What else can I say about my country,
this country where the worst of the evildoers
win popularity contests, and the poor
crowd into the army, and bad government
is like the air, a faith, a way of being,
the goal and meaning of our history?

In the rickety pile of tales called history
the most ridiculous now describes our country.
Here’s how it ends: as if we were one human being,
we have announced, “I’m tired of evildoers;
I’m just going to let them buy the government.
That will exhaust them. That will make them poor.”

The rest of the world knows how we treat our poor:
we give them a chance to get rich. If they blow it, they’re history,
and it’s off to jail with them. We don’t blame the government—
that’s part of what we love about our country;
we’re all too busy fighting evildoers
to notice the stale crusts of bread at the core of our being.

It’s an old problem: how do we go on being
so comfortable, and so troubled? Are we poor
losers? Am I one of the evildoers?
Often I imagine another history,
in which our stumbling, misbegotten country
learns to tell the truth about the government;

I try, at least, to imagine that every government
simply reflects the decisions of human beings,
that no magician’s curse has befallen our country—
no one has cast a spell to keep the poor
locked up, nor raised the whole dead history
of empires stretched till they snap by evildoers.

I want to believe there are no evildoers,
only men and women in government
who hold and obey their beliefs about history,
for whom buying and selling, and being
bought and sold, are no reason to send the poor
home in coffins … Then I look at the country.

I too would like to be rid of the evildoers,
but for now this country likes its government.
What will the poor nations say, when they write our history?