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Poetry by Gary Beck

The Promised Land
Published March 18, 2016

The Promised Land

Dissatisfied with their master
rebellious rich men
wrote a declaration
and it inspired many,
those who could read,
those who had it read to them,
and took up arms
desiring liberty
at the behest of leaders
soon to serve new masters
of an uncharted land
rich beyond imagining.

When their cause prevailed
they wrote a constitution,
a fabulous document
inconceivable in ages past
with intoxicating pledges of freedom
for those who could afford it.
But the written word
read differently by some
birthed a cradle of dispute
not seen since ancient Athens,
purported birthplace of democracy,
an empire of a few masters
many slaves,
an ideal role model
for upstart America
with truculent citizens
wanting more than their share,
the ruthless and discontented
unable to fit in,
 the oppressed
eager to get away.

Somehow the new owners
forged a nation,
convinced the people
they were free men,
at least some of them,
convinced them to build
cities in the wilderness
and when they went as far as they could go
on land unclaimed by other nations,
except Indian nations
only recognized when they were strong
and we were weak,
an acquisition pattern
started by the revered Pilgrims,
admired in our history books
that blithely ignore
how they stole the land
with the gunpowder of eminent domain,
a lesson never forgotten
by those who followed them.

The new owners wanting more,
grabbed from France, Spain, Russia,
sliced a huge piece of Mexico
in our first foreign war
that we had been rehearsing for,
performed well enough,
eyes still bigger than our stomachs,
to easily digest a neighbor's territory
adding to the wealth of a nation
that further divided vested interests,
the feudal agricultural South,
the dynamic industrial North.

Although most of the people
North and South
still lived on the land,
economic issues clashed
over who would rule,
plantations or factories.
And the blood flowed in rivers,
farmers from the North and West,
farmers from the South and West,
store clerks from the North,
killing each other relentlessly
despite similarity,
at the behest of conflicting masters
in a great proxy war
fought by the common people,
while the rich stayed home,
as they always do,
lingering in comfort
while soldiers suffered, bled, died.

When the North prevailed
a new aristocracy
ruled the land
and there was still room
for some to live
without throttling control,
as long as they didn't interfere
with the profits of their masters.

The new masters built great houses,
perhaps not as splendid
as crumbling plantation houses
of impoverished Southern aristos
trapped in remembrance of things past,
bitter, resentful of change,
power no longer flowing
from once domineering hands,
star of ascendency
         totally eclipsed
by barons of the North,
whose mansions in great cities
housed the new order.

Industrial capitalists
dependant on labor
as the lords of agriculture,
just as tyrranic,
removed from factories of contention
shielded by management,
servants of the new order,
filling the eternal role
oppressing the people
in the service of their masters.

Then there was a great building
and rebuilding
The nation filled its borders,
and had to thin the ranks
of the restless young,
so once again we robbed Spain,
snatching tropical lands
from a helpless king
and we became a Pacific power,
a Caribbean force for order.

And the wealthy prospered
from new possessions, trade,
the spoils of war,
so much won by so few
who returned to their farms,
sterile jobs at factories
gaining nothing
after shedding blood
for the wealthy few at home,
secure, privileged,
never risking bodily harm
on the path of accumulation.

An abundance of the young and foolish,
always willing to hazard life and limb
for causes they were taught to value,
regardless of right or wrong
no matter who benefited,
as the young and foolish
since time immemorial
expended their lives
for their master's profit.

Then our masters,
still digesting recent spoils,
observed the great war in Europe
that dwarfed our Civil War
in numbers fighting, wounded, killed,
slaughtered by machine guns,
sentenced to death by Generals
who didn't understand the new weapons,
 and destroyed a generation
that did not know how to resist
insane orders of their masters,
millions sent to their doom.

After the fields of Europe
were fertilized with enough blood
of soldiers, civilians,
and the farms, towns and cities
had lost most of their young men,
and combatants were exhausted,
the time was right
to penetrate the old world
so trade would further enrich
our never sated masters.

We sent our young men over there
and they died far away,
in places with unpronounceable names,
at least for farm boys, factory lads,
uneducated in the wider world,
suitable for machine gun fodder.

