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Four-year-old American child learns to us a machine gun

Four-year-old American child – in the age of the National Rifle Association – learns to use a machine gun
Photo Credit: ABC News Video (January 2014)


My Poetry Corner June 2018 features an excerpt from the poem “american child” by normal. Raised in Passaic, New Jersey, normal is a poet and registered nurse now retired and living in Saugerties, New York.

As a young poet in the early 1960s, he began reading his work at the Rafio Café in Greenwich Village, frequented by Beat poets and writers. Among the poets who influenced normal’s sensibilities is the American poet, e.e. cummings (1894-1962), whose use of low-case letters and minimal punctuation he emulates.

The following excerpts come from normal’s chapbooks, Blood on the Floor (1999) and American Child (2001).

His poem “blood on the floor” brings to mind America’s powerlessness to end mass shootings, stealing the future of our children.

don’t slip
there is blood on the floor.

blood of apathy
blood of the dispassionate
the ignoring
blood of those numbed by dumb
blood of those who pretend it
never happens / the cheerfully
humbled who go about it all

Meanwhile, the raindrops are loaded / with the eyes of children.

The featured poem, “american child,” portrays Americans in all our glory and shame. Penned on Labor Day 2000, the poem begins with the plight of the American worker.

i am the child of america
the sierra madres are bleeding
i am america
the mad & the magnate marry
the factory wolf howls
i am america
the mantra rumbles with the kinds & the cripples.

Trappings of American life ring through the verses: dinty moore stew, soup kitchens, porno talkshows, paparazzi, honkytonk queen, sams club, home depot, tickertape parade, flophouse, and more.

Four stanzas speak of “death to” individuals, special groups, historical events, and man-made systems. Among the targets are lewis & clark, manifest destiny, trail of tears & of schemes, and the american dream. The poet also boots the capitalist, communist, anarchist, antichrist, and atheist. (I would like to add racist and misogynist.)

Apart from lewis & clark, normal mentions several other personalities that make up the American character: joe dimaggio, thomas jefferson, geronimo, benedict arnold, einstein, and chief joseph. (No shout out to Frederick Douglass or Martin Luther King?)   

In the following stanza, the poet captures the schizoid character of the American child and his impact on the world:

i am beauty
i am invention
i am wonder
i am the united fruit company
i am promontory point pikes peak & mai lie
i am the glory
i am the savior
i am the black tide of the acid sky

(mai lie instead of My Lai reframes the massacre in Vietnam.)


fool / genius // the kind of heaven & hell // the arithmetic eyes of the bureaucrat robot

Yet, for all his flaws, the American child is a fighter and survivor in a crazy world, as normal concludes in his final verses.

i am the feral infant dancing on the freakstage / of the final sunset // i am the child of america.

Much has changed over the past seventeen plus years since normal’s portrayal of the American child. How could he have foreseen Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump? I live in hope that an American child – rising from a bloody school floor; less feral and more inclusive – has now embarked on the path to the presidency.

To read the excerpt from the featured poem and learn more about the work of normal, go to my Poetry Corner June 2018.