Avast, by Quincy Lehr

This poem originally appeared in Measure.

“Up against the wall, motherfucker! This is a stick-up.”

—Amiri Baraka

We cope through thoughts of vengeance, as the bulk

of suited shoulders, built linebacker thick,

fills the screen. Robotic baritones

bark out the boastful bigotries of empire—

battleships and credit lines and planes

over Tripoli. By land, by seven seas,

by God and the Marine Corps, Jefferson

or some black fucker “with a funny name,”

another suited killer, they maintain

the weighted scale, the fixed rate of exchange.

But I imagine corsairs in the halls—

past the Chesapeake, up the Potomac,

then straight up Pennsylvania Avenue,

all turbans, cutlasses, and crescent flags,

salty curses shouted at frightened aides

as Barbary sets forth for its revenge.

“O say can you see?” Of course. The Chesapeake

is filled with ships, with rockets glaring red,

revealing tattered flags, sacked avenues,

the spoliation no one thought would come

though many had predicted it, and mansions,

miles of ugly mansions burning down,

a hinterland of suburbs caught on fire

as prisoners are whipped down to the quays.