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24 Hours

By 

Gary Duehr

We open on a normal American living room.

Family photos lined up on the mantle, a Purple Heart

In its frame. But then we zoom

Closer. Splashed across the wall, like abstract art,

A bloody splatter.

You wonder what’s the matter.

A kill team from an unnamed Mideast state

Has slipped into the U.S.

To search for sleeper cells, who secretly await

Activation. It’s them not us.

What a TV fantasy. You’re asked to imagine

A mushroom cloud

Blooming over New York City, as Cheney did in

Pushing for the war in Iraq. Or that a crowd

Of desperate refugees

From seven, banned Muslim countries

Could pose an existential danger.

They could be in your neighborhood, that stranger

On the bus. They could be anywhere.

They’re the stuff of nightmare.

You let them in, whoever they are,

And see what happens? We carry the scar

Of every awful thing that has ever gone wrong.

Like a film reel, there’s a long

Shot of people running away, another boom

Then puffs of smoke, sirens as

Helicopters hover. Then it’s over. There’s room

For tearful pleas, silences.

Cut to the president, who darkly cites,

“People pouring in. Bad!”

You think, Maybe it’s better for cities

To err on safety’s side. What if only a few turn bad?What if there’s a ticking time bomb

And they’ve just taken

Your child? What then? Should questioning be a balm

While you look on, helpless, forsaken?

Be nice, and be a day too late?

Or should we use force:

Let’s make American mean again, a farce

Of primal fears. Wouldn’t that be great?

Quiz question:

What are you going to do with your life?

Keep going.

Keep going.

Stop.

Stop.

Go back.

Go back.

Take the Fifth.

Take the Fifth.

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Issue 20

published 

July 4, 2017

Gary Duehr has taught poetry and writing for institutions including Boston University, Lesley University, and Tufts University. His MFA is from the University of Iowa Writers Workshop. In 2001 he received an NEA Poetry Fellowship, and he has also received grants and fellowships from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, the LEF Foundation, and the Rockefeller Foundation. Journals in which his poems have appeared include Agni, American Literary Review, Chiron Review, Cottonwood, Hawaii Review, Hotel Amerika, Iowa Review, North American Review, and Southern Poetry Review.His books of poetry include In Passing (Grisaille Press, 2011), THE BIG BOOK OF WHY (Cobble Hill Books, 2008), Winter Light (Four Way Books, 1999) and Where Everyone Is Going To (St. Andrews College Press, 1999).

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Issue 20

This writing was originally published in Opium Magazine, and is not listed in the Lit.cat archives.
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