“American Abecedarian”

A Poem by Joshua Bennett

August 31, 2020  By Joshua Bennett
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A is for atom bomb. B is for blacks belting blues before burial, the blood they let to give the flag its glimmer. C is for cocoon & its cognates. Cocaine, Coca-Cola, the cacophonous wail of drones filling air with wartime. D is for demagogue. E is for elephants & their semblances, every political animal laboring under some less‑than‑human name. F is for foxhole. Firefight. Fears we cathect onto men holding best intentions close to the chest as one might guilt or guns & of course G is for guns, G-men, guillotines draped in flame we dream any hellscape holds if it’s up to snuff. H is for Horsepower. I is for I. I is for individual drive trumps all concern when it comes to this business of living joyously at the edge of wit, watching half a world drown with your hands tied. J is for jeans. K is for Krispy Kreme. L is for loss. L is for loveliness. L is for lean in the cups of boys in white shirts billowing free in Mississippi towns so small, they are visible only when passing through them, like death. M is for metafiction. N is for next: next wife, next car, next life I would spend the bones in this flesh one by one to touch. O is for opulence. Opportunity. Occasional anguish but nothing compared to what I will reach when I peak & P is for Preakness. Poverty & bodies that flee it. Oh body, like a storm of horses. Oh questions we dare not ask for fear of breaking rank or losing funding. Q is for quarantine. R is for repair, Revolution, other conflicts that lack limit in any definitional sense. S is for stars we adore & reflect. T is for tragedy. U is for upper‑middle working class when the survey asks. V is for the viola my mother plays in the 1970s as her hometown collapses without fanfare. W is for Windows 98 in the public school computer lab & every fourth grader playing Oregon Trail there. X is for xanthan gum, every everyday ingredient you couldn’t identify by sight if you tried. Y is for Yellowstone. Y is for the yachts in the docks in our eyes. Z is for zealotry: national pride like an infinite zip line, hyperdrive, the fastest way down.

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owed, joshua bennett

From Owed by Joshua Bennett, published by Penguin Books, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC. Copyright © 2020 by Joshua Bennett.




Joshua Bennett
Joshua Bennett
Poet, performer, and scholar Joshua Bennett is the author of The Sobbing School. He received his PhD in English from Princeton University, and is currently Mellon Assistant Professor of English and Creative Writing at Dartmouth College. His writing has been published in The New York Times Magazine, The Paris Review, Poetry, and elsewhere. His book Being Property Once Myself: Blackness and the End of Man was published by Harvard University Press in May 2020. His first work of narrative nonfiction, Spoken Word: A Cultural History, is forthcoming from Knopf. He lives in Boston.








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