when the officer of the state patrol asks you to step out of the
vehicle you translate this to mean, I feel it, I too feel I must vomit . . .
when the sergeant of the utah state patrol asks you do you have any
weapons on you? will you lift up your sweater? you translate this to
mean that even out here on the steppes, our spirits are fried in the grease
of an automatic entropy —
when officer lilly of the beehive state says there is a strong smell of
alcohol, I’m going to search your vehicle, you translate this to mean,
I refuse however to recall the frogs flattened on this highway of a summer,
I must live in this present.
when his backup arrives in the form of a plainclothes officer in
sunglasses and t-shirt and they converse in whispers out of earshot,
you translate this to mean they do not wish you to hear about
the incident at last weekend’s departmental barbecue.
when the cleft palate backup officer of the Utah state patrol takes
you behind the patrol car and his fellow officer takes your brother
up the highway to get the stories straight, you translate this to mean
it’s not so much we don’t trust you, it’s that we no longer trust ourselves
in a situation like this.
when the officer of the scar and the fuzzy stiff upper lip behind
sunglasses asks you where are you coming from? you heading to moab?
studying your face fixedly as you reply, you translate this to mean
I myself would like a Budweiser as much as the next man if only I were
not somehow nailed to the mast of this ship hurtling toward its doom —
and when you restate again that you came from monument valley
this morning and canyonlands this afternoon, you really mean
to say I am searching for common terms here, something even you
and when they search the vehicle, pulling out beer cans from the
camping gear and pouring empties onto the tarmac, and you step
forward to ask, what are you looking for? and officer lilly puts a hand
on the butt of his pistol and says, get back over there! what he really
means to say is, I may not know, but I sure as hell don’t have to admit
that on a public right of way!
and when the shorter scarred lip officer escorts you back to the
patrol car and stands immediately behind you, and you do get a
chance to ask him something close to its own meaning, what is this
about? he’s already given up pretending to be the good cop; they
won’t be discussing anything further with you after this point.
— Sesshu Foster
Poet, teacher, and community activist Sesshu Foster was born and raised in City Terrace, Los Angeles. He has taught composition and literature in East L.A. for 20 years.
[Research note: Joshua Beckman and Matthew Zapruder, Eds., State of the Union: 50 Political Poems (Seattle: Wave Books, 2008): 15]