Age: 17, Grade: 12
School Name: Frank Sinatra High School Of The Arts, Astoria, NY
Educators: Melissa Jean-Baptiste, Stella Lee
Introduction to American Politics
To assure you there is a side you must join
and slogans you should get tattooed,
before you will be two faces of a coin
you will not win. It’s only there for the view
of the hopeful—and ideally distracted—mind.
I say this because if you noticed and knew
where the hands travelled as they spoke, you’d find
that the coin’s home was originally your pocket
and you’d put all three of you into quite a bind.
You’ll be told this system is delicate as a locket;
to hold it dear to you before they ask
if the loved one pictured inside is illegal. It isn’t rocket
science. Really, how difficult of a task
could it be, to follow the edicts they break,
to show your face as you fix the mask?
Look anywhere but the eyes. You’d forsake
all lords but theirs. Keep this in mind, when despair
ascends to the atmosphere, that they did not make
it happen, they only tried to cease it with warfare.
Only when it threatens them do they give it a name:
the antithesis of emancipation, you must beware
of the picket lines, they’ll warn you, they’ll claim
our freedom and kill it, close their mouths before slaves
they butchered return to haunt the land again. Blame
the chills on yourself. Blame the heat waves
on all except the top dogs who don’t even give
a shit. Blame the prisoners who don’t behave.
Don’t ask what they’re in for. We don’t forgive
here, we profit. We always profit. Ignore the chatter.
We are given the unalienable right to live
as long as you prove you deserve it. No matter
who you pick, say thank you. Convince yourself
that there is ever a lesser evil. Never truly shatter
the bowl that feeds the beast or the bookshelf
holding encyclopedias’ worth of his deceit.
Say that “one or the other” are the only choices. Stealth
will be the star-strangled drummer’s beat
will be the most welcome guest in your lungs
will be a fighter’s ballad, almost as sweet
as copper, perhaps even a stream of it among
what could’ve been blood, the drop of a coin
as it spins until its collapse, the battle cry left unsung.