Cardinal Rule, Cardinal Hill

There is no carnival thrill
on Cardinal Hill,
not for boys like me, us river-rats
who live in the shadows of fat cats,
and while I may be a white cisgender male
which, nowadays, seems a hard-sell,
I am also a blue-collar scholar
that doesn’t like Rush Limbaugh or the Daily Caller.
When you tell me
so snappishly
that I should feel “White Guilt”
you lose someone with whom you could have built
a better America, a better nation,
and so discord becomes your sole occupation.
Let me tell you something about sex and race:
Cardinal Hill is an actual place,
it is a place that always looked down
with a condescending frown
in our waterlogged holler
for we were river-rats, and they were White Collar,
and so when you, bourgeoisie, tell me
I am to blame for previous history
you might as well blame me for the shape of the earth
because it, too, was decided long before my birth.
Poor is poor
as we drift to sift
through every thrift store
to find this year’s school uniform
while name brands, for other kids, are the norm—
we wear military fatigues, hand-me-down coats,
yard sale socks and dig through throwaway totes.
No one’s suffering should be tallied and spent
by race or sex or creed or accent.
And it is true: you have to have privilege to complain
about privilege, otherwise this thought-train
derails and explodes, blowing up in everyone’s face
the third-degree burns subsuming everyone’s race.
Listen: have you ever had to shudder in a winter storm
since there was no central heat to keep you warm?
You can’t let a log stove burn all night
while you sleep in a trailer, awaiting sunlight.
Have you ever worked on your 13th Birthday, in the snow,
taking off a roof while the cold winds blow?
Your gloves are eaten through by crumbling shingles
and the rich kids are inside, warm and enjoying jingles.
Have you ever ridden a bike where you weren’t wanted
while rich kids laughed at you and taunted?
Or else they shunned you as a hillbilly bumpkin,
saying you belonged in a back alley dump bin?
They said we were rednecks, poor, and “weird folks”,
treating us like creatures born of inhuman yolks,
and yet they hired us to work on their porches and roofs
which taught me, young, about Life’s hard truths.
You see, there are Cardinal hills all over the earth
so before you start criticizing anyone’s worth
perhaps you should look in a polished mirror
and see things as they are, a little bit clearer,
because shit always runs downhill from the very top
and we know that prejudices never really stop,
whether from racists or classists or complacent cityfolk
who assume so much with a keyboard poke—
because my kin grew up in the shadow of a Hill
near a river, in a holler that was used like a landfill
for junk cars and appliances and whatever other thing
that was discarded from the wealthy hilltop ring;
we grew up not unlike mushrooms from a bog
so spare us your White Guilt articles on your blog—
please earn your clicks some other way,
or maybe get a real job, right now, without delay.
There’s one more thing you need to read,
even if it isn’t something you wish to heed:
once upon a time poor people of every color
interbred in America, and were none the duller
in this fine interplay of diversity, thereby reconciled
in the happy complexion of a “mixed race” child,
but then rich people realized that the desperate poor
could be controlled with pseudohistorical lore
about racism and purity and knowing one’s place—
knowing a divided people were easier to keep apace,
and while SJW’s have good intentions (some do)
some are dividing us all for a paycheck, too.
Look: those who do not live by scepter or saber
must live by the bounties of their labor,
so look to your hands and see what they grip—
is it a dividing blade, a ruling rod, or someone else’s lip?

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