“Amazing Grace” (as American Rondeaux)
I. John Newton
Not without danger can mortal men be
all-powerful, de Tocqueville wrote, seeing
that God’s just wisdom must hold power up.
No electric wires, electric chairs yet—just
pure current of bodies. What beliefs run free
is the question—what is given the circuitry.
Was it God who made a “former slaver” kneel
on a slave ship for sight? His soul a salt-rinsed cup
not without danger (oh God!)
of turning black again. He didn’t renounce slavery
yet. He was a product of history; the blindfolds of centuries.
As if his white eyes saw without seeing what
the deck was made of. The sails’ pyramids rigged up
to out-blind sun; the whips swinging gracefully—
not without danger.
II. American People
are only excited really by themselves,
dT writes too. They are amused by waterfalls
and trees, but briefly; treat the ancient with distaste
and want a poetry of progress, of the great
efforts of man—what is-not-yet is not at all
impossible; just yet untried. Americans fail
to see the limits; their rivers’ lengths explorable
by men who drain them, give them names—
are only excited really
by what’s not here. They build skyscraper shelves
to hold the goods they build. Good means indomitable;
good goods are buyable. Pinecones are passé
and stiff as powdered wigs. If a tree gives way,
the riddle tells us: the men who hear it fall
are only really excited about themselves.
III. TSA Scanner
This X-ray sight, Newton couldn’t imagine,
though redemption was security of a kind.
God forgave, so his fiancé forgave his trespasses.
As the TSA—if they’re beautiful—forgives our asses’
blunt, scanned nakedness. Hotel Papa’s not blind:
it’s code for Hot woman headed for security, get thou behind
a scanner’s sights. 67 of 70 guns aren’t scanned
as guns (statistics say). They’re too distracting: the masses.
This X-ray sight
is the clearest sight: if you see panty lines,
they’re there; then gone. Oh, you once were blind.
Hotel Papa, as in hot(el) and you can imagine, he says—
the agent who leaks this. Yeah, we looked at their pussies.
People didn’t know, so they didn’t mind
this X-ray sight.
IV. Leading Strings
Each man in leading-strings wants to be free
and also led (dT writes)—it’s contradictory: democracy
as freedom from rule by rule by the people.
Who keeps any ball of yarn from being tangles
long enough to knit it into flag-striped booties?
Two centuries of being born leaves us babies
with apple-pie eyes and strange hunger, waiting
for Him or him or him to say: now crumble:
for his own bit of crust. Freedom ain’t free
could also mean these chains of the hungry
too tired for soup lines, sleeping stiff cardboard-
bundled on the San Francisco streets. There’s mold
to the core, a man once told me—gesturing at the city,
V. That Taught My Heart
We have no less time (and no desire) to sing God’s praise
in line for the line at the airport, so the TSA
has hired miniature therapy ponies to relieve
our impatience, our anger like ziplock leaks.
We spill over ourselves. Can we feed them hay
from our hands? We will make ourselves safe;
we’ll make ourselves safer to pet them: precious, trained
as first belief. We have nothing to fear but safety;
we have no less
time to be saved. Our pocketknives confiscated—
seen clearly as our souls in confessional: our faces
blurred out. There are ponies the size of our griefs,
miniaturized, brushed to a gloss. Wretches kneeling
by Homeland Security. Bridled. Ticketed for today,
we have no less.
VI. Battlefield Mall
Our wounds healed, Lincoln glows in fountains
by anchor stores, though the flags, half-mast again,
won’t wave. It’s a good day for Cinnabon—thick icing
like a bandage of sweet. dT said, if one digs deep,
Americans seek everything’s value in one question:
how much money will it bring? Here there’s Ambien
for the wretches who dream history. There’s home
on sale at Macy’s—sheets for your best night’s sleep.
Our wounds healed,
we can put on new running shoes, headphones
at Hastings. A life of joy and credit and peace. Gone
are the dead, once mounded like snow in the fields.
Now parking lots. Now presents our shield and portion be.
Night crews vacuum up wishes coin by coin,
our wounds healed.
We are made of glory and of refuse—
Pascal wrote—like plastic swirls from space:
flocked bright as oceanic birds, the trashy grace
of gulls diving in dumpsters. We’re hopeless
idealists, believing we cannot lose
as the hurricane hits. On slave ships, refuge
from storms and rape meant chains, abuse—
women, like dead-winged things, pitched into waves.
We are made of glory
each song alternates with—we are sinners, loose
from God’s reined sight. Blind but now less.
The plastic bottles bob the waves like faces—
caps for eyes. Something is trying to surface.
Give us your tired. How do we explain?
We are made of glory.
Alexandra Teague is the author of Or What We’ll Call Desire (Persea, 2019), and two prior poetry books—The Wise and Foolish Builders and Mortal Geography—as well as co-editor of Bullets into Bells: Poets and Citizens Respond to Gun Violence. A professor at University of Idaho, she is currently on sabbatical in Wales.