Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The Red, White, and Blue Bus

The Red, White, and Blue Bus
James Magorian
From The Hideout of the Sigmund Freud Gang, Lincoln, Nebraska: Black Oak Press, 1987

The wind becomes a memory
as I step onto the bus.
I stuff my birth certificate
into the meter,
and the bus driver
grinds through the gears.
The bus belches across
the intersection.

At desperate corners
others enter the bus.
Coins dance merrily
into the meter – the altar
at the front of the temple.

In the beginning
the Great Dispatcher
created the bus
and the route.

And the route was
without schedules,
and void; and darkness
was upon the face
of business mergers.
And the spirit
of the Great Dispatcher
moved slowly with
the heavy traffic.

And the Great Dispatcher
said, Let there be
bus tokens: and there
were bus tokens.

The bus screeches around
a sharp curve on the
Christopher Columbus
Expressway and almost
slides off the edge
of the route.

The Norsemen are not
mentioned in the bus
company records.

The bus rattles past
wattle-and-daub huts
and rusty cannons.

The bus speeds past
some conquistadors
standing on a street
corner in Santa Fe
in rusty armor
reading a road map
by the green glare
of a neon light.

The bus splashes through
the Chickahominy River.
Pocahontas and Powhatan
sit on the shore reading
the London Company charter.

Captain John Smith struts
down the aisle of the bus;
Gabriel Archer tries
to trip him.

One side of the bus scrapes
against Plymouth Rock;
William Bradford prays
to the Great Dispatcher.
Samoset and Squanto
stand in a cornfield
and watch the wheels
of the bus
crush Indian villages.

The bus passes a witch
being burned at the stake.
Cotton Mather sits beside
the fire roasting
a marshmallow.
The Puritans have
a lien on the bus.

“I know not what route
others may take,
but as for me,
give me political power
or give me a transfer ticket,”
inveighs Patrick Henry.

Paul Revere passes the bus
in his Cadillac convertible.
John Hancock sits
in the back seat, his
arm around a barrel
of smuggled molasses.

“Changing lanes without
signaling is tyranny,”
screams James Otis as he
squirms in his straitjacket.

The bus passes Major Pitcairn
and his soldiers hitchhiking
toward Lexington along Highway 2.
The Massachusetts militia rush
to the windows and toss
flags at the Redcoats.

The British scramble onto
their coughing, rattling
double-decker bus
and head back to Boston.

“This bus is, and of right
ought to be, free,” hollers
Richard Henry Lee as he
drops his money into
the grinning meter.

“I only regret that I
have but one life
to lose for my bus,”
Nathan Hale calmly
states as the British
wrap a battery cable
around his neck.

“Don’t change buses in the
middle of a dream,” cautions
a Continental soldier, but
Benedict Arnold takes a folded
transfer ticket from his
snuffbox and hands it
to General Clinton.

The headlights click on.
The bus grunts and groans
through the valley
of the shadow of death.

The engine runneth over;
our heads are anointed
with diesel oil.

Surely goodness and mercy
shall follow us
all the way
to the next stop.

The bus driver looks at
his rear-view mirror
and pulls out into the
traffic when he can see
the whites of their eyes.

Not everyone is allowed
on the bus. Most must
walk behind it: these
are the times that
try men’s soles.

Captain Daniel Shays
fires his musket
at the bus.

“The bus company needs
a new charter,” suggests
Alexander Hamilton.
Fifty-five passengers
get off the bus
in Philadelphia
waving law books
and ballpoint pens.

“I smell a rat,” mumbles
Patrick Henry as he
watches from the back
of the bus.

Alexander Hamilton,
James Madison,
and John Jay
write dirty jokes on
the backs of seats.
Their book, The Bus
Company Papers, has
been on the bestseller
list for thirty weeks.

“We the passengers of the bus,
in order to form a more
perfect route, establish fares,
insure our baggage, provide
for the seating arrangement,
promote better schedules,
and secure the blessings
of substitute drivers
to ourselves and our posterity,
do ordain and establish
ourselves as the Great
Dispatcher’s favorite passengers.”

“It is our true policy
to steer clear
of permanent routes,”
cautions cherry-tree George.

We wait at a stop sign
for a herd of buffalo
to pass; Indian arrows
bounce off the roof.

