The Reality Show

Nervous and too public, Tillie smothers Emily with anxious love,
shuffling her off to the convalescent home for teens

at the bidding of the zeitgeist. I cannot become cold
in front of the blackboard, my shins covered in sequins.

When Maxine’s nameless aunt brought shame to the family
through illegitimate pregnancy, the villagers pillaged the farm,

murdering pigs, chickens, and cows. More of the economic pie
for me, the rapist said afterward. It’s not the doctors,

and the lawyers, and the factory bosses themselves.
It’s what floats in the air that rules us, our mad attempts

to figure out the puzzle, to guess our positions on the board
and jump ahead. In spite of the Cold War, Emily becomes

a gifted actress. Maxine counsels veterans in sunny California.
Pointing my finger at individuals while I address the group,

I speak the language of people living on subtlety.
It is a long road to moxie. Clad in a coat of eyes,

we bear the headache of injustice, our every movement
part of the record, writing stories backward to make sense.

James Cihlar is the author of Undoing, and his poems have appeared in Painted Bride Quarterly, Quercus, Bloom, Minnesota Monthly, Northeast, The James White Review, Briar Cliff Review, Verse Daily, and in the anthologies Aunties (Ballantine 2004), Regrets Only, and Nebraska Presence (Backwaters Press). The recipient of a Minnesota State Arts Board Fellowship for Poetry and a Glenna Luschei Award from Prairie Schooner, he lives in St. Paul.