American Portrait 23

by Ken Harnisch

Here in Sun City people are afraid
To light up a cigarette, fearing they’ll be the
Arsonists accused of setting fire to Arizona.

There is life in the desert, Bob said. Good enough
Reason for me to pick up my eastern stakes and come
Out here, just so I could pull the long cord on
The living room blinds and see the cactus growing
Out there on Bob’s front lawn.

His grass is gone, but that’s okay. The foreclosure
Sign near the curb is green enough for most trees
And in the afternoon, large enough so I don’t
Get the glare of the Phoenix sun pouring through my window.

The realtor lady is the only human I’ve seen in the house
In quite some time. But she’s eye candy, so I don’t really mind her coming

She said the blood’s off the walls, finally. And when I looked at her
Like she had three heads, she remembered I was the dude from the east coast
Who wasn’t all that comfortable with the rights afforded by the Second Amendment.
You see, she said, no one ever thought Bob, who learned how to shoot from
Eddie Eagle, would ever turn a rifle on his wife and children. He was just too
Damned conscientious.

Well, yeah, he was conscientious about paying his bills, too
And shocked if he ever had to pay a late charge on a credit card.
And I met a lot of people wound tighter than a Slinky in Boston,
But none of them ever went into a Wal-Mart to buy a Remington
And three full boxes of ammunition the day they lost a job.

They’re coming, he’d say to me, without ever defining ”they.”
Customary to mean Washington in these parts, although it always
Seemed ironic that the Hoover Dam and the rest of everything that
Works out here was built by money no one in the private sector
Would have spent in a Marxist nightmare. And if you told him the only reason
Anyone lived here at all was due to the Fifth U. S. Cavalry, he’d scoff
And say you were just another damned liberal, twisting history.

That’s me, I’d say: the old Eastern rabble-rouser. And him? Well,
He was the Marlboro man, with the lean look of the nomadic cowboy.
He’d say: a man is what a man does. Out here, a man shoots straight
And rides tall and follows no compass but his own. He makes up his own mind
About the world and doesn’t follow no twittering, tie-wearing,
O-fay guy with poofy hair who’s just in a hurry to marry his boyfriend.

Fair enough, but I always wondered why Bob would sit out on his sun-baked porch
Watching the Mexicans who came to repair Rick Lester’s pool and not complain
To the authorities. Guess it fell within the bounds of his macho libertarianism,
His credo of live and let live, although I did hear him tell Rick that if any of those
Wetbacks so much as sneezed across his property line he’d send them back across
The Rio Grande in the same boxcar they’d come in, only this time, not so alive.

He was stoic when he lost his job, being a good capitalist who believed his bosses were right
To can him when he was no longer of any use to them. Not saying a word about it, not even applying for Unemployment the day he went and got the rifle, then shot up four lovely people my wife said were
The most beautiful God ever put on the earth. Before he performed the acrobatic feat of blowing his own head off by the dexterous application of his big toe against the trigger.

Made foreclosure a kind of anti-climax, Ms. Eye Candy said, the only time we ever talked of it.
He was bound to lose the house anyway. Thing is, there’s so many similar out here it might have taken
The bank a year or two to get around to Bob’s. And by that time, she said, we’ll be back on our feet, Don’t you think? As soon we get rid of that Socialist in the White House, I mean.

I’ve learned not to argue with opinionated people. They know too damn much. But I did ask her
If she thought old Bob could have reversed the order of death just a tad. Shot himself and left Jean
And the kids alive to fend for themselves. Allowed them to be the same rugged individualists he was,
Since it was his religion. I mean, Jean could cook and the twin girls were candy-stripers and the son was
A quarterback the Sun Devils had their eyes on for a possible scholarship. Might have been a great thing
For Arizona and all of us if they’d been allowed to carry on.

But she told me I was just being cynical, Ms. Eye Candy. We haven’t had a word since.


Author's Note: "Violence is as American as cherry pie." H. Rap Brown.

Posted on 09/19/2011
Copyright © 2023 Ken Harnisch

Member Comments on this Poem
Posted by Gabriel Ricard on 09/19/11 at 07:59 PM

Staggering in the best way possible. This piece is a phenom.

Posted by Kristine Briese on 09/19/11 at 10:25 PM

Ambitious and heart-wrenching. Staggering is the word, alright.

Posted by Joan Serratelli on 09/20/11 at 07:13 PM

Very well done. One heck of a poem! A sad but true American Tradedy.

Posted by Meghan Helmich on 09/20/11 at 08:51 PM

There's just so much here! A gripping story from start to finish.

Posted by Chris Sorrenti on 09/21/11 at 09:51 PM

Rich...riveting prose Ken. And as much as we don't have to like what's going on here, it is reality in some plaes...under certain circumstances.

Posted by Chris Sorrenti on 09/21/11 at 09:52 PM

Sorry, that should have been places in the last line of my comment. Well worth the No. 1 slot.

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