Scoundrel Time

American Patriot: A Portfolio

Poems by Jim Daniels, Photographs by Charlee Brodsky

 

Size Matters

Imagine singing “Oh, say, can you see” to a flag you can’t see. That’s what graduate students at the University of Texas at Dallas had in mind when they created the likeness of an American flag so small it would take more than 10 to span the width of a human hair. —Fox News

 

As in matters of size,
not the bigger the better.

Every flag’s flawed
with perfection.

I don’t think we’ll be adding
any more stars

any time soon.
We’ve got enough trouble

with the ones we already have.
We lock our doors

but leave our mailboxes
open. In case someone

wants to say they love us
some random night full

of unfixed stars.
You can put anything

on a flag. You can put the flag
on a toothpick or grow one with flowers.

Just bills, the mailman says,
and he knows what a bill looks like.

The bracket was made
for a bigger flag, drilled into

the siding, claiming this house
as one more piece of America.

Proportion is a relative thing.
The size of a child’s coffin

is always too large.
Modesty is a relative thing.

When it comes to flags,
if it’s the thought that counts

who’s doing the counting?
Perhaps each of us is our own

tiny country
and our hearts are our flags.

Perhaps not.
I used to think our country

had a big heart
but I’m not so sure anymore.

When my children were young
we used to make flags

for imaginary countries
with crayons and scissors,

glue and naivety.
It takes a certain amount

of naivety to make any flag.
Ours were probably about the size

of this one. We loved each other.
We had parades.

Reception

Flags and antennas go together. Flags
emit symbols. Antennas pick up
signals—a.m. radio, satellite TV.
Adjusting. Tuning in. Static. Voices
intruding into homes and cars
with opinions about the flag.
Our flag. American flag.
No magic wand or magician’s cape.

Dark magic
of conflicting messages.
Of battles, bloodshed.
Anything people die for
sends its message
in all caps and boldface.

None of our flags
will end up on the moon.
Pickups, porches, fences, windows.
What you see is not what I see—
isn’t every flag a Rohrshach test
for our complex hearts
daily taking in the mail
answering the doorbell
welcoming the world
into our own little Americas?

Me, I’m a big freedom guy,
though I never forget
the flag is attached to a pole.

Who decided a pickup truck
is the most patriotic of vehicles?
Without TV commercials,
how would we know what to believe?

Where is the price tag
on the flag, and when are they
on sale, and what’s the most
expensive flag on record
and who owns it?

Not this guy in the pickup
who’s had some body work done.

Flag Erotic

It is the universal custom to display the flag only from sunrise to sunset on buildings and on stationary flag staffs in the open. However, when a patriotic effect is desired, the flag may be displayed 24 hours a day if properly illuminated during the hours of darkness. —The Cortez Journal

 

You’re not supposed to think of the flag
in that way. Flags have rules
about touching, folding.

But isn’t there something
about the way
it hangs in zero wind,
folding in
on itself like a closed flower
in the stillness
in the silence
without word or whisper?

Isn’t there something about
the careless fall
the gentle tousled fall
of being passionately
tossed, the thin silky fabric,
sheets disarrayed by wind?

Is that why we must keep it lit
at night? And lead us not
into temptation? And is even this
unpatriotic? And will you
respect me in the morning?

Flag Neurotic

Where do I begin? Everything smooth,
drenched in sweet fumes of anthem,
then suddenly chaos on the turnpike of commerce,
weed whackers revved up, powered by patriotic gas
of multiple languages, where it starts and stops. Stalls.
What kinda gas you talking? That’s not my gas.
My gas kicks your gas’s ass.

Remember do the best that you can?
The UPC code took care of the stubborn weeds
of ambiguity and nonconformance and Whack ‘em.
Simple 2 start. Hard 2 stop. 4 your own good.
4 your own safety. 8 2 much. 44 flags12x18=
1 weed whacker. Depending on what sign
you read, what language you’re doing math in.

No Smoking. It’s the law. Healthy n’at. Authorized.
Best. Law. The land of Scotch Tape and Pull Ice Cream.
A lock for a key. A sticky handle. The mess of America.
Weed Whacker. Weed Whacker. Weed Whacker. Help,
I’ve fallen in love and I can’t get up. America, 4×6
is big enough. Oh, hell, give me the whole bucket.
You take credit?

What flag are you voting for/I mean buying/I mean
waving/I mean poking in the gut of anyone
who disagrees? What’s the correct price
for the correct size? I thought Reliance
didn’t need authorization, and that Push
or Pull was all the instructions we needed
and that the fine print was unnecessary.
Is there anything worse than drowning
in a bucket of flags?

Ode to Kitsch

Was the American flag at Stonehenge?
The obvious answer is no. The other answer
is if you make your own Stonehenge
you can do whatever you damn well please.

Black flamingo, tiki torches, Easter Island
figurines, Christmas lights, World Series
bunting, UFOs, and a desk lamp. Perhaps
I am mistaken. I think I bought that door

at Lowe’s. I once had a screen door
but the aliens couldn’t penetrate it.
I’m packing boxes, getting ready
to join them. God bless America.

Take me to your leader, they said.
Let the games begin, I said.