Sommer Browning on "Federal Holiday"

Federal Holiday  

Everyone strolling
through the Native Plants Garden
works for the government.
Everyone ordering hamburgers
with a napkin in his or her lap
works for the government.
Through glass, I witness
the world's loneliest actor
working for the government.
This morning, I promised myself
a new city and saw
how the trembling light
works for the government.
My friend the poet
is dying of cystic fibrosis
for the government
and everyone is scared
to come home because the web
across the door reads
Some Government.
I call my mother's broken pelvis
driving to the emergency room,
but in the end, really
working for the government.
I write to my friend, my sister,
who will marry her boyfriend
the day after the apocalypse
for the government.
I sleep next to my friend
the poet, my husband,
whose heart is a library
lace machine whose roots
sailed the only boat
through the sopping world
for the government, and I wake.
I visit my father whose children
are Quakers at war since birth
who point at helicopters
allergic to air who write novels
at bath time for the government,
and on the bench the sun
slicing through the coreopsis,
the zinnias, the coxcomb—
after the flowers blazed
and died, I learned every name
working for the government.
Door with no wreath
sabotaging holy days.
Sunset hinged to the sky.
You smell like chrysanthemums
working for the repairman
who fixed the leak, how it
used to snow on you
when you peed, now tarred
over skylight sealing out
the government.
The exact moment I decided
to charge your phone, you
applied to work for the government.
We're all out of kickball
picked last at the park
we rented under the pavilion
we rented displaying our permit
to the nice park ranger
we rented did we think
for a minute he was a swinger?
And how dare he when he
works for the government?
I forgot how sad I was
watching her leap across
the stage unsure she
worked for the government.
The government opened
the box of knives you sent me,
of mold, of laryngitis, of anthrax,
of all the most violent gifts
I've gotten from the government,
folding all over each other
in the government, all the people
I never slept with in the government.
You said this was a movie
and I ran from all of the babies
who worked for the government.
All I say is stuff people say
when they work
for the government.
Do her legs go all the way up
in the government?
That little gnat's
in the government,
the roots, all the napkins
in the government, through
the blinds the government
is cut into so many rectangles.

On "Federal Holiday"

I started writing this poem on a Columbus Day. At the time, I was working for the federal government as a contractor. I had the day off because Columbus Day is a federal holiday and our building was closed, but I didn't get paid because the contractor did not recognize that holiday. It's a screwed up situation. There are many screwed up situations. In fact, maybe every situation is screwed up otherwise we wouldn't recognize it as a situation. This is not a situation: I was brushing my teeth. This is a situation: I was brushing my teeth with an alligator.

This poem is a collection of scenes from my life, a collection of situations non- and otherwise, and from the most banal to the most intimate, the government insinuates itself. The personal is political here, indeed. I feel like the government, in this poem, is a kind of insidious non-actor; simultaneously embodying a cartoon dog with a Duh-Where'd-I-Leave-My-Bone voice and the quietest vulture. The poem doesn't end with some president pressing The Button, but with the narrator, inside (hiding?) gazing at the government with every 20th century nuance of that verb. I'm not a conspiracy theorist; I don't have enough extra paranoia lying around. However, I am enamored with ideas of the possible, the improbably likely, with dystopian and utopian futures. I like to think that inside all possible worlds the poet remains a double agent—testifying for because this is how to testify against. I the people, Alice Notley writes.




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