Dear President Romney,
“For a solitary animal egoism is a virtue that tends to preserve and improve the species: in any kind of community it becomes a destructive vice.”
The truth surrounds us. Forget beauty. Form follows function. Visa is versa. Give me your hand. Now do you believe me? I’m talking about God, hope, the edges of what we understand. Words manifest.
Or they don’t. I don’t understand what I don’t understand.
The truth? A system stops being a superposition of states and becomes either one or the other when an observation takes place.
The polls don’t lie.
God, hope, the edges of what is, what can be, understood. During the campaign, you both were and you weren’t. Either thing could have happened. Am I writing? Or am I in line for more coffee? Somebody in front of me smells good. Lotion or coconut oil. My friend Anna imagines you on top of a building with a rifle—all of your well-dressed friends, at a dinner table behind you feasting on possibility.
My friend Lynn doesn’t talk to me anymore.
My wife left.
My friend Beth, I love her, but she... I don’t even know what to say.
Will you pull the trigger? Am I too full of longing or is this hope? I imagine you from now on, alone, the only one awake, eyes on the ceiling all night. The truth is a box with no exit. Universes. Meow, or whatever.
Dear President Obama,
One morning about ten years ago, I flicked a wrist, and the projector screen hanging from the ceiling in the classroom, as usual, flew upward. As it hit the top, rocking back and forth, one of the “S” hooks that attached the screen’s metal housing to an angle-iron frame jumped from its hole, and the screen swung like a baseball bat, striking me in the side of the head as I stepped toward the white board with a dry erase marker. As the screen hit, the class let out a collective gasp. It hit so hard that I was spun, pivoting on my left foot. Eyes closed, and a red light flashed inside the skull. As I spun, simultaneous thoughts of disaster and regret, not my life, flashed before my eyes. First and foremost, I worried about the cataclysm that was occurring, the ceiling collapsing. I knew I must help the students to escape. I opened my eyes, prepared to see rubble and wreckage, and the screen, still hanging by one “S” hook from the ceiling, swung back and hit me again, in the forehead, right between the eyes. The students’ gasps became guffaws.
I don’t know what the students learned that day. It was an AP Literature class, and my dizzy embarrassment had nothing to do with close reading. However, they reveled in the story. We talked about it on the last day of school. I told them again about every thought that flew through my head as the red light lit behind my closed eyes. I reminded them that after my eyes popped opened and the screen struck the second time, Nick Papantonakis, who is now a manager of a Snooze restaurant in California, as the screen pendulumed back and forth to rest behind me, Nick pointed at me and with emphasis stated, “It hit you twice! It hit you in the face! Open your eyes!” We laughed. The story was as important as the interpretation of the events that created it.
Have things changed?
Dear Ms. President,
Hours after the school shooting while watching the blind keyboard player sing, I still feel a little bit alone. This is different from solitude. Almost thirty years, I have been a teacher in a classroom. Tonight, I’m in a bar with Jerod and Tucker and Tucker’s wife, whose name I can’t remember because I’ve only met her twice, and the music is loud so I don’t ask again.
The keyboard player is blind. Another beer appears in front of me. The shooting didn’t happen where I work, not at my school. Still, we have regular practice–lockdown and evacuation drills. Everyone stop what you’re doing. Turn out the lights. Hide. Get away from the doors and windows.
Today, Sarah stopped my literature class. She read aloud from her cell phone, news updates about the shooting on the other side of town. One dead. Two wounded, one critically. The kid had a shotgun and a bandolier of rounds. He strode into school asking, “Where’s Mr. Murphy?” Murphy immediately left the school. The police praise him. He was attempting to lure the gunman away. Sarah stops reading. She says, “You know these lockdown drills won’t save us. If a shooter comes into this room–” She stops, shakes her head. The class is silent. I hear it. We all do. So I tell them I will protect them. I will throw books and chairs. I hold up the thick textbook. I remind them we are safe: I remind them we have been using critical strategies to interpret Naguib Mahfouz’s story “The Answer Is No.” I ask them what the question is.
Dear Mr. President,
NPR or gut punch songs playing on the car stereo, and all kinds of beauty on either side of the road. What am I supposed to do? If I could sing like that, I might be wealthy as a blossoming tree by a river.
There are many ways to find home. Somewhere, in every city, people sleep on sidewalks, their only belongings in trash bags beside them. They are beautiful, too. I do not need to see them to know. They know the moon understands hunger and waiting. I should do something bigger than write something that no one will read or that those who do will turn from as I have and will from so many beggars.
You’ll do it, too. You have. You think it’s enough to give someone $10 or a place to sleep?
I pretend to do my part by encouraging students to read. Nobody listens to the school board either. We trust blindly. But after our new board (they are well-to-do Libertarians) after they vote to change the way teachers in Jefferson County are paid, I have a mortgage I won’t be able to afford. I know, it’s worse in North Carolina. A lot of the teachers there are on food stamps.
This is my letter to the President. He gets letters like this every day. He has a staff to insulate him from some of the truths that hurt. He has the White House. Truth does not get angry. What should I do?
Dear Mr. or Ms. President,
How can we inoculate ourselves from bad feelings? There is more to me than just my unhappiness. I am not the President. I am not a banana peel. I found a dime on the tarmac. I open doors for strangers, too. I take pictures of dawn. Of course, none of this is true. Wake me up. My hands are not on your hips. I am not the Russian plane vanished over Indonesia. I am not Al-Qaeda. I am not a quesadilla. I smell like coffee, divorce, and disaster. Yes, I am desperate. I trust you more than I trust me. Look at all these first person pronouns. I will say anything to help you love me, but what I don’t know grows and grows until even this name, the sky, this home full of breath, the voices of loved ones, light, all seem peculiar.
Jack Martin’s poems have appeared in Agni, Ploughshares, Georgia Review, Colorado Review, and other magazines.