Jimmy Carter, King of America
I must have been—what?—four when Jimmy Carter
stepped out of Air Force One on the TV set,
smiling and shaking hands despite the polls
and all the shit that must've been going down.
There were exorcisms in Tehran,
with 'Death to the Great Satan!' on the lips
of mullahs, while the Soviet helicopters
swarmed Afghanistan. But I was four
and didn't know quite who the hell it was
waving at us, so I asked my Mom.
'That's Jimmy Carter, Quincy.' But who's he?
'The leader of our country.' Oh, our king.
I'd heard the fairy tales and thought I knew
the ins and outs of war and politics.
But he didn't look that regal in a suit
like something that my Dad would wear to church.
No crown or sceptre—and what was with the surname?
Kings had numbers, or really awesome titles
like 'Lionheart', 'the Mad', 'The Third', 'The Bold'—
even 'The Great' or 'the Magnificent'.
I went outside and played catch with my Dad,
who laughed when I explained what I had learned
about our king. But grown-ups always laughed
(or so it seemed) at my discoveries—
that the sky was far too high to reach,
even for them, that toilet water swirled
the same direction every time you flushed,
that snow was frozen rain. I let him laugh,
and then my Dad and I went in to eat
the supper that was always on the table.
King Carter was replaced by Ronald Reagan—
who had a different last name, and was older.
I learned about elections, the tradition
of voting on a Tuesday for our leaders—
all citizens 'like us'. But soon enough,
I heard of Contras out in jungles, islands
swarming with Marines...and slavery,
homeless people, and laid-off auto workers,
and that our TV came from far away,
a place whose name I couldn't quite pronounce.
You can't go back, of course. The TV set
is in some dump in central Oklahoma.
A different generation's in the yard
of the house my mother sold when she dumped Dad.
I've also learned that you don't need a king
to have an empire, court, and sycophants
while the poor get screwed, and every day, the news
comes like a tedious joke, in sober suits,
straight-faced insanity that we switch off,
then heat a frozen dinner from the fridge.
by Quincy Lehr