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Retired Royalty

I first heard this poem read by the author on NPR radio back in June of 2011.  The words that the poet speaks are raw and true.  Listening to it brings tears to my eyes.  (Rated R for some strong language.)

The poet is Kane Smego who is a frequent participant in Poetry Slams and he is the Artistic Director of Sacrificial Poets, a Chapel Hill, NC group who’s mission is “To inspire, foster, and promote artistic expression, personal growth, and social justice for youth in our collective communities through the use of the spoken and written word.”

Below is the written transcript of the poem from the video.

Retired Royalty
By: Kane Smego

There is a proverb from the Ashanti of Ghana that says:
“The words from the mouth of an old man are better than an amulet,”
And I wish I’d gathered more from my grandfather before he passed.

I used to drop my grandma off at the nursing home everyday to see him,
But I rarely stayed long,
Couldn’t stand the stench.
It smelled like rotting knowledge,
Sounded like over medicated matriarchs leaning
On metal walkers rather than human shoulders,
Senior Citizens,
From “senior”
A Latin word that became “sire”
Meaning “Your Majesty”

But we no longer treat our old folks like royalty,
My grandfather sat down in his throne one day
And didn’t notice the wheels
That had been attached to the sides
Until they rolled him out of his palace
And into the corner of a nursing home dining room,
And I would sit with him some days,
Listening to discarded voices of wisdom scream
“Bingo!”
Like blasphemy
In a hell,
where the only communion
Is coated pills and tap water
‘cause most of these souls would prefer
Euthanasia to the Eucharist anyway
And I have a confession,

The other day I was driving,
Late for something less than important
When sin spilled from my lips like
“Get the hell off the road grandpa!”
Tailgating a man I never knew
as if he didn’t have enough to worry about
with the Grim Reaper in his rear view,
Arthritis in his fingers
and a callous on his palm
Where his late wife’s hand used to rest,
Forgive me,

And forgive us for every time we mention
the prevalence of Alzheimer’s among the elderly
When we are the ones who have forgotten,
I have forgotten,
So I’m trying to remember, Grandpa,
Who held my hips when I was slowly picking my steps?
Trying to remember,
Who cradled me in their arms when Pop would badmouth my mother?
And I do sadly remember,

The day I carried my grandfather onto an airplane
And it was a crazy sensation
Clutching the seed that held my recipe for creation like
Hercules hoisting a wounded Zeus over his shoulder
Lightning bolts bleeding down his back
Like the swallowed tears slipping down my throat
Holding him in my arms like one of his battalion buddies
See, he survived World War II
But there are no kamikazes,
No Nazis here,
Just blank faces that do not see him,

Wearing his wrinkles like war paint,
Crow’s feet like camouflage,
It’s no wonder you disappear here after sixty-five,
And they survive
Clutching the oxygen tubes around their necks like dog tags
Trying to hold onto their identities
When they can no longer hold a nine to five,
Told their lives are worth less than the minimum wage
And this is
OUR shame.

I want to have a million sages exhale
Back into their tubes so we can store
Their respiration,
Then distribute cans filled with
Carbon dioxide and compressed wisdom
And spray some sense into this world
Like machine guns filled with pennies

And I will take hits of enlightenment daily,
Will drive a little slower down the highway,
And will once again call my elders
“Sire”
And for my grandfather,
I’ll crumple this poem into my palm
Set fire to it,
And lace the wind with a cremated blessing
To keep your ashes
company

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