You first knew the truth about us and them
in a California ranch house
with a pulp in your lap.
In the other room, your grandmother coughed up phlegm
and your uncle argued with his spouse
and beside you your sister studied a European map.
Us and them.
Good and evil.
On the gleaming pages,
the difference was obvious.
The villain in your mag tried to kill thousands with a sinister gem,
and it made sense for the heroes to cause an upheaval,
even if it caused even more death than the Black Death did in the Dark Ages.
Your sister’s map is stuck with pins,
colored red and blue.
Blue for us, red for them.
You worry it will be considered unpatriotic.
If it is, your mother will have your skins,
for being unpatriotic is always bad from any point of view.
They’ll lock you up, no matter what you do--the unpatriotic are always psychotic.
In the pulps the hero always saves the day,
in your world, the hero is often blown away.
What you have in common is evil,
together you have villains, bad men.
Theirs wear dark colors and come up with terrible schemes,
yours are so often civil,
impossible to spot on the streets--for they are men
who look like your father, some even of the same means.
The government tries to tell you the villains of your world look different,
emphasizing traits and making them look monstrous,
but it’s all a lie.
None of the enemy look that way, the deception is deliberate.
It is propaganda, you think, because no one could be that hideous.
But they expect you to not ask why
they go to war.
Villains, they say, we go to kill the villains.
You sometimes have to wonder what the real difference is between us and them
for the fictitious woven lore
only suggests other men are monsters, villains,
if only they look a certain way, if there is a big enough difference between us and them.
You are nearly certain a man’s heart is where he keeps his evil.
You can hardly remain civil
when you realize us and them isn’t real
because in the shadows of every man’s heart there is evil, a branded seal
that can grow like a cancer,
or wither like the waist of a ballet dancer.
Maybe in some of their hearts it grew like cancer,
but it wasn’t like in your men’s hearts other types of cancer
Your men still caused their men’s heads to blow.
are no better or worse than their people,
and you can only think that one man seems truly evil, their killer,
Their people just look at the gleaming pages,
and decide the Allies must be terrible savages,
because they are depicted as so.
There is no way for us to say to them, “Hello,
look we are all people,
none of us must be barbarians.
Take up a needle,
and stitch a patch over your heart’s brand of evil.
We will match you, stitch
Us and them you then realize
is a lie the creative mind
--radio, literature, music, art--has bought into.
It is sickening.
There is no way to minimize
the impact of the bind,
for what gorgeous art could have made its debut,
without the crippling
stranglehold of stereotype?
You guess more than the words you’ll ever type.
Your sister puts another pin in the map,
the pulp is removed from your lap,
and you wonder why your father
had to go fight
and whether or not they know what is right,
for now you do not know.
It all seems like a disturbed show.