I thought I heard. Or wish. What shows more
respect, hats or pants? Please remove your limbs,
your tattoos, your gum, that smirk off your face.
We swam naked in the sting of the chlorined
high school pool, thinking of our grandmothers
to keep from getting hard. I prefer to be pant-less
and playing a tambourine when my time comes,
though I might want to keep my hat on. In high school,
I ran naked through the local Big Boy restaurant
late one Friday after a night of extreme drinking
and boredom. My father grounded me
for not wearing a mask like a polite streaker
and my girlfriend insisted I quit drinking.
Not such a leap, I protested—not like that naked
high dive that prompted hair growth
or public urination, or in some cases, tears.
The girls, segregated from us, were from all reports
miserable in their shapeless blue suits, still wet
from the previous class. We were red
or white when they walked in by accident.
We had no Blacks at our school. America
the land of segregation and the home
of the naïve. I ran right past the Big Boy exit
and had to turn around and run back.
It’s those entrances and exits that trip us up,
right, America? I’m trying not to double-entendre
myself to death, but never ask a naked drunken
teenager for directions or loyalty or to go to war.
I’m not a big fan of war. We all bow our heads
to stare thoughtfully and respectfully
at our genitals. Take me out to the old ball
game. Sorry. Perhaps we should all remove
our right sock for the pledge of allegiance.
“This Land is Your Land,” offers only
one choice. Every home is the home
of the brave. Our bodies betray us,
one and all. Is that in the song?
When Jesus rose after three days,
did he whisper the lyrics
was naked when he rose, then they
quickly wrapped him in an American Flag.
“God Bless America,” by Kate Smith.
A for a dive. C for a jump. F for retreat,
surrender. I did a cannonball off the high dive.
Cannonballs were forbidden,
yet no one got hurt, or even wet,
except for me, who got the paddle.
But I rose from the dead and got dressed
and headed to American Government class
where I learned about the electoral college
and the sanitation system and Betsy Ross.
The teacher took attendance, and I said
Here! Just another daily miracle
in the land of the damned.
In high school, I dreamed
of getting traction. I have
no memory of using the word
dang with one g much less 5.
Perhaps in remote areas
of the country they said
Danggggg! in 1974
but on smoky Detroit streets
we shouted Kick Out the Jams,
Mother Fuckers! with the MC5.
I slipped in every boozy puddle
concocted from my own sloppy spills
that year. Perhaps those classmates
are curious to see I’m not in prison,
still alive and/ or they think I still
might be able to hook them up
with some good dope.
Though I got off that train
of thought a long time ago,
I still slip from time to time
to time. Or maybe I’m skipping
Kick out the jams!
I turn into the skid.
Jim Daniels is the author of numerous collections of poetry, most recently The Middle Ages (Red Mountain Press, 2018) and Street Calligraphy (Steel Toe Books, 2017). His third collection, Places/Everyone (University of Wisconsin Press, 1985), won the inaugural Brittingham Prize in Poetry in 1985. He lives in Pittsburgh and is the Thomas Stockham University Professor of English at Carnegie Mellon University