Dear Dirty America


Let’s Look At America Without Expectations

May 11
19:00 2012

(a so-called poem)

Let’s look at America without expectations
without always being shocked
that it’s not like we were taught in elementary school
that it’s not like so many have imagined it is
& presented TV shows about
how it became so much more wonderful than it is
without always being offended
that it’s not like so many pretend that it is, for advantage.
Okay, it’s not a land of great equality
okay, its opportunities are severely circumscribed
by circumstances
of birth, good luck or bad luck, wealth or lack of wealth
being tall or blond or not being tall or blond—
okay, especially if you’re not wealthy
you have to behave in certain nonsensical ways
else people will block your advance
okay, the Republicans say one thing & do another
okay, the Democrats say one thing & do another
okay, half the people eligible to vote can’t be bothered
to attend to the so-called news & decide among two evils
they’re industriously getting what they can for themselves
or distracting themselves watching foolish television shows
or coping with onerous paperwork, or buying or selling
or repairing or renovating, or playing dumb games.

Okay, America is extremely apt to pull a gun & start shooting
careless who gets bombed, imprisoned, tortured, ruined
about how it wastes its finite resources
or uses them up for the brief benefit of a relative few—
its legacy from Nature & from previous inhabitants
its otherwise legacy to whoever will live here in the future.

Okay, there’s a lot of propaganda forever being promulgated
some cynically, some naively
most cynically & naively at the same time.

Okay, technological so-called progress
is mainly at the expense of what the princes of technology
don’t notice til it’s too late.

Okay, money rules & might rules
maybe nearly as much or as much as in ancient Athens or Rome
or in ancient China or modern China
maybe nearly as much or as much as in Russia
under the czars or under the so-called Communists
or under Putin & his United Russia party
maybe nearly as much or as much as in Arabia under the Sauds.

Okay, a financial oligarchy has more control
than we were led to expect
okay, presidents risk assassination if they’d rein in
the officer corps & the munitions makers
okay, only great villains or dupes can get elected president
or representative or senator or governor
okay, nearly everyone in any position of authority
got there by fortunate family connections, pretense
& sins of omission—
that’s not particular to America—
okay, it’s easy to buy adulterated food
& hard to buy wholesome food—
okay, it’s hard to get hold of or hang on to
dollars or integrity
under the avalanche of scandalous advertising—
it wasn’t America that Adam & Eve were driven out of or into
in the story you may take as a pure fiction if you want to—
it was Paradise & the world—
okay, many Americans take refuge in comforting old myths
we ourselves prefer to live without
the better to see what’s what—
but let’s look at America without expectations.

America’s better than some places we might be in, in some ways
worse than some other places we might be in, in some ways—
& those places are worse than other places in some ways, too.

Let’s just separate out our expectations from our situation—
America’s not as we were led to expect
& were all too willing to expect
& we’re shocked—
okay, we’re shocked & indignant—
let’s not throw a tantrum for the rest of our lives—
I spent years living outside on almost no food
instead of allowing myself to be drafted
to kill & be killed in Vietnam—
I’m not talking about becoming a conventional money-grubber
but that would be better than spending your life
mainly reacting to what others are doing
mainly reacting to your exploded expectations.

We’ll have to do what we’ll have to do
to survive in the real America
& we’ll do what we can to thrive in the real America—
let’s not succumb to a life-long tantrum
that America isn’t as we were led to expect
& were all too willing to expect—
we’ll do what we can to make it more truly free for everyone—
tho we won’t want to allow
murder or rape or taking advantage of the simple-minded
if we’re in a position
to be the ones doing the allowing or not—
we’ll do what we can to make it more actually just for everyone
if we can do that
without becoming a self-righteous police force
like the Red Army or the House UnAmerican Activities Committee
we’ll do what we can to make the world safe for democracy
if democracy is really what we are after
& if there is really ever any safety.

