Two Poems by Sigman Byrd
Associate poetry editor Stephanie Oesch on today’s bonus poems: Sigman Byrd’s work is hot and electric and focused on the current now of our country and our lives. In these pieces, Byrd brings us potato salad, F-35 fighters, and sunshine, but also deep water and warnings. In “To America Burning,” he mixes phrases from Donald Trump’s 2017 Joint Address to Congress with Brian Echo’s “Baby’s on Fire” to create a strange and compelling collage reflecting today’s political landscape. Relevant and often even a little urgent, these poems embrace the hum, rhythm, and frequent strangeness of our current time.
Today the fist slammed on the table, tomorrow drones
buzzing the coastline. Ten-thousand raucous, repetitive years
of human civilization suggest it’s going to get bad.
A beach umbrella topples into a bucket of potato salad.
Accusations fly, lawsuits. The next thing you know,
the gasconading governors refuse to shake hands.
One thing leads to another. A tiny, irritated look
vibrates in the president’s eyes like a gently foaming
tide that erupts into an appalling shockwave of water.
Run for your life, someone screams.
But then it turns out a new Ethiopian restaurant
has opened with remarkably good injera and doro wat.
The president says he loves ethnic food. His spokesman
says, The monstrous deluge of bombastic sea
was nothing more than the cozy, chlorinated blue
of a swimming pool. Politics is fickle. Don’t get too attached.
You sip your bottle of posh with aromatic notes
of sunshine and not-a-care-in-the-world.
A perfect day—tragedy loves such days—
for riding your inflatable raft into the deep end.
To America Burning*
The torch is now in our hands, and baby’s on fire,
bringing down the price
of the fantastic, new F-35 fighter. Better throw her in the water,
extinguishing a network
of vile savages from our planet.
Besides, look at her laughing with improved vetting procedures
like a heifer to the slaughter.
Drug dealers and criminals, women and children of all faiths
and beliefs will soon begin
construction of a great wall.
Clearly, as we mark the celebration of the conclusion
of Black History Month,
we have begun to drain the swamp. Photographers
snip snap. We will use them to light up the world.
This kind of experience
is necessary for their learning. Baby’s on fire, so why not join forces
to finally get the job done?
The rebellion started with members of Congress,
by the tens of millions
as a quiet attempt at an automated telegraph.
She’s only burning with our terrible,
job-crushing regulations and crumbling
infrastructure. Fortunately, Walmart and many others across
our gleaming land are hiring
the heroic veterans of law enforcement.
They said she was hot stuff, and that’s what baby’s
been reduced to, because
only now at an unprecedented rate can we truly
make America great again.
Baby’s on fire, and all the instruments agree on the progress
in keeping those promises.
Like undertaking a historic effort
to massively reduce the will of the people,
making the cycle of poverty affordable
and accessible again. If you’ll be my flotsam,
I could be an amazing quarterback, an electric pen,
half the man I used to.
I have ordered the Department of Homeland Security to wonder
what kind of empowered friend
America will be. Baby’s on fire,
and every idiot should know that.
*This poem is a collage of words and phrases taken from Donald Trump’s Joint Address to Congress, February 28, 2017, and Brian Eno’s song “Baby’s on Fire.”
Sigman Byrd is the author of two books of poetry, Wake Up, Sleepwalker (Conundrum Press 2014) and Under the Wanderer’s Star (Marsh Hawk Press 2006). He has published poems in American Poetry Review, Crazyhorse, Georgia Review, Poetry, Prairie Schooner, Georgia Review, Southwest Review, and other journals.