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Pete Madzelan

The Broke Down Engine of State


I close my eyes and see…
a man playing a twelve-string guitar 
in an empty parking lot for tips.
The blues emanating from his strings fall like rain
while I, like a country of multitudes, 
hope for an embrace that isn’t there.
I open my eyes to the endless pain of current days.

I’m listening to Blind Willie McTell sing the blues 
about a Broke Down Engine
has me thinking about things
from this country where I live.
Things like human rights and civil liberties; 
like health care and The Constitution 
and I’m realizing—
crawling through the swill of mendacious debris 
that we, as in “We the People,” are riding 
aboard a train with a broke down engine
going downhill, out of control—no brakes,
screeching over the heart of innocence. 

I sit listening to Blind Willie McTell 
sing the blues as the screeching wheels 
squeal, severing the heart in two—
abandoned and dying 
from a drag-ass pandemic response 
while the wannabe despot smirks the virtues  
of Guns, God and Greed
into the anguished faces 
being terrorized by actualities 
of each and every day.

I sit, singing the blues with Blind Willie McTell,
“Been shootin’ craps and gamblin’ 
and Mama, I done gone broke,”
while in the Capital, the wannabe despot
hides in a bunker—cowering,
then surrounds himself with a phalanx of sycophants,
walks loutish steps to St. John’s Episcopal Church
to awkwardly hold a never read bible for a photo-op,
while tear-gas was loaded—machismo style, 
then unloaded—rogue state style,
into a peaceful crowd in Lafayette Park

I close my eyes and see…
Willie McTell playing his twelve-string guitar 
in an empty parking lot that is America,
as the broke down engine
screeches downhill, out of control—no brakes. 
Screeching to a place where the betrayal and rape 
of we, as in “We the People”
will continue into tomorrow,
and tomorrow can be a long, long time.


A Morning Cup of Coffee

Yesterday was judgment day.  How did you do?
     —Butch Hancock

I sit in a coffeehouse next to railroad depot
where mask wearing workers do morning things.
In the distance, a train whistle marks times; 
is barely audible, singing an out of tune melody. 

I sit with a morning cup of coffee, while
three ceiling fans twirl a change in the weather.
Winter is coming on, and I’m beginning to feel the chill
of cold fingertips upon my shoulders peeling layer
after layer of my skin, taking slivers of me from me.

I pour milk into a morning cup of coffee, while staring
at the three ceiling fans circling like the carousel existence
that has gotten us to this point.  Standing at the edge of the world,
wondering, if we were to jump, would we glide like ravens, 
swooping a descent into a deep canyon to rise again.

I stir a morning cup of coffee, while gazing outside
at the railroad depot, where tracks run east and west.
Neither route holds my future, so I turn my eyes back
to the ceiling fans while contemplating the changing weather
and the direction of railroad tracks without a destination home.

I sip a morning cup of coffee, while leaning a sigh
towards a lonely chessboard ready for a game.
The wood carved pieces the handiwork of a craftsman
but to my eyes, the pawns wear the faces of today,
suffering and proud; intentionally sacrificed
to die under the incurious thumb of indifference

I continue sipping a morning cup of coffee, while my mind
imagines a different game being played out. 
The pawns, wearing the faces of today, take action in a blur.
Are defiant against what didn’t have to be.  
The thumb of indifference throws up flaccid defense.
It’s no use.  Indifference stands naked to the bone.  Checkmate.  
The thumb of indifference disintegrates, crumbles for all to see.

I drain the remains of my coffee, while thinking
this can happen.  I’m seeing it; seeing the pawns celebrate, 
dancing the forbidden fandango with a most receptive Queen.
I put on my mask and zip up my jacket,
readying myself for a change in the weather.

I leave the coffeehouse next to a railroad depot.
In the distance, a train whistle marks times; 
is barely audible, singing a new and fresh melody.

Unvarnished Lies 

Shackled obedience cannot hide
the unvarnished lies flooding the land
where truth has become
a deformed and crippled dream
reverberating dignity
from a high wire without a net.

See the face of the salesman
rambling non sequiturs out of tune,
assuring the crowd 
that he is the righteous one
and any off-key melody 
is within their own minds.

The crowd—his crowd—sighs regret, 
apologizing for they have been taught;
have been managed with great skill
that the salesman
is the one in the know.

Listen to the song being sung
by the singer of gall,
exaggerating hope, only to melt it
like a candle in the night
as a choir of blind men step in line,
humming re-election morals
while reason, like dignity,
is held in contempt to reverberate
from the high wire without a net.

Shackled obedience cannot hide
the shadowy glint in the eyes
of unvarnished lies,
reflecting a history too soon forgotten.
We must remember against forgetting;
remember those who spoon-fed distortions,
allowing a populace to die.
Remember all of them.
History will.

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