“House of Pho” and Other Poems by Winston Derden

“America, Too”

(After Allen Ginsberg’s “America”)

America, it’s me, your native son.
Are you listening?

America, we’ve come a long way together.
I’ve worked hard to understand our journey, but
I’m more than a little confused. In fact,
America, you got some ’splainin’ to do.

America, if we’re the land of liberty how come a black man couldn’t vote here
until 1870?
How come a woman, of any color, couldn’t vote here until 1920?
How come women can’t get equal pay for equal work even today?
And how come gays and lesbians get called perverts and fairies?
America, you have far too many stupid people to suppress competent ones because
they happen to be women or black or gay.

America, how come a democratic election isn’t fair unless our guy wins?
If we’re the world’s leading democracy, why do we support an international
dirty laundry list of dictators?
Why has this gone on for more than a hundred years with
Suharto in Indonesia
Franco in Spain
Batista in Cuba
Hussein in Jordan
Nhu and Theiu and who knows who in Vietnam?

America, our CIA engineered a coup in Chile to overthrow an elected
socialist and replace him with an unelected fascist.
Our CIA toppled the government of Iran and set up the Shah.
America, you do some shitty deals,
and to make it worse, you tell us you’re protecting democracy by defiling it.
America, can we indict the CIA on a morals charge?

America, why should I take comfort in a vice president’s genocidal smile?
Why was it fair practice to award his former company no-bid contracts to subjugate a
country we had no business invading in the first place?
Imagine what a shock the bombs were to Saddam Hussein after shaking hands
with Dick Cheney.

America, we’ll never know the truth about Iraq until we waterboard Dick Cheney.

America, when did freedom of speech become freedom to say only what someone else
wants to hear?

Why do demagogues who can’t string together a coherent rant demand
attention for being loud and obnoxious?
America, my head is assaulted and my ass is peppered with artisan lies
shilled by spin-meisters who substitute a slice of truth for the whole truth
and expect me to believe it.

America, why is the best part of the First Amendment that it allows whack-jobs
to self-identify?

America, you’ve got big muscles and a big ass.
When are you going to grow a big heart and a big mind to go with them?
I don’t want the zero sum logic of oilmen and financiers.
I’m tired of sphincter-twitch conservatives blaming knee-jerk liberals for
having bleeding hearts.

Save me the hypocrisy.
There’s no such thing as compassionate conservatism. It’s a cover for
funding pet peeves and letting real problems go to hell.
America, when do we dump puffed-up ideologies in favor of policies that
produce practical results?
When will our loudmouth jingoes realize that being born in America was dumb luck and
not some payoff for their personal achievement?
America, will we ever run an ego deficit?

America, you won’t get it right, and you won’t leave me alone.
Why does applying for medical coverage feel like you’re checking my prostate
with both hands on my shoulders?
Why does Big Pharma get to reinvent my health and well-being as a profit center?
America, all I want to do is get high and forget you.
When can I have a legal puff of marijuana?

America, I’m beginning to think you’re blowing smoke up my ass.
Why are your intellectual tools made from recycled junk?
Our children are spoon-fed democracy and Jesus and capitalism from birth.
Has anyone ever stopped to consider that democracy and capitalism are mutually
Does anyone remember Jesus calling a democratic vote to decide anything?

America, this is your native son on the line.
Are you even listening?


House of Pho

Noodles steeped in steaming broth
topped with bean sprouts, cilantro, basil,
sloshing bowl half an orb’s circumference

an aged man of Vietnam lifts strands
sucked and gnawed off bamboo slivers,
stringy, straggling remainders slither off his chin
down into the soup again

silent flat-screen CNN
dominates the corner ceiling,
his eye on this
eye on a world unskeining,

IEDs exploding, cobblestone streets strewn with
protesters robbed of life savings,
a Congressman with sex addiction,
a governor getting lap-band surgery,

half heeding, spears the broth again,
tips his bowl, soup slurping,
stick-shoves flopping wrigglers in,
loose strings dangling, bitten off, cascading,

lifts brown orbs in nacred pearl,
a Russian reactor melting,
panic rumors send markets retreating,
shakes his head incredulous, tendriled mouth demurs,

messy as eating noodles with chopsticks,
this old world.


Practical Politics

A drinking buddy of mine
relates a tale of relatives
who lived in northern Minnesota,
sometime back in the Fifties.

A local man formed a klavern
of the Ku Klux Klan, and soon
the relatives became dues-paying members,
purchased sheets and hoods,

then patiently schemed to discriminate
against Catholics, Jews, and Negroes,
only to discover
there were none in driving distance.

The sheets and hoods were stowed away
in cupboards and in closets
until a snow-bright winter day when they
were donned as camo for duck hunting.


Winston Derden is a poet, fiction writer, and former journalist living in Houston, Texas. His poetry publications include New Texas, Harbinger Asylum, Blue Collar Review, Big River Poetry Review, Illya’s Honey, Barbaric Yawp, and numerous anthologies including Untameable City (Mutabulis Press). He co-produces and hosts the reading/interview series Speak!Poet.





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