 

And to the Republic, for which is stands,

 

And what exactly

Do we stand for?

I wondered.

Uncle Rob and Mom

Were arguing over that

Just the other day.

“You poor people

Are all the same.

Fat. Lazy.

And so irritating,

Begging for my money.”

He had spit.

I remember the contempt in his eyes

When his gaze fell on me.

 

One nation, under God, indivisible

 

Of course, the divide in our family

Was made long before yesterday evening.

Mom had married a Muslim.

And because he translated God

To Allah

Uncle Rob acted like dad was a terrorist.

Then again, so did my classmates,

Which is why mom drops me off

Nowadays.

 

With liberty and justice for all.

 

At the time,

When I rocked back and forth on my heels,

Hand clasped over my heart,

I did not know the term “irony,”

 

But as I would learn,

In my public schooling,

The ideas of “liberty” and “justice”

Are riddled with it.

 

Where was the liberty

When my father was executed

By Mikey’s dad,

The “self-proclaimed” patriot?

 

Where was the justice

When my mother grew weak and weary

From over exhaustion,

While Uncle Rob

Grew fat

With his riches?

 

“For all,”

Echoed through my mind,

As we took our seats in class.

The tattered walls,

The creaky floors,

The wobbly desks,

All reminded me

What a perfect lie that was.

 

There’s no justice for us.

——

 

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THE FLAG-BEARER

The streets filled with the thunder of footsteps as we marched down to the capital. Thousands of us had heard the imperial message of our leader, reminding us of the tentative balance that democracy constantly hung in. Unlike the indecisive nations of the world, however, we were unafraid of our government. Our revolution had been different. Main Street—the street we now trampled on—had been the site of our reincarnation. It had been a bloody debacle, in which many lost their lives on both sides. In the end, however, we had claimed victory, though the red from the blood baths had permanently stained the street a faded red.

I was the flag-bearer—holding the large steel pole to display the symbol of our nationalism. The fabric was a vibrant red, with a gash of heavy crimson through the center, to symbolize the scars of our nation’s beginning. I was near the front, pushed off to the right so that the heads of the masses could approach first. The front-runner was a man dressed in a black leather robe, with a dull silver lining around the edges. On his head sat a matching hat, and he had donned a pair of intimidating shades, despite the overcast weather. He walked with a terrifying air of power.

Since the revolution, he had been named the Enforcer. The role of the Enforcer was just what it sounded like…to enforce the law. He had rescinded his name the day he had been given the role, twenty years ago. His strength of youth had left him, and his stark black hair had been speckled with the salt and pepper of age, yet he walked with an air of resilience. Each of his large strides (for he was nearly six-foot five-inches tall) seemed to rise above the clatter of boots behind him, and each step seemed to shake the Earth itself.

Around his waist were the only two guns in the whole of our nation. After the bloodbath of Main Street, even the most remote villagers could not argue with the destructive force that these weapons were capable of. Only the Enforcer, the final level of judgment, was allowed to bear arms. He was a zealot, but not an unrestricted or careless man in his demeanor. The only zeal he defended in his life was the just treatment of things in life. Hence why he alone could wield the twin pistols with the power to take life in an instant.

But it with the strength of power that men become the most susceptible to corruption. While the Enforcer was a great man—and in many ways still is—he himself has failed his own duties. Perhaps that is why at the capital building there stood a legion of men in all red. They stood atop the stairs, looking down on us, and we halted at the base. The white marble steps contrasted the red of the street stunningly, the way a pillar of light cuts through the darkness around it.

Yet as we stood there, the crimes of the Enforcer paled in comparison to those of our ruler. Broken promises, violent language, and irresponsible behaviors. The minor follies of the average man beg the forgiveness of his peers. I, myself, struggle with my sexism. Even now, I refer to men and mankind, rather than the humanity we live in. Yet in the end, is it our struggles, or whether we overcome them, that should be judged? Do we mock the single stray bullet, or praise the steady hand that has time and again liberated us?

These questions I pondered, with the cool steel of the flagpole in my hand, in the moments before we tore down the regime of anarchy, cut down the battalion before us, and restored order to the people. After, I returned to my lonely desk job, the Enforcer went back to his building, where he drank his nights away, and I assume the rest of the crowd dispersed back to their usual lives…but that one day, the moment we chose to overthrow tyranny and return the power to the people…that’s what makes living worth it. That’s what makes our country great.

