Empire

Frederick Seidel

The endangered bald eagle is soaring
Away from extinction, according to the evening news –
Good news after the news, after
The stocking masks and the blindfolds,
Contorted and disfigured nature in the dying days of oil.
What a surprise happy ending for the half hour.
Eagles airlift above the timberline – cut to
Their chicks nesting in the rocks.

The TV anchorman who predigests it all,
Himself has a great American carnivore prow,
But he is more an oak than an eagle.
According to polls, our father image comforts like the breast,
Is more trusted than the President by far.
Oh so honestly Carter’s eyes widen and glitter
For emphasis – the expression of a very sober child
Who is showing you he can wiggle his ears.

Flags fly at half-mast all over the nation
For the fallen, each flagpole a pinprick,
So many pinpricks it becomes pain –
Three thousand continental miles from sea to sea
Reforested with half-flying flags. How unsuitable
For being on its knees Old Glory is,
Bomb burst and cheer on its knees under
Incomparable American skies, the famous North American light.

The famous humidity. Condensation frosts the bottom inch
Of the windshield, the first air-conditioner day.
A rainbow of stainless steel, the Gateway Arch,
Takes off and lands, takes off and lands, takes off
And rises sixty stories, and swoops back and lands
A little way down the levee. A railroad bridge
Filigrees across the brown sumptuous river.
Humid flags sog at half-mast.

Bitter bitter bitter bitter
Cries a bird somewhere out over the river
At dusk, as darkness filters down through the soft evening
On St Genevieve, near St Louis. Remember,
The creek out there somewhere in the dark
Burbles, remember. You cannot see:
But close your eyes anyway, and smell.
The houses when you open your eyes are watching the news.

Unshaved men in suits walk ahead of others in masks.
It might be the men one sees strolling
Together outside Claridge’s in London followed
At a submissive distance by their veiled wives,
But in Central America – hostages and their slaves
By relay satellite. Rank as the odor in urine
Of asparagus from the night before,
This is empire waking drunk, and remembering in the dark.