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The Promise

ISSUE:  Summer 1978

A million souls wandered out at midnight
into the Great American Nature Theatre,
a scooped-out place beneath Arizona stars.

Many held hands, all looked alike:
they had eaten their suppers of roadside meat,
the daily drug was bubbling in their ears.

In groups, intermingling, they drifted about
emitting their little shrieks of recognition
and exchanging such thoughts as they had had during the

“I had this nice thought,” one of them would say,
“of how we are so much better off than the old ones—
because none of them knew what they were going to do

night after night after night until they died,
whereas we, my dears, are always assured,
each having the rest and all being of one mind.”

“A lovely thought,” the others would reply,
and kiss him solemnly—looking into his eyes—
and it became the Thought that was prized that night.

And then the stars went out as though a hand had snuffed
a million heads turned upward, and pictures came out in the
billionaires in rocket-ships tempting the speed of light,

skiers on Everest, skin-divers off St. Croix,
firing-squads by the Amazon stained red with blood of the
terrorists from Borneo blowing up Notre Dame—

and a voice came down from heaven that calmly explained
what each event meant, and why it was all the same
as what they had seen ten-thousand times before.

And at the very last, the President’s face appeared
huge and pink, and as they all smiled and cheered,
he told them again that all was well,

that America was heaven and there was no hell—
though the rivers were poisoned, the lands burned dry,
the animals dead, and themselves about to die.


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