SPOTLIGHT: American Reality; Poems and Stories by Jared Morningstar

Offerings

Once, I saw a shopping mall
host a child beauty pageant.

Little darlings dressed
in evening gowns, bathing suits, etc.,
outfits too mature for them,
pranced across the stage
to the rhythm of hand clapping.

The silent, disgusted majority
observed at a distance,
their faces as uncomfortably wrinkled
as the plastic shopping bags they carried,
grumbling quietly to each other:

“How dare these parents prop up
their little girls like helpless offerings
for the pleasure of perverted old men?”
“All for prize money. Infuriating!”
“How sick that this place promotes
such a terrible event?”
“These malls are dying.
They’ll do anything to grab on
to any money left to be made.”
“Evil. Greedy. All of them.”

But pass on by, they did;
they had shopping to do,
lives to return to.

I think of this now, as our leaders
encourage schools to open their doors
and parents to sacrifice their children
to the invisible, infectious beast
that awaits inside.
I can almost hear the monster applause
and the cha-ching
of political cash registers.

I can only hope, this time,
that the angry majority
refuses to stay silent.

Boneless Wings and Republican Jesus

For real, though,
to hell with boneless wings.
Half the fun of eating wings
is tearing the meat off the bone.
And what’s up with the breading?
Makes for an entirely
different consistency.
They’re nothing but
glorified chicken nuggets:
same bland taste
with a more expensive price tag.
Seriously, how can these fools
not see through the lie?

Then again,
some time ago,
folks believed in
a fountain of youth,
a city of gold,
that the earth
is the center of the universe,
that the earth is flat…

oh, wait,
some still do, huh?

Just as some still believe that
the moon landing was an illusion,
that Sandy Hook was a hoax,
that we live in a post-racial society
just because we elected
a mixed-race president,
that being gay is an abomination;
the same folks who refuse
to believe in Evolution,
but think that, somehow,
their love-your-neighbor
lord-and-savior
who preached that wealth
wouldn’t save souls
was a Secret Social Darwinist
who drank from golden cups
and would turn the other cheek
to urban poverty
because those bums should have
pulled themselves up
by their bootstraps.

Of course folks believe
that saucy nuggets are chicken wings;

some folks will believe anything.

Happily Married in Sweatpants

We’re not Instagram glamour filters
or a knee-jerk flight to Vegas;
we’ve never liked bad buffets
or empty pockets.
We’re not a sweaty night out
at the club every weekend
or some drunken bender
so we can pretend we aren’t aging:
we have no desire to be YOLO
when we have to be grown-ups tomorrow.
We’re no pity party
because we can’t afford
European vacations,
and we certainly aren’t the latest fashion,
Louis Vuitton bags or Rolex watches.

We’re picnics on the floor
after the kids go to bed,
Ben and Jerry’s and Netflix,
a Target shopping trip,
family zoo adventures,
hyperventilation over
catching a Snorlax in Pokémon GO,
and falling asleep to Golden Girls.

We’re the real deal:
best friends,
happily married in sweatpants,
with nothing to prove.

Soulmates

So, let’s get this straight:

You’ve called this fellow short and fat,
dubbed him a Little Rocket Man
with a small nuclear button
that clearly doesn’t work
(unlike your big one, which obviously does),
dismissed him as a madman
who enjoys killing his own people
(tell me again, then, why you thought
your fire and fury bombast would work),

and now you write this guy love letters?

I guess it makes sense, though:
a narcissist only loves himself.

Dead End

You used to love driving at night
to escape ghosts and mundane realities.
The road meant happiness
in the form of exit ramps
and taillights of fellow midnight Kerouacs
in the distance ahead.
Like you, they knew
the world’s greatest love song
was the hum of the engine
and the percussion of tires on pavement
with some Willie Nelson playing on the radio;
the welcoming thought that
a goodnight’s sleep could be found
at a mom-and-pop motel,
and that a cup of coffee,
a club sandwich,
or both could be served
by a smiling waitress at any hour
where streetlights,
that gorgeous neon,
appeared on the horizon.
Even the smell of gasoline
during an early AM fill-up
would make your heart beat faster,
for as long as that motor was running,
you felt alive.

But the highway is dead now.
Those city lights don’t shine anymore;
the 24-hour diners are closed,
the jukeboxes no longer play.
You’re lucky if you can find
an open McDonald’s drive-thru,
where a masked worker
nervously accepts your card
and gives you a greasy burger and fries
that you now wonder if you should even eat.
And there’s no room at the motor inn;
it’s closed, perhaps permanently,
you can’t tell,
but you sure know the road
no longer feels like home:
home is where you’re stuck
in late night silence.
You no longer have the miles ahead
to look forward to when the sun rises;
instead, when your weary head hits the pillow,
all you can do is pray in loneliness
that life will return one day to the interstates,
that this dead end isn’t forever,
and that when you wake up,
you’ll still be able to breathe.

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