No Indians are allowed
on the bus.
The Indians, however, have
virtual representation.

The driver stares
straight ahead.
He holds these
stops to be self-evident:
all men are created

Sacajawea offers to guide
the bus through the city park.
Lewis and Clark laugh
and scatter beer cans
on the artificial grass.

Cursed are they which
do hunger and thirst
after righteousness:
for they are on
the wrong bus.

Zebulon Pike looks out
the back window of the bus
at the shining mountains
and smiles: he has just
been made chairman
of the history department.

Blessed are the pure
in greed: for they
shall see
a substitute driver.

“Our bus, right or wrong,”
yells Stephen Decatur.
The bus rolls on through
neon eternities
with charity toward none
and malice for all.

“We should consider any attempt
on the part of other buses
to extend their schedules
to any portion of our route
as dangerous to our own
ambitious patterns of greed,”
warns James Monroe.

The bus company
is auctioned off
every four years.
Henrv Clay hands
a sack of votes
to John Quincy Adams.

The bus rolls through
South Pass and glides
toward the Green River.

Jedediah Smith kneels
on the rocky shore
skinning a beaver
and a Blackfoot Indian;
he hands the pelts
through a bus window
to General William Ashley.

“Our bus: it must be
preserved,” shouts
Andy Jackson.

“The bus, next to our
automobiles, most dear,”
replies John C. Calhoun.

Cursed are the meek
for they shall be destroyed
by the schedule.

The bus rumbles
past Walden Pond
without stopping.

“John Marshall has made
his schedule,” mutters
Andy Jackson, “now let
him enforce it!”

“I think Jackson is
a son of a bitch,”
replies John Marshall.
“He doesn’t know what
is best for the bus.”

The bus passes Bronson Alcott
walking along the highway
with pots and pans
strung over his shoulder.
Alcott hurls a rotten
apple at the bus.

Ralph Waldo Emerson,
President of the Over-Soul
Construction Company,
sits in the front
of the bus reading
a comic book.

Joseph Smith is shoved
off the bus at Nauvoo.
Brigham Young puts Smith’s
sacred book into a metal
supermarket cart
and begins hitchhiking
toward the Great Salt Lake.

Swing low, sweet chariot,
comin’ for to carry me home.
Swing low, sweet chariot,
comin’ for to carry me home.
I looked over the route
and what did I see,
comin’ for to carry me home.
A band of businessmen
comin’ after me,
comin’ for to carry me home.

Paul Morphy gets off
the bus at New Orleans
with a folded chessboard
under one arm.

Banjo music hides
in the grinding roar
of the bus engine.
See dem buses
round de bend,
doo-dah, doo-dah!

The bus leaps over the curb
onto the summer grass
of a suburban lawn.
Walt Whitman staggers
down the aisle
looking for a seat.

“The route and the bus,
now and forever,
one and inseparable,”
whispers Daniel Webster.

The bus driver smiles:
he knows he was sent
by the Great Dispatcher
to redeem the route.

Horace Mann hovers over
the other passengers
handing out books.
John Dewey gathers up
all the books and tosses
them out the bus windows.

The bus rolls through
the traffic light’s red glare
and slogans bursting in air
giving 90% proof through
the hydrogen bomb night
that the myth was still there;
Oh, say, does this bus stop
at Millard Fillmore Street?

For I say unto you, that
except your righteousness
exceed the righteousness
of the pedestrians,
ye shall in no case
enter into the kingdom
of the Great Dispatcher.

Ye are the light
of the world.
A city that is
set on a hill
cannot be hid.

“Fifty-four forty or fight!”
screams James K. Polk
“Who is James K. Polk?”
asks Henry Clay.

“It is the fulfillment of our
manifest destiny to overspread
the route allotted
by the Great Dispatcher
for the free development
of our schedules,”
bellows John L. O’Sullivan.

Edgar Allan Poe jumps off
the bus in Baltimore
shouting, “The raven should
be the official symbol
of the bus company!
Its picture should be
placed on all flags
and bus tokens!”

The bus rolls through
a small Kansas town.
A fifty-foot statue
of Franklin Pierce
stands in the center
of the town square.

Herman Melville is asleep
in a luggage rack above
a row of seats, dreaming
about good and evil
and the frantic pursuit
of a great white bus.

The bus rolls past trees
heavy with Spanish moss
and past huge houses
with thick-pillared porticoes.

