Becoming an American

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The Depression

“I would rather play roles that carry conviction.
Maybe it’s because they’re the easiest and yet
the hardest things for me to do.”

— Peg Entwistle, Oakland Tribune, 05/05/1929

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Sprawled across a teak and brass rail bar, 

suppose it’s September 1932
and you haven’t worked since Broadway.

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Wouldn’t you sit and just get drunk?
Tell your folks you’re meeting friends
in a drugstore on Beachwood Drive
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then beeline up the trail to Mount Lee?
Imagine the black fry of manure
and gardenias. All them crickets.
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L.A.’s bristling dark and yellow
like a bumblebee’s fur.
Downhill through hosiery and scrub
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to HOLLYWOODLAND and up the first
few rungs of a workman’s ladder,
you see your face in a small ravine.
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Do you fall backwards or forwards
off the ‘H’; prefer it for its sigh—
in some quarters, not pronounced at all—
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or simply jump? One day vies
against the next and for every kernel
of untruth, you’re just like a rosary bead.
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Your own ghost calls it through
and two policemen make the find. Face down.
Well-dressed. Shoes and jacket in a parcel.
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Becoming an American
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1. The morning of the interview, my alarm clock opened like a drinker’s eye and a whole
wreath of ethics fluttered against the door-length mirror on Post-it notes and scraps
of old greeting card.
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2.                       I spent weeks filling out the forms. Was I of good moral character?
Had I ever affiliated with a terrorist organization or advocated the overthrow of any
government by force or violence? I didn’t think so.
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3.                                           All I could think about was an abandoned
schoolbus in Connecticut with nightshade peeking out from the dashboard and its windows
fogged on the breath of new mould—A car would always backfire somewhere when I did this.
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4. Sun shafted out against the sky like chocolate marked upon a duvet and I realised then
that trying to squeeze sense out of your becoming is like jabbing a knife inside a ketchup bottle
or a toaster. At best, you’re just being optimistic. At worst, really fucking stupid.
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[elegy]
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x
After this, a sweep of dark Tahoma spackled the VDU & a gr8 out-
pouring filled the page – as Mass cards might – wen a wake is closed
and condolences pile beneath a crk in the front door.
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x
Yr head’s cocked unnaturally to 1 side of the thumbnail. Yr still
joy’s caught between yr relationship status & the cover photo of a lost
weekend like colored glass in a saint’s mausoleum.
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I evn consider signing the guestbook wen it hpns. Tributes stick in
the ether as clay pots filled with organs & animal mummies and 6
months dwn the line, I’ll poke bk and wonder if it’s real.
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James Conor Patterson is a MA student in Creative Writing at Queen’s University, Belfast.

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