If there is little in particular we can do
except with discipline over the rest of our lives
then we’ll do that little
with discipline over the rest of our lives
& stop tormenting ourselves because America isn’t
as we expected it to be
as we were all too willing to expect it to be—
we’ll have to be realistic, we’ll have to be strategic
whatever we achieve will come at a cost
as in Egypt, South Africa, or east Africa, Britain, or Bulgaria
Burma, Thailand, Sri Lanka, India, Argentina, Turkmenistan
Brazil, Canada, Mexico, Cuba
just as if we were born chimpanzees
among a group of chimipanzees
or rats among rats, or ants among ants.

There are some great things about living in America
tho they aren’t great in the way we were led to expect
& were all too willing to expect—
there actually is more liberty than has often been common
in various nations thru-out what we know from history—
tho there are things you mustn’t say or you’ll be punished
& ways you mustn’t behave or you’ll be punished—
contrary to what we were led to expect—
there are thousands, more likely millions among us
who have been so punished
& their efforts handicapped for the rest of their lives
& not because they belong
to this disadvantaged group or that—
whose stories have never been featured
on the nightly news shows—
they just seem to be
people who have made less than stellar decisions—
yet there really is unusual freedom to change your situation
tho far less than we were led to expect
& were all to willing to expect.

We’ve noticed
that there are some terrible things about living in America
some of them particular to living in America—
including, maybe especially
the disconnect between the way America really is
& our expectations
about what it was going be like to live in America—
our so very severely disappointed expectations.

America is as America is—
& what we can do, each alone, & together
is what we can do, each alone, & together.

Let’s not just be clever—it’s not really clever—
about every aspect we notice or feel
about how America isn’t as we expected it to be
or as we were all too willing to expect it to be—
about how it fails to live up to our false expectations.

Let’s do what we really can do to improve it
without failing to provide for ourselves as best we can
in America the way it really is, in the mean time
if we can do so without sacrificing our souls
which is a neat trick in America or anywhere else—
when we see a way we ourselves really can do something
actually useful, actually advantageous.

Let’s not pose
as tho we can do more than we can do the rest of the time
which only gets in our own way
& in the way of those actually doing now
what we might be able to do, too, ourselves, some time.

Let’s say as precisely as we can what is wrong
& what would be better
& what might be done to get from wrong to better—
let’s behave better than our so-called leaders—
& then let’s not always be saying what’s wrong with America—
it’s useful to say it & say it right
but counterproductive always to be going on & on
& conflating important & trivial, & evil & stupid, too
about what’s wrong with America.

Eric Chaet, The Turnaround Artist, born Chicago, USA, 1945, raised on rough South Side, pre-computer factory, office, & warehouse jobs. Some teaching, some independent self-taught technical consulting. 1974, Old Buzzard of No-Man’s Land, poems, Toronto, Canada. 1977, Solid and Sound, vinyl LP of songs, Lee’s Summit, Missouri, USA.  Mid-80s to mid-90s, silkscreened, hitchhiked, & stapled 1500 cloth posters to utility poles along American highways.  1990, How To Change the World Forever For Better, brief prose philosophy, Greenleaf, Wisconsin, USA; 2nd edition, 1994.  2001, People I Met Hitchhiking On USA Highways, mostly narrative prose, De Pere, Wisconsin, USA.  Lives in Wisconsin, industrialized dairy farms & cows, remnant cheese & paper factories & factory hands & outlaw mammals & birds, post-construction boom, reactionary politics & obsolete machinery, a smattering of professionals & millionaires.  Poems published, over 50 years in many USA states, plus Brazil, Cuba, Ireland, Scotland, England, Spain, France, Belgium, Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland, Nepal, India, China, Singapore, Korea, & Taiwan, often in translation. 

You can contact him at the Leave a Reply box on each page of his website, 100 Peculiarly Useful So-Called Poems, <>.

Find Chaet’s book, People I Met Hitchhiking USA Highwaysand read a review written here.   His work can be found at DDA here, here, and here.

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