Phrases for Tourists

We learned the character for bad,

the character for neighborhood,

and how they combined to form

the one for photo opportunity.

We misheard the hundred words

for ruin as remainders bartered

chunk by chunk for how much?

We said the phrase for please

speak English a touch or two

too loud, too slow, too much

like an expletive intended

to start at minimum an argument.

That language which contained

more abandoned rendering plants

than fit in the backyard of any city

worldwide might be transmitted

by skin contact, that language

found in a shopping cart

haul of copper pipes and wire

behind fire-gutted supermarkets

kept a thousand gypsy secrets

to separate us from money,

that language could have been

wind through boarded windows

insinuating dangerous ideas

into schoolchildren’s heads.

A question that had determined

its own answer wondered why

try to run away from the law

if we did nothing wrong?

A statement that wanted to help us

explained if we had nothing

to hide then we wouldn’t mind

submitting to a search or else.

The sentence if we didn’t admit

or understand our crimes

was a coin toss between this

is America and this is not America.

We had nothing to declare.




Steven D. Schroeder’s second book, The Royal Nonesuch (Spark Wheel Press), won the Devil’s Kitchen Reading Award from Southern Illinois University. His poetry is recently available in Crazyhorse, The Laurel Review, and Southern Indiana Review. He works as a creative content manager for a financial marketing agency.




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