——

 

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FEAR VS. LOVE

Hello everyone,

 

Today I wanted to talk to you all about power. I have been watching House of Cards over the weekend, because I was deathly sick with something, and was bedridden pretty much the whole time. Anyways, if you have not seen it, House of Cards is a show about a politician named Frank Underwood, who uses his political prowess to rise to power, subverting the traditional means of democracy. He uses anything from intimidation to extortion to get what he wants. When people do not give him what he wants, he will not hesitate to take them out. That’s the basic idea of the show.

Now, these are all traits of a dictator, and they are pretty static concepts when said broadly (like I just did). Let’s take the famous Machiavellian quote “it is better to be feared than loved” and consider it for a moment. It’s certainly true, right? At least, for a leader. Beowulf is a famous example, who was loved by his countrymen but also, deep down, feared as well. Seriously, in the story of Beowulf, kingdoms much bigger than his refused to challenge his because he was so feared. There are many literary examples of this, but even historically it’s true as well. Stalin is perhaps the best example of fear. Stalin was an awful guy who ruled with an iron fist, but nobody questioned his title, even though it was undeserved. Those who did…well…added to the death count.

Of course, fear fails. Not immediately, but eventually. Nearly every revolution was born because someone stopped being afraid. Or rather, many someones. Eventually, someone slips through the cracks, and starts a movements that ends the regime. Whether another regime replaces that regime is a different story, but it can be said that the power of one individual runs out eventually, no matter how much they are feared.

Love, on the other hand, is ineffective for individual leaders. Certainly, it is good if a monarchy is loved, because there is less likelihood for the want of a revolution, but it is impossible for a monarch to please everyone. It’s part of why presidential approval ratings are typically not in the nineties. However, it is good for leaders to be loved in communal societies. When the focus is not on the one, but rather the collective, then the need for love increases. Typically, these societies do not have one individual “king,” and if they do have some sort of leader, that leader is not considered superior to their group. Rather, these groups need love because they need to be able to work together and discuss, constructively, the different avenues to success. Without discussion, no progress would be made.

I bring this up because we live in extremely divisive times. It seems that nobody wants to sit down and talk to each other, rather they rally behind their leader of choice, and hope to dominate the opposition. Which is unfortunate, because I think what made America great is the community. The idea that we can be individuals, but united by a single goal. Not a person, but a goal: each other. That’s something I think we need to get back to.

——

 

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BUS RIDE

I ride the bus everyday,

With a variety of people.

There are homeless,

There are businessmen,

There are mothers with their children

Trying to get them to school.

 

Everyone smiles,

Some people wave,

And a couple brave souls venture to talk.

There is a new driver, Don,

And he’s a different kind of driver.

He hates the squeaky wheel.

 

The bus I ride everyday has a squeaky wheel—

The one at the front

On the passenger’s side.

When the bus runs smoothly

She mostly keeps quiet.

But when the bus brakes too hard

Or when the drive swerves dangerously

She makes a racket.

 

Most of us don’t mind the noise—

It reminds us that we need to get a car someday.

But Don—oh Don—he hates it.

He told me the bus line he used to run

Had no squeaky wheels.

Every bus was spick and span.

 

Don loathes the noise.

Every time it rears its head

He’ll shout out to the crowd.

What he doesn’t realize

Is that he’s part of the reason it squeaks.

 

Don drives too fast.

He likes to speed across railroad tracks

Instead of look both ways first.

He likes to take sharp turns

Going forty in a fifteen.

So it’s no wonder she hollers at him.

 

But the problem isn’t just about Don—

Though Don certainly could be better—

He could be the one to step up

And address the problems of the squeaky wheel.

But this is also a problem with the bus company.

Leave a squeaky wheel too long,

And it just might come off.

 

And if one wheel falls off the bus,

You had best be ready for the oncoming accident.

——

 

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HEROES IN AMERICA

My stomach growled with hunger pains,

Like a lion ready to strike.

I dug through garbage in the rain

Desperate for something that I’d like.

 

It was a black and frigid night,

Like something out of a novel.

Yet heroes overcome their plight,

While I sit freezing and grovel.

 

My toes are blue and frost bitten;

My overcoat tattered and torn;

My socks and shoes have holes in ‘em,

I loathe that I were ever born.

 

Of course, that’s just another day

As a Vet in the U.S.A.

——

 

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GOLDEN STRUGGLES

It’s hard to believe

Life is hard for everyone.

