Oh nascent soul in a starched Oxford,
know that corporate grinds you down,
takes your time, your hustle, your ambition,
your early mornings and late nights at the office,
missed time with family and friends.
They steal your health, your waistline,
your smoldering fire, your last spark,
your giddy sense of a boundless future
and endless possibility.
You slave away, grind yourself down
so shareholders who swim in pools of more money
than they’ll ever realistically need
can reap a marginal benefit.
And in the end, no matter how much you give them,
they’ll just cast you aside like trash anyway.
There’s no more expectation of a gold watch at retirement,
no more decency to the people who keep the profit flowing in.
It’s a machine that chews you up and expectorates you.
It’s a machine that knows no kindness, no mercy.
It’s a machine that feasts on blood and rumbles on eternally.
As an IU Bloomington student,
I frequently made the drive back to
the fraying rusty fringe of Chicagoland,
the land of greasy-dappled gyro joints,
of Italian Beef, and Italian Sausage,
and Italian Beef and Sausage.
Some described it as one of the most boring drives
in America, lamenting the flatness and unvarying
scenery, but I always drove it under the shroud of darkness.
Nine Inch Nails, My Life With the Thrill **** Kult, and
the Revolting ***** spilled through the stereo.
Al Jourgensen growled his strange Rod Stewart cover,
his ode to crack-*******, and his heavy industrial soundtrack
that makes you feel tense, like a prime time victim show.
As the aggressive beats and resonant past washed over me,
I realized my cozy hometown offered comfort
but could sustain no credible
fantasies of the future.
When I was young I was a bookish soul
who hung out in the chafed leather chairs of Barnes and Noble
wearing an itchy, chafing sweater,
listening to Weezer,
waiting for something good to finally happen
in my rotten teenage life.
It never did.
The Sweater Song would come on Q101 as my family visited Michigan City,
stopped by the beach, the outlet mall, the zoo,
hitting up pretty much almost all the attractions before 2:30 p.m.
Weezer roared on the stereo and later at the august
Tinley Park Amphitheater,
where it was easy to park but impossible to escape.
The band tore into the much-requested cover of Toto’s ‘Africa,’
knowing everyone who paid a ransom to be there
just wanted the hits and to get home
and cocoon themselves unthinkingly in the comfort of Netflix,
just waiting to arrive home.
Tony Hoagland later revealed himself as problematic
On issues of race and empathy
But what a wit
What a talent
What a social observer
What an analyzer of narcissism
What a chronicler
Of Bible studies, jet fuel imbibing and America itself
What a piercer of the illusions
Of blue-haired college students with tongue studs
And aversions to comfortable homogeneity
The spiked collar of strip malls and spoon-fed mass entertainment
How do you
The art from the artist
Where does the conversation stop
Where does it end
Where does it loop back
Where does it germinate
The tour group meandered
through silent monuments
of marble, limestone, and granite,
both grandiloquent and pedestrian,
both a signal of worldly prominence
and all those left behind could
scrape together on short notice.
They stopped by the grave of
a once-famed ragtime composer,
the still resting place of a musician
who had been all
banging syncopation and boisterous clamor.
The lyrics of his most famous song
were etched onto the memorial
lovingly in reverent tribute
with the presumption of indelible finality.
But the words were so blurred,
so bled with the rot and rust of weather and neglect
you could no longer make them out.
Perhaps it was a simple failure to scrub
the accursed headstone clean.
Perhaps it was the inexorable stain of time
that could never truly be lifted.
In the end, it was all the same,
all the same,
the same freighted symbolism
all the same.
The architect architected his own demise,
gradually over the liquor-brined years and then in milliseconds.
The architect drank, hunched over every last bar,
as a release, as a habit, as a stumblebum crutch, as a gaping maw.
He staggered one night out of the dark tavern into the SUV
that he click-clicked open without a thought despite past offenses.
He never saw the couple on a motorcycle out on date night,
or so he whimpered to the officer, muttering “my life is over."
Faced with 28 felony charges, he was right in a way.
And yet his life wasn’t over like theirs, no, it wasn’t over like theirs.
The gruff factory worker
in the coarse leather boots
and stained zubaz pants,
yelped with displeasure
when the tour guide of
the Pullman company town
revealed himself to be a
PhD candidate in English
during a Q-and-A.
He questioned his credentials,
dismissed him as overeducated,
as soft-palmed, not of his caste,
loudly declared that he was
just another bureaucrat in waiting.
"Institutions just exist to perpetuate
themselves; they don't care about
the people, just about keeping
themselves alive," he theatrically
confided to his friend,
wanting to make sure he heard him,
took note of his flagrant, raging skepticism.
"They got to pay the lawyers."
"All these institutions, they don't care about the workers."
We strode on, amid the shadowed reaches of the empty train car factory the owners long ago abandoned to the rustling prairie,
left to the wind and weeds and elements.