Poetry: “American Beast” by Tara Campbell

It enters on soft paws
and nuzzles your cheek
and tells you it’s okay.
It says it’s not your fault
your father lost his job
or is working three
or isn’t there at all.

It prowls your house
and tickles your chin with Its whiskers
and says it’s not your mother’s fault
she’s too tired to play with you.
Mommy has to sit, It purrs, and rub her feet
because her shifts are long
or her hours have been cut
or she hasn’t had a raise in years.

It’s because other people are willing, It says,
to come and work for less

It pads into your room at night.
It’s hungry, but It assures you
it’s not your fault the factory closed
and the jobs left the state, left the country.

Is it true, you ask,
that the jobs went all over the world?
It nods, and when you ask
who sent them away and why
It says, go to sleep
we won’t feel hungry
when we’re asleep.

It climbs into your bed
and curls up next to you
and tells you it’s not your fault
the walls at your school are cracked
and the paint is peeling
and the water tastes funny
and your friend found mold on his sloppy joe bun.

When you ask why they don’t fix the school
and the bread
It noses your shoulder
and says, but you had fun at recess, didn’t you?
On the monkey bars?
It licks Its chops.
But did you see, It asks
those other kids
getting free lunch?

It comes around often now,
rumbling in the voices of grownups
speaking softly after dinner
about the problems of the world.

It licks your hand
and purrs on your chest
and tells you not to be scared
of all the angry men with guns
who look like you,
because the angry men with guns
who don’t look like you
are much more dangerous.

It’s always hungry now.
It grunts and prowls.
teeth glinting in the dark.
But you’re not afraid because
it’s someone’s else’s fault
and when you get older
you’ll stop them,
you’ll pounce on everyone
who took away your country
and drag them all back
to feed the beast,
and it won’t even be your fault
when It chokes to death
on everything America lost.

***

Tara Campbell is a Washington, D.C.-based writer. She’s an assistant fiction editor at Barrelhouse and volunteers with children’s literacy organization 826DC. Prior publication credits include McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, The Establishment, Barrelhouse, Masters Review, Up, Do: Flash Fiction by Women Writers, and Queen Mob’s Teahouse, among others. Her debut novel, TreeVolution, is out now—the tree revolution will be televised. More: taracampbell.com.

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