poems in the march shredness tradition: w. todd kaneko

slash plays the national anthem

(reprinted from The Fiddleback via Literary Orphans)

Slash doesn’t have to remove his hat
when he plays a custom Les Paul
because there are other things
to fret about. The way a man stands
for all those things we used
to believe in—rock and roll, baseball,
girls drenched in cheap drinks
and heavy mascara—none of that seems
to matter now as he plays guitar
for America. We can mouth
the words if we can’t hit the high notes.
If we have forgotten the words, we can
fake it. Houdini wore a similar hat
when he dazzled audiences with scarves
and rabbits erupting from his sleeves.
No one told Abraham Lincoln to remove
his hat when he spoke at Gettysburg.
John Wayne kept his hat as he fought
through the Old West soaked in blood
and rotgut. We don’t need to see
the top of a man’s head to know
how we feel. When a man wears
a guitar slung low in the middle
of a sports arena, when he purifies
the atmosphere with song, we can
protect our hearts with our hands
as he plucks those simple notes
from thin air.

W. Todd Kaneko is the author of The Dead Wrestler Elegies (Curbside Splendor 2014) and co-author with Amorak Huey of Poetry: A Writer’s Guide and Anthology (Bloomsbury Academic 2018). His recent poems and prose can be seen in The Normal School, Barrelhouse, Gulf Coast, The Rumpus, and many other places. A Kundiman fellow, he is co-editor of Waxwing magazine and lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan where he teaches at Grand Valley State University.

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