And they went eagerly
to make the world safe
for democracy,
believing promises of their leaders
to reward their service.
But when the guns fell silent
and the youngsters returned home
on crowded troopships,
the farms were too confining
for lads baptized in battle,
and the factory jobs were taken
by boys who stayed home.

The boys who sailed
across a great ocean
never saw so much water before.
When they landed in France
they visited the brothels, drank the wine,
were rushed to the front,
where they heard the terrible song
of the machine gun.

After such terror,
they could no longer listen
to the hum of the plough,
the clamor of factories,
and yearned for something better.
They expected the government
that should have been grateful
 for services rendered,
would pay pledged bonuses
that would allow veterans
a new life.

Delay after delay
dimmed flickering hopes
and the great depression
was a final justification
of the refusal to pay
the needy men
who gave so much,
received so little in return.
And great anger possessed them,
so they marched on Washington, D.C.
demanding justice
and met machine guns
instead of satisfaction.

Then poverty swept the land,
except for the wealthy few,
 great dust storms blew
removing the topsoil
permitting subsistence,
sweeping families from the land
who migrated west,
an unwanted horde
that got a harsh welcome.
Yet many of them survived
despite lack of help
from an indifferent government
more concerned with business
than the suffering of the people.

The winds of war began to blow
and spread across an insane world
faster and faster,
Europe, Asia, Africa, inflamed,
once again millions fighting, killing,
for 'Lebensraum',
'Greater East Asian Co -Prosperity Sphere'.
Once again our government
sent millions to bleed and die
to preserve democracy.
Yet while the young men perished,
the wealthy stayed home
profiting from manufacturing
planes, ships, tanks, guns,
all the components of war,
sold to equip our soldiers,
sold to equip foreign armies.

After sufficient deaths
the dark horseman almost sated,
a great bomb went off
erasing an entire city
A new age of war began,
weapons so powerful
they could destroy a country,
and our masters became more cautious,
not wanting to lose everything
in a ball of fire.

The cold war evolved
between the good guys, us-uns,
the bad guys, them-uns,
except for flare ups
that may have killed many,
may have destroyed property,
devastated nations,
but didn't consume the earth
in nuclear conflagration.

We were richer than them-uns,
so we prevailed
after two generations
huddled under school desks,
the feeble response
of a shallow-minded system
that only followed orders,
making some of us wonder
if the teachers,
school boards,
elected leaders,
     were so stupid
they believed a wooden desk top
scarred with engravings
by restless youth:
'Dickie loves Alma',
"When's the bell?'
'Aquaman rules',
would protect us
from atomic bombs.

Or did they know
we were stupid enough,
nurtured by tv,
to believe whatever they told us,
and obey blindly.

And on that fateful day
them-uns collapsed,
democracy triumphed,
we the people were happy
anticipating the benefits
glibly promised
if we'd only endure.

But our greedy masters
wanted more and more,
and got some honestly,
just some.
Most of their vaunted gain
at the expense of the people
thrown a few morsels
to silence irksome clamor,
the population milked
like dairy cows,
our masters taking the cream,
most of the milk,
for they needed mega-yachts,
as the hunger of children
was ignored
at the tables of plenty.

As the promised land decayed,
economic depression,
devastating storms,
insane rampages
ravaged the people.
Our masters fueled their mega-yachts,
stocked them with fine wine,
all the treasure they could carry,
ready to set sail,
abandoning us to destruction,
as the promise dissolved
into chaos.

Gary Beck has spent most of his adult life as a theater director, and as an
art dealer when he couldn’t make a living in theater. He has 11 published
chapbooks. His poetry collections include:
Days of Destruction (Skive
Expectations (Rogue Scholars Press), Dawn in Cities, Assault on
, Songs of a Clerk, Civilized Ways (Winter Goose Publishing).
Perceptions, Displays, Fault Lines, and Tremors will be published by
Winter Goose Publishing. Conditioned Response (Nazar Look). His novels
Extreme Change (Cogwheel Press), Acts of Defiance (Artema
Flawed Connections (Black Rose Writing). His short story
A Glimpse of Youth (Sweatshoppe Publications). His original
plays and translations of Moliere, Aristophanes and Sophocles have been
produced Off Broadway. His poetry, fiction and essays have appeared in
hundreds of literary magazines. He currently lives in New York City.

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