The universe cannot
endure permanently
half pedestrian
and half passenger.

Abraham Lincoln gets
on at the memorial
and moves all Negroes
to the front of the bus.

Jefferson Davis secedes
from the swaying bus
at the John Brown Institute
of Military Theology.
Harriet Beecher Stowe hands
Davis an autographed copy
of Uncle Tom’s Suburban Home
as he steps off the bus.

Robert E. Lee attaches
a large Confederate flag
to the top of the bus;
Ulysses S. Grant throws
whiskey bottles at the flag.

“I have a feeling that
this bus, under the Great
Dispatcher, shall have
a new fare increase,
and that schedules
of the passengers,
by the passengers,
for the passengers,
shall not perish
from the route,”
mumbles the shyster
lawyer from Illinois.

The bus stops in Petersburg
so that the passengers
can buy chrome-plated
souvenir cannon balls.

Don’t give up the bus!
Damn the pedestrians,
full speed ahead.
The bus rolls past
miles of cemeteries;
the passengers stand
and loudly sing
the national anthem.

A sweating Chinese
coolie drives
a golden spike
into the side
of the bus.

Charles Crocker lights
a thick black cigar
and offers to take
over the bus company;
he hands the bus driver
a large bag containing
Crédit Mobilier stock.

Cornelius Vanderbilt
passes the bus
in his ferryboat.
“The pedestrians
be damned,” shouts
the Commodore.

James Naismith nails
a bushel basket
to the side of the bus
and casually throws
a soccer ball into it.
The passengers begin
to cheer wildly.

The bus rolls past
Hannibal, Missouri.
Mark Twain is
painting a fence.
Twain throws a can
of paint at the bus.

The passengers are
surprised – they had
always thought that
Twain was with them
on the bus, but he
never really was.

The bus rolls past
sod houses; Frank Lloyd
Wright jumps from
the bus to examine them.
He stumbles over a myth
and falls into a pile
of buffalo chips.

Sing a song of gunfire,
a bottle full of rye,
four-and-twenty treaties
helping Indians die.
When the rye was opened,
the Indians began to sing,
now wasn’t that a dainty
dish to set before
the General.

Little Phil Sheridan
has lost his Indians
and doesn’t know
where to find them.
Leave them alone,
and they’ll come home,
dragging their dead
behind them.

When in the course
of human events,
it becomes necessary
for one people to
destroy another,
historical markers
should be created.

Over hill, over dale
Goldilocks and the 7th
Cavalry ride the dusty
trail and those Indian
heads go rolling along.
For it’s Hi! Hi! Hee!
with lovely artillery
and where’er you go
you will always know
that those Indian heads
go rolling along.

Four score and an eternity
ago, our fathers brought
forth on this bus route
fancy shovels dedicated
to the proposition that
all Indians are created
potentially dead.

Custer, Custer,
quite contrary,
how does your
reputation grow?
Indian bells and
howitzer shells,
and pretty medals
all in a row.

Chief Crazy Horse pounds
a peace pipe against the bus,
“The Great Dispatcher is my
shepherd, I shall not live.
He makes me lie down in
a shallow grave. He leads
me to oily water. He steals
my soul. He leads me into
the paths of bullets
for his paranoia’s sake.
I walk through the valley
of the shadow of Generals
Crook, Terry, and Gibbon
and hear the bus-stop signs
rattling in the wind.
The beat me with their
rods and staffs. They
preparest a treaty before
me in the presence of
insurance agents with
white buck shoes. They
anoint my head with
kerosene. My blood overflows.
Surely the 7th Cavalry
will follow me all the days
of my life, and I shall
dwell in the lice of His
reservations forever. Amen.

Georgie Custer sat on
a wall, Georgie Custer
had a great fall;
all the Great Dispatcher’s
horses and all the Great
Dispatcher’s men couldn’t
put Georgie back
together again.

“The meaning of our bus
rests in its relationship
to other buses,” advises
William James. “If they work,
our schedules are good.”

George Inness opens his
paint-by-numbers set
and begins to paint
a picture of the bus.

“The schedule is the opium
of the passengers,” shouts
Karl Marx from his seat
behind the bus driver.

Cyrus McCormick carefully
hitches a huge reaper
to the back of the bus.

