21ST CENTURY AMERICA GIVES TOO MUCH TO THE WINNERS AND THINKS TOO LITTLE ABOUT EVERYONE ELSE

All societies sort themselves into winners and losers, but the fruits of winning differ,
depending on the society. Compared to historical trends, the United States is giving
more to the winners and less to everyone else than at any time since at least the Gilded
Age of the second half of the 19th century. Supporting the inequitable distribution of
wealth that plagues America is a winners-and-losers ideology that glorifies winners as
celebrities and mocks participation trophies.

My poem “What About the Losers?” unfolds as a variation on the theme of losing,
tracing the collective thought process of those who have lost competitions, first blaming
luck, then the social order, then reveling in the humiliation of losing as if they were
second comings of St. Augustine, until finally the losers blame themselves. The second
stanza tells a parable of the rejection of the win-lose social structure: a man declines the
symbols of success as represented by a tree of life laden with coupons for the spoils of
winning. Instead, he swims to a distant land only to discover that the cheering crowd
that greets him is merely interested in making noise, and cares not for his performance.

“What About the Losers?” was published in my first book of poetry, Music from Words. I
later took a few lines from it, embellished them and placed them in a diatribe one of the
characters gives in my novel, The Brothers Silver, set for publication by Owl Canyon
Press on June 1st. I think it’s my son’s favorite of my poems, which is interesting
because he almost always wins everything, and when he does lose, he does so
gracefully and with little if any emotional discomfort, and afterwards always analyzes
why he lost and how he can improve. Just as I taught him: like the joy of swimming in
the second half of the poem, the joy of competition always resides in the game itself,
and not in the praise or blame that may come from the outcome.

 

WHAT ABOUT THE LOSERS?

What about the losers?,
second place or worse,
far from cheers and exultations
head in hand or pacing claustrophobia,
at least we played the game,
so close and yet so far:
if it wasn't for that hit, that swing,
bad hop, bad turn, bad call,
ball rolling off the fingertips,
fleeting lapse in concentration,
practiced my butt off, studied for years,
made the right moves, met the right people,
flattered, bantered, kissed their asses,
did without, planned ahead,
if it wasn’t for contracting markets,
change in habits, insufficient cash flow,

someone with more contacts,
friend of brother, second cousin, old school tie,
secret handshake, lies and accusations,
loser, loser, loser, loser,
failure, lemon, floperoo,
I don't want a stupid ribbon,
don't want the sloppy seconds,
second best, second hand,
greasy gruel at B-list parties,
legless wine, polyester fabric,
cloying banquet consolations,
finalist who never had a chance,
blew the chance I had,
never strong enough, never smart enough,
didn’t work enough, wasn’t hungry,
too small, too slow, too bored,
too lazy, too distracted, too fucked up,
I deserve to lose.

In the corner of an empty room
a lonely man constructs his fantasy:
a tree of life unfolding overhead
molting blue and silver leaves, each a coupon
for woman's love, exotic travel,
expensive cars, enormous houses.
He reaps his slips of paper,
presses them against his aging body
like a multicolored blanket
then stands up naked,
throws them to a rising wind
and watches as they drift and climb
toward ancient burnt-out stars,
scales his leafless tree,
jumps into the olive ocean,
swims to distant treeless coast.
Crowds of people cheer
for the joy of making noise.

Marc Jampole
Published in Music from Words (Bellday Books, 2007)

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