Even Donald Trump.

 

Although Donald Trump

Might not have it quite as hard

As a Harlemite.

 

Better dipped in gold

Than underneath a bootstrap,

Or invisible.

 

In the beating sun

Better to carry the whip

Than pick the cotton

 

That life’s more easy;

Even if they both get burned.

Only one gets scars.

 

But that’s hard to see

From a penthouse apartment

In your own hotel.

——

 

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THE INVADER

Take your broken heart

Make it into art;

Make your mind smart

Before things fall apart.

 

Lest you become an Okonkwo.

The greatest man of his tribe,

Yet he was brought low

Through the faults in his pride.

 

I don’t know what it is

That makes good people,

And I don’t know how his

Would follow a man so evil.

 

Except for that the invader

Is rarely held to his word.

He will claim to be the savior

Of an unsuspecting herd.

 

He’ll take them

And break them,

And batter and shake them,

 

He’ll blame them

And shame them,

And in the end enslave them

 

Until they are bruised

And broken

 

But at least he got his profit

At least he got a dollar off it,

At least he’s willing to speak his mind,

At least he isn’t expected to be kind.

 

And a hush falls over the crowd,

Now he has his chance.

He raises his hands and screams “Unite!”

And, defeated, they bow to his plans.

——

 

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THEY LIED TO ME

My teacher lied to me.

They told me that I should work hard,

They told me that I could be anything,

They told me that I would get a job.

 

Instead, I’m stuck here,

Pushing papers, licking stamps,

Anything.

To keep myself off the street.

 

And maybe I don’t deserve a salary

With a six-figure bonus,

Or meals made by Gordon Ramsey,

But I don’t think I should be homeless.

 

My teacher lied to me,

And maybe it wasn’t their fault.

And maybe the world was out to get me

And maybe it was meant to be.

 

But when so many people

Struggle to put food on the table,

And to get a full night’s sleep

Because they have to work.

 

Why lie to me?

 

The gutter knows nothing about hope;

The rain knows nothing about the cold;

But we, we know all of these things

Like we know the dirt on our hands.

 

My teacher lied to me

And told me that I was free

Because, in truth, they were afraid to say

The realities I now live every day.

——

 

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THE DICTATOR

A silence wafted over the crowd,

As the man raised his arm to the sky.

“My people,” he bellowed into the mic,

“It is our time. The time to take our place!”

The silence burst into a rupture of applause.

I turned to my father,

Who had began to walk away, and asked,

“Where is our place?”

He paused, and turned back to me.

He knelt, and smiled a tired smile at me.

He put a hand on my shoulder,

And an arm across his chest.

“Our place is, and always will be, together.”

 

His voice was like a pebble

In an ocean of people.

And like a pebble,

the ripples of his words

Carried a silence through the crowd,

 

Until a circle of eyes landed on us.

There was a pause,

Then the man’s voice called out to us.

“What is it?”

His voice was filled with contempt.

The people edged closer to us,

And my father stood up.

“My friends,” my father called out.

He pointed to the man on the balcony,

“Do not let this man

Steal the fire of your mind!

We have lived for each other!

Not as the fists of one man!”

 

The crowd turned back to the man

With expectant eyes.

They seemed unsure what to do.

The man brought his fist to his chest

And said,

“Do you not see what I have brought you!

Do you not see the respect we have gained?

A respect that this man,”

He pointed at my father

“Abandoned for personal gain.”

 

The people turned back to my father,

With eyes full of hate.

He glanced at me, and mouthed

“Go.”

I backed away into crowd

And my father was pushed out of sight.

 

I didn’t know then

That his tired smile

Would be my last sight of him.

 

A voice in the East rallied the crowd,

And they charged at him.

They buried him in a rage.

Then I turned back to the man

Far up on the balcony,

And I could see a faint smile.

A smile that said he had won.

CAMOUFLAGE

I implore you to ask yourself, Uncle,

What it means to be an American.

Is it to stand in the face of trouble,

And tell the rest of the world “I can.”

Is it to protect the poor and helpless

Against the blades of all the enemies?

Or is it to protect corporate interests,

And sell the rich their path to amnesty?

If we are to be one voice, united,

Why do you exile those you oppose?

Isn’t that making us more divided?

Why is it good people that you depose?

If we are free, Sam, why is it that you

Hide behind that suit of red, white, and blue?