John Deere quickly
unfastens the hitch
when McCormick’s
back is turned.

Buffalo Bill fires
his rifle from a bus
window into a herd
of dairy cattle.
There’s no business
like show business.

The bus stops for a moment
on a fish-stained pier so
Emma Lazarus can photograph
the Statue of Avarice
standing in the harbor.

Give me your wops, your spies,
your kikes and dagos,
your passengers foolishly
yearning to be free,
the wretched busloads
of your teeming shore,
send these, the victims, to me,
I lift my billfold
beside the bank door.

Jay Gould and Jim Fisk sit
in the back of the bus
talking to Hernando Cortez
about the beauty of gold.
All that glitters are
the eyes of Horace Greeley.

Oh, give me a bus
where the buffalo roamed,
where the deer
and antelope played;
where seldom is heard
a three-syllable word
and the schedules are
praised all day.

The bus speeds past
a small public library.
Andrew Carnegie tosses
a handful of money
out the bus window
in the direction
of the library.

John D. Rockefeller is
drilling an oil well
on the library lawn.

The bus enters
Amherst, Massachusetts.
Emily Dickinson hides
in a garden and whispers,
“I never saw a bus,
I never saw the schedule,
yet I know how the route looks,
and what a token must be.
I never spoke with
the Great Dispatcher,
nor visited the bus depot,
yet certain am I of the spot
as if I had a road map.”

Henry Adams stands in the shadows
of a cathedral and curses
the speed and route of the bus.
He is eloquently bitter
because he was never elected
president of the bus company.

Blessed are the routemakers
for they shall be called the
children of the Great Dispatcher.

Winslow Homer slams
a croquet ball
across a wide lawn
and then flings his
mallet at the bus.

Well, come along, passengers,
and listen to my tale,
I’ll tell you about
my engine troubles
on the old Chisholm route.
Com a ti-yi yip-pee
yip-pee ya, yip-pee yay,
com a ti-yi yip-pee
yay ay ay.

“What this bus needs
is the free coinage
of love
at the traditional
ratio of 16 to 1,”
yells an embattled farmer,
hitting the side
of the bus
with his hoe.

The bus approaches
Haymarket Square.
John Altgeld sits
on a bench
waiting for the bus.
The bus does not
stop for him.

“You shall not press
down on the brow
of passengers this
crown of thorns;
you shall not
crucify buskind
upon a cross of gold,”
cries William Jennings
Bryan as he gets off
the bus and steps
into the Platte River.

The bus rolls across
the Brooklyn Bridge.
The passengers are
reading ragged copies
of the New York World.

William Randolph Hearst
tries to push Joseph
Pulitzer off the bus.

“You may shift gears
when ready, driver,”
commands medal-mad
Commodore Dewey.
Emilio Aguinaldo
and his followers
are chained to
the back of the bus.

It is easier for a bus
to go through the eye
of a needle, than
for a poor man
to enter the business office
of the Great Dispatcher.

One wheel of the bus
is stuck in a tar baby.
Joel Chandler Harris
rolls on de groun’ en
laughs en laughs twel
he can’t laugh no mo.

“I think that I shall
never see a poem as
lovely as a bus,”
chants Joyce Kilmer.

Our Great Dispatcher
which art in escrow,
hallowed be thy game.
Thy bus terminal come,
thy will be done
in Pittsburgh
as it is in Chicago.

Give us this day
our daily schedule
and forgive us
our routes as we
forgive other routes.

And lead us not into
transportation strikes,
but deliver us
from fare increases:
for thine is the bus
terminal and the power,
and the glory,
forever. Amen.

Teddy Roosevelt gets
on the bus
at McKinley Street
speaking softly
and carrying
a big lie.

O bus, O bus,
the Great Dispatcher
shed his grace on thee,
and crowned thy hood
with tourist stickers
from sea to poisoned sea.

“The world must be made
safe for our bus,”
shouts Woodrow Wilson.

“What this bus needs is
a good five-cent myth,”
cries Tom Marshall.

The bus rolls across
the Henry Ford Bridge
over the Styx River.

A bus is a bus is a bus.
Something there is that
doesn’t love a bus.

“There is no right
to strike against
the bus company
by anybody, anywhere,
anytime,” coughs
Calvin Coolidge.

