W. D. Ehrhart  

Sound Advice

    Remember the time Jerry Doughty
beat you up for no good reason
on the ice at Sellersville while all
the other kids stood around and laughed?
You skated home alone that day, swearing
you would find a way to even up the score.
But you never did: years passed,
he moved away, your adolescent pride
still tucked beneath his belt like a trophy.

Or one year later, in the fifth grade,
when Margie Strawser told the teacher
you had hit her with a bean-shooter?
Nothing you protested mattered:
the shooter and the beans were in your desk.
You got paddled as the whole class watched,
and Margie got an A in citizenship.

You should have learned something
growing up. Instead, you volunteered.
And when you found your war as rotten
as the rotting corpses of the dead
peasants lying in the green rice
they would never harvest, you were shocked
that nothing you protested mattered.
Thirteen years have passed since then,
and still your anger rises at the way people
turn away from what you have to say.

Who taught you to believe in words?
Listen: injustice is a fact.
Like dust rising when the wind blows.
Like heat when the fire rises.
A natural thing. The white space
between the lines of every history
book you've ever read. The back side
of the Golden Rule. The one unbroken law.

And yet you've quit a half a dozen jobs
on principle: point of order! Point of order—
as though you think it matters more than bread.
Everywhere you go, the blade of your contempt
draws blood. No wonder people hate you.
Listen, friend: don't make us so uncomfortable.
We don't like it any more than you do,
but the world is what it is. You can't change it.
Face it. Learn to bend. We have.
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    Copyright © 1984 by W. D. Ehrhart
The Outer Bankss, Adastra Press, 1984
This poem currently appears in Thank You For Your Service: Collected Poems, McFarland & Company, 2019

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