Elegy for the American Dream

Remember us with our animals — tabby,
chihuahua, pot-bellied pig, their faces
alive with imputed thoughts
that they thankfully never voice,
antidotes to the never-quiet
barkers on our screens.
Remember us with our screens,
those escape hatches.
Remember us lifting our pets
as we lift each other’s bodies
to our avid, lonely mouths,
saying: these ones we will spare,
these ones we will hold in our thoughts,
hemmed in by indifferent neighbors
& blank streets in subdivisions
where the last untended corners
host colonies from Eurasia.
Remember us on our mowers
sailing alone around the yard,
faithful as any pilgrim to a labyrinth.
Remember us on our toilets, learning
to let go (with the aid of laxatives) in
our most often remodeled room,
enthroned above the waters of a vast
& literal Lethe whose tributaries
drain every home & office.
This is what we love, more than anything:
the privilege of absent-mindedness.
This magic trick. We flush,
& our shit & piss, our used condoms
& tampons, our unused medications,
our extra-soft toilet paper made
entirely from tree pulp —
it all spins around three times & vanishes
with a gurgle. Remember us
with our exclusive membership cards
& our spent members. When we die,
fill us with preservatives & seal us away
beneath an immaculate lawn.
Remember us who labored
so hard to forget.

18 Comments


  1. Kia ora Dave,
    I don’t know why this hits me so hard, but may have something to do with the fact I also had to put my 13 year old cat down today.
    Cheers,
    Robb

    Reply

  2. Crikey! This has really left me thinking. That’s some piece Dave. I don’t think that I’ll be able to do what a guy has to do today without recalling your words and sentiments. Powerful. Well done.

    Reply

  3. Thanks all for commenting. But god I hate this poem now! Every thought in it is something I’ve thought a thousand times; there is no surprise in it for me. I’ll keep it up, though, if only because a few of you like it, and because I like the dig at Billy Collins.

    Reply

  4. So I was right: it was a dig! But someone has to be this generation’s answer to Pieter de Hooch (though Collins’s medium is poetry).

    Reply

  5. Ok now. All the good wry comments, such as ‘Have you been spying on me?’ are taken, so here’s what happened. I printed this out, my husband came in the door and I handed it to him. He read it. Said “MAN! This is powerful! Who wrote it? It ought to be published!” I say that a lot, Dave, except for the ‘who wrote it?’ part. Don’t hate the poem, Dave. It’s terrible beautiful and you’ve escaped to the mountain. The rest of us Prufrocks are still circling the yard behind our mowers knowing the only mark we make will be overgrown in a week and pondering the irony of Milorganite.

    Reply

    1. O.K., thanks for that confidence-booster, Joan (as if my confidence needed boosting any further! My iron-clad ego is the main reason I can diss my own work so easily). Of course, I would point out to your husband that it was published — here, where it’s more likely to reach an ecologically aware audience than in any literary magazine.

      Reply

  6. I like the bit about the faithful pilgrims and their lawn-mowing labyrinth, but I agree, Dave, having read it twice on successive days, there’s something that feels tired about this poem, unlike your best work which always feels fresh and unexpected.

    Reply

    1. Maybe, as Peter suggests, the tiredness is a good match for that repetitive circling.

      Reply

  7. I thought the tired feel was part of the narrator’s tone . . .

    (Though, Beth, you picked out my favorite sentence!)

    Reply

  8. I’m just glad that you were thinking about all the shit, even if you were doing it with your tired poet voice. I think about it. The flush, the unending river of waste, and home products keeping everything smelling fresh. Now we turn it all into drinking water. We’ll water the potatoes with it too. There’s a poem there somewhere.

    Reply

    1. Yes, indeed. Of course I never shy away from these kinds of themes in my poems, I just happen to think I’m more likely to change minds when I’m subtler, less didactic about it, for example in poems like this or this.

      Reply

  9. I liked the dig. a dig at glibness, or that’s what it felt like to me, as well as an indictment of all the tired shit of the American nightmare. and I like ‘the privilege of absent-mindedness.’ I hadn’t thought about that much, but it seems true. the need for attention gets lost in the world this poem stands just outside of.

    Reply

    1. We pay to distract ourselves far more readily than we pay for things that require careful attention: thus romance novels have always outsold poetry by at least 100 to 1.

      Reply

  10. I think

    remember us who labored
    so hard to forget.

    is a terrific close.

    Sometimes I think we fret too much about making it new. “Men require more often to be reminded than informed.” And this is terribly well made. & Just because the thoughts are familiar to you doesn’t mean they couldn’t hit someone else with a whallop!

    Reply

    1. Well, sure. I guess that’s why I still think there’s value in blogging poems like this, which I would never include in a book.

      Thanks for the kind words.

      Reply

Leave a Reply