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Good Letters

waiting-in-grand-central-station-by-james-maher-time-lapse-picture-prints-available-on-his-websiteEveryone knows what happened. Everyone lifts a steaming spoon of cinnamon oatmeal to their lips. Everyone crosses “t”s. Everyone knows there’s blood on the fence in Wyoming. Everyone hears God in Charleston. Everyone knows what happened.

Everyone tries to beat the nightly news home, but everyone knows the news, licensed to drive, drives everyone mad. Not everyone is a refugee passing through Athens: Everyone knows who drank the poison in Athens and everyone knows who drank the water in Flint.

Everyone hates the mayor, the governor, the Feds. Everyone’s armed on campus, sleepy while the professor drones on. Outside the courtroom, everyone is armed and hushed, waiting to hear if he will be indicted. Everyone’s ordering tacos in Baltimore, in Cleveland, in Chapel Hill. Everyone knows what will happen.

Everyone lights the constitution on fire to illuminate their faces in the dark where they sing their rights and responsibilities. Everyone knows the land is zoned commercial, residential, and everyone knows the court is where justice lives on money, and everyone knows the money’s offshore/hidden and the president isn’t an American.

Everyone brushes teeth and sneers in the cold mirror and zips up and braces for the Magnificent Mile in February. And everyone knows what they’re looking at when they pass through West Virginia. Everyone knows coal.

Everyone knows the words to the anthems of hatred, everyone knows the signs that govern the highways and interstates, everyone knows the halls and the rotunda and the deep pockets that representatives reach into when they are running, and who pays and who votes with our hands and our fears.

Everyone knows who heats our houses, who serves up beets and pudding, everyone knows the Superdome and the levees, and everyone knows the engineers of our nightmares and our dreams. And everyone knows the loan officer, and the neighborhoods and sugar and eggs.

Everyone knows what you know, everyone knows what she knows, everyone knows what he knows. It doesn’t matter what she says about email, what he says about amnesty and banks. Everyone knows email and amnesty and banks are just a season’s fashion.

Everyone knows the cool narcotic rush in a vein. Everyone knows a slave in the dark and a free man rides into the sunset. And everyone knows rose as symbol, and the corpse rows of Aleppo.

Everyone knows the weather. It’s what everyone knows the best. It has no history, it has no culture, it doesn’t discriminate, it doesn’t pick a neighborhood, it doesn’t take orders from the one percent. Everyone dresses for it, everyone speaks of it in elevators, at the cash register, in bed. It’s not a god, it’s not God, but it inspires awe, it brings on trembling, it elicits curse and praise. And everyone knows science studies it the way a pious woman beholds scripture, and everyone knows there’s a limit to what science knows though no limit to what it seeks to know.

Everyone knows who betrayed him. (Everybody knows that you’ve been faithful, give or take a night or two.)

Everyone knows a Judy. A Matthew, a Ringo, a Jesus, a Ted. A Leonard.

Everyone knows Balaam came to curse and Israel wound up blessed; everyone knows what mother keeps underneath her dress. Everyone knows heaven and home, holiday and hell, chemo, radiation, bones.

Everyone knows the brothers K, and by now everyone knows the Jew who pays for a free trip home for the diaspora’s befuddled, assimilated, twenty-something Jews.

Sacred and profane, oil and rain, cash, credit, theft: Everyone knows who takes the most and who makes the most of what’s left. Everyone’s been in the bargain bin.

Everyone knows creation. And everyone wants to know the creator or to scrub baby Moses clean of the lie that there is a creator.

Everyone is waiting in the auditorium for the victory song.

Everyone knows who invented voter fraud, and, no matter who’s elected, everyone will know what happened. And, though you and I might vehemently deny it, everyone approved this message.

The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Written by: Richard Chess

Richard Chess is the author of three books of poetry, Tekiah, Chair in the Desert, and Third Temple. Poems of his have appeared in Telling and Remembering: A Century of American Jewish Poetry, Bearing the Mystery: Twenty Years of IMAGE, and Best Spiritual Writing 2005. He is the Roy Carroll Professor of Honors Arts and Sciences at the University of North Carolina at Asheville. He is also the director of UNC Asheville’s Center for Jewish Studies.

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