Wednesday, March 28, 2012

"great america"

"great america"
written in a comfortable bed by jake kilroy.

every spring, there comes a night
when summer peaks its head in,
just to make sure the windows are open,
just to make sure the doors are unlocked,
just to make sure that it's still welcome.

as a child, i would spend that evening
on a back porch with soft light
wishing southern california had fireflies.
instead, i had dog barks and powerlines,
but i adored the great sound of the world.
i heard wishing wells, car horns and insects buzz.
and i had rooftops, back seats and balconies.
we heard whispers, kisses and sighs.
and we had picnics, freedom and time.

but still we sought great america.
we wanted the america jean commercials promised us.
we wanted the america that was fought for by farmers.
we learned fizgerald and hemingway in school.
we discovered vonnegut and robbins in bedrooms.
we read and wrote love letters until we couldn't see
anything but a future that was filled with generous sex
that meant the world to the unfathomable depths of our aching hearts.
the teenage years are a magical spell of their own
and it's probably where great america came from.

what i learned in school gave me an america,
but it wasn't great america.
great america was what my grandparents told me about
when i spent the weekend.
they told me about golden hollywood and radio shows,
but they always left out the bad parts,
so i could sleep at night without crying
for the great america that never truly was.

i remember watching old television programs
after my grandparents would go to bed
and i'd fall asleep trying to understand
what i had missed and how beloved it was.
then my grandfather would wake in the middle of the night
and make me and my sister and my brother
warm chocolate pudding in a big batch,
so we'd go to bed with stomachaches
after eating the secret recipe of his irish mother
who passed away after seeing the entire 20th century.
she saw great america and all i knew about her
is that she liked playing cards, telling stories
and making chocolate pudding for her son.
she could've told me what great america was
but i was too young to listen
and she was too old to wait.

i came to some years later,
aware of american history
and pissed about politics.
my marx was always groucho, never karl,
and my teachers never gave me great america.
they just read from a book
that sounded like death
and i waited until they finished.
and then i'd go home
and dream about great america.

by the time america let me smoke,
i was unstoppable.
but by the time america let me drink,
i was distracted.
what those few years of voting will do to you,
i swear it just ages your heart,
'cause all you're ever doing is waiting for great america.

but i clung to enough morning cartoons
to see the colors of the growing world.
and i absorbed enough film noir flicks
to read between the black and white.
so where are the answers for these questions
that i ask every new year's eve?
how many churches must i attend?
how many barbecues must i throw?
how many highways must i drive?
how many baptisms and christenings
must i sit through to really know that
my neighbor loves me, despite fences?

when i was a boy,
i thought great america was kissing a girl
under the fourth of july fireworks at night.
i thought great america was a bike ride
without wanted posters or police alerts.
i thought great america was a swim at sunset
and figuring out the unending darkness.

later, as a young man,
i saw great america as a big city loft,
with sparse furniture and art i didn't get.
i saw great america as protests and riots
that sprawled out until the cops gave in.
i saw great america as a home in the suburbs
and never wanting a single thing again.

now, as someone writing this,
i see great america as a comfortable bed.
we all sleep in it, we all pray around it,
and sometimes it brings out the best in us,
but it's where the fights are,
it's where the romance is,
it's where the hope should be.

oh, america,
sweet gentle great america,
if i've found you, then i have to ask,
when was the last time you took a nap?

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