Verily I say unto you,
inasmuch as ye have
done it unto one of the
least of these my
passengers, ye have
done it unto me.

The bus smiles its way
into Paterson, New Jersey.
William Carlos Williams
is pushing a red wheelbarrow
down dark streets toward
a crowded hospital.
The bus hits a white chicken
knocking it into the gutter.

And whosoever shall compel
thee to go a mile,
go with him twain,
putting it down on
your expense account.

“Every day, and in every
way, our schedule is becoming
better and better,”
 yelps Émile Coué.

What’s good for business
is good for the bus.
Albert Fall stuffs another
bribe into his pocket.
Warren Harding slumps
down in his seat,
a symphony of scandals
echoes in his ears.

Knute Rockne diagrams
a football play on
the floor of the bus
with a piece of chalk.

Red Grange gallops down
the aisle and steps
on Rockne’s hand.

Cheerleaders tumble
down the aisle.
The bus crosses the
twenty-yard line
and heads
for the goal line.

Charles Lindbergh sits
in the back of the bus
building a model airplane.
Billy Mitchell holds
a tube of glue for him.

Orville Wright gets
off the bus at Omaha
to tour SAC headquarters.

If the Great Dispatcher
had wanted passengers
to fly, he would have
given them wings.

The bus moves slowly
past Yankee Stadium.
Babe Ruth stands in front
of a television camera
doing a shaving commercial.

Joe DiMaggio hits Ruth
with a baseball bat.
Lou Gehrig tears open
a package of bubblegum
and looks at the card.
It is a picture of
Rutherford B. Hayes.

General Douglas MacArthur
gets on the bus at West Point;
a small gold eagle on his
cap glitters in the sun.

The bus driver races the bus
west along old wagon trails.
On the bus driver’s cap is
a gold passenger pigeon.

Fight the good fight
of schedules, lay
hold on the eternal
route, whereunto thou
hast professed
a good traffic signal
before many passengers.

Senator Graft begins
his campaign speech,
“A subsidy for my route
is right and natural,
the just functioning
and fulfillment of the
divine economic system;
a subsidy for anyone
else’s route is an
encouragement to sloth
and indolence, and most
certainly against the laws
of the Great Dispatcher.”

Repent ye: for the last
bus stop is at hand.

But I say unto you, that
ye resist not evil: but
whosoever shall smite
thee on thy right fender,
turn to him the other also.
The bus company insurance
policy will cover it.

“All I know is what I
read in the bus schedules,”
pompously drawls
cactus-clown Will Rogers.

“No bus should ever be
on any route. It should
be of the route, belonging
to it, so route and bus
could live together each
the happier for the other,”
prays Frank Lloyd Wright.

Anton Dvořák sits in
a highway cafe.
The New World Symphony
blares from a juke box.
The bus streaks past
without stopping.

“The only thing we
have to fear is
a Republican detour,”
encourages FDR
as he and Fala
dance in the aisle.

From the Halls of Montezuma
to the shores of Tiffany’s,
we shop our country’s bargains
in the air, on land and sea.

Senator Joe McCarthy
rages up and down
the aisle waving
a list of names
of “Reds” working
for the bus company
and of people unfit
to be passengers.

The bus is fortunate
to have enemies,
real or imagined.

Generals from the Pentagon
with notches cut
into the handles
of their six-shooters
parade in the aisle
and praise each other.

O little town of East St. Louis,
how fast we see thee burn;
above the deep and dreamless
sleep the squad cars
go flashing by.

Mechanical birds wade
the unwater of dead lakes.
Hark, the herald angels
fan, glory to the Gross
National Product.

We hold these uranium atoms
to be self-evident; that all
men are doomed at Hiroshima,
that they are endowed
by their Equations with
certain chain reactions
that are final.

My Great Dispatcher,
My Great Dispatcher,
why hast thou forsaken me?

I swing from the buzzer
cord, my opposable thumbs
calling for my future.

The bus driver hears
the ring
and the next corner
freezes in his mind.

Time is merely the hunger
for possession;
the bus schedules
exist only
in the minds
of passengers.

I stumble to the back
door and ring
the buzzer again,
but the bus keeps going.
The door remains closed.

I push open the emergency
door and leap into the black
exhaust fume sky.

I lie cradled
in the soft cool
grass of dawn.

The bus turns the corner
of memory and is gone.

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