The Overpass National Anthem

by Asher Kay

O Overpass, your majesty bisects the hostile sky
Between the hours of four and three your keening voices cry.
Your wedge, too steep for pudgy tyrants, rising o’er the scree
Provides salvation’s path, which, though abrasive to the knee,
Will ever earn the praises of the luckless such as me
The luckless such as me.

O Overpass, your hundred hearts that beat with every tire
In schizophrenic palpitation kindles the desire
To lie in peaceful slumber, snug between your concrete beams
Until, in fifteen minutes, by the rattling of your seams
The quick and dead alike are raised from hundred heart-beat dreams
From hundred heart-beat dreams.

O Overpass, your purpose is for those who skate above
But purposes have shadows, and all shadows are a glove
And in that glove are birds and fear and cardboard and debris
And shelter, blessed shelter, for the luckless such as we
The luckless such as we.

3 Comments to “The Overpass National Anthem”

  1. Can this be sung? As part of an “overture,” perhaps?

  2. I love this, and I’ve been trying to think of something to say about it since you posted it, but no luck so far. I think I’m afraid that I’d pick a discourse mode that would trivialize it or just be a distraction. So, for now, Bravo.

  3. Thanks, Carl! It’s been striking me for years that we’re surrounded by a host of semi-formalized ways of speaking (the language of signage, folk proverbs, fortune cookies; the way radio announcers speak; the almost rustic religious poems that people hang up in their living rooms; the wording of advertising copy; the structure of national anthems, popular song lyrics, soap opera dialogue) that we understand and adapt to without conscious thought. I’ve found that people are mentally jarred when the formalism is broken, in a way that sometimes results in reflection.

    So I’ve been experimenting with putting a little twist on some of these formalisms, in much the same way that jokes (themselves part of the category I’m interested in) make use of absurd juxtapositions. I’m trying to do this both at a linguistic level (using words like “pudgy” and “cardboard” in a national anthem; using lofty, poetic words to describe a squalid place) and at a higher thematic level (the idea that people whose nation has pretty much cast them aside would feel a sort of patriotism toward their place of shelter).

    That makes it sound kind of cerebral, which I guess it is, in a way. The emotional fuel comes from the glimpses I get of people moving stoically and matter-of-factly through lives that scare me shitless even to think about.

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