Michael Gushue: “Valley of the Dolls”


The town I came from was in the middle 
of nowhere. It was a small farming 
community until the locusts showed up.
I suppose you’d call us a tight knit bunch—
we knew what hour it was by the colors we wore,
and we didn’t follow Daylight Savings Time
because it was the work of the devil.
In other words, we were a god-fearing people
but we only believed in the fear part, 
and we might have been patriotic but 
had no idea what country we lived in. 
We loved our children, though we knew
their picnics were really for the yellow jackets. 
Adult parties we saw as soap operas 
decaying from conviviality to terror.
We had our ups and downs, booms and busts. 
There was the time the birds decided 
to attack us like they did like in the movie—
we couldn’t have cared less. We were that
kind of town. Our library was a point
of civic pride but the head librarian 
kept our dirty fingers away from the books. 

In the town square we erected statues 
to the unknown soldier, the unknown 
conscientious objector, and the unknown
guy in a recliner who doesn’t give a fuck.
And, boy, did we like our drugs or what?
We had parades on holidays. You can
take a wild guess how we handled that.
When you moved away the whole town
gathered at the train station to say good-bye
and warn you to never come back. 
There was a rumor that’s where Thomas Wolfe
got the idea for the title of his book.
Fact is, Thomas Wolfe never heard of us.
Of course, people are the same everywhere: 
badly carved marionettes jerked about
by a drunken, spastic puppeteer.
I guess looking back it seems kind of idyllic
compared to what I woke up to today.

About the Author: Michael Gushue is co-founder of the DC-based nanopress Poetry Mutual Press. He curates the BAWA poetry reading series in the Brookland and Capitol Hill neighborhoods of DC, and writes the Vrzhu Press poetry & arts blog, Bullets of Love. His books are Pachinko Mouth (Plan B Press), Conrad (Silver Spoon Press), Gathering Down Women (Pudding House Press), and—in collaboration with CL Bledsoe—I Never Promised You A Sea Monkey (Pretzelcoatl Press). He lives in the Brookland neighborhood of Washington, D.C.

Image Credit: Untitled (Amish Doll) Public domain image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Patricia Sue Smith

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