(April 2005) Posted on Sunday’s Writer’s Almanac
by Alicia Suskin Ostriker
The puzzled ones, the Americans, go through their lives
Buying what they are told to buy,
Pursuing their love affairs with the automobile,
Baseball and football, romance and beauty,
Enthusiastic as trained seals, going into debt, struggling—
True believers in liberty, and also security,
And of course sex—cheating on each other
For the most part only a little, mostly avoiding violence
Except at a vast blue distance, as between bombsight and earth,
Or on the violent screen, which they adore.
Those who are not Americans think Americans are happy
Because they are so filthy rich, but not so.
They are mostly puzzled and at a loss
As if someone pulled the floor out from under them,
They'd like to believe in God, or something, and they do try.
You can see it in their white faces at the supermarket and the gas station
—Not the immigrant faces, they know what they want,
Not the blacks, whose faces are hurt and proud—
The white faces, lipsticked, shaven, we do try
To keep smiling, for when we're smiling, the whole world
Smiles with us, but we feel we've lost
That loving feeling. Clouds ride by above us,
Rivers flow, toilets work, traffic lights work, barring floods, fires
And earthquakes, houses and streets appear stable
So what is it, this moon-shaped blankness?
What the hell is it? America is perplexed.
We would fix it if we knew what was broken.