Leveler Poetry Journal
About Leveler Submission Guidelines More Poems

American Superlative

This exceptional fashion, and

this hamburger is

one of the best.  It comes from

wanting to sing a song clearly.

That’s the miracle of

revelation or nothing. This

is an exceptional price for gas.

Prophets drive the countryside

in sincere bear skins

and come up with a religion.

Blood pie.  Blood on your eye.

Blood on the front

porch, blood doesn’t lie.  We write

Silent Night. All of these flies.  I do

have a creek I go to, where we are all

dancing in the open mud.

Scott Abels

levelheaded: American Superlative

Scott Abels’ poem is, among other things, an attempt at defining what it means to be American. Despite GQ’s recent analysis, the poem’s first line posits Americans as a people concerned with fashion—a concept that, in the context of the world’s population, is difficult to deny. But what’s even more interesting about this first line is the word “and” tacked onto the end, suggesting that Americans’ fashion sense is aligned with their pension for excess. This coordinating conjunction ushers into the poem the classic American food, “hamburger” before Abel asserts that being American, and the ways that he has defined the term so far, spring from “wanting to sing a song clearly.”

It’s hard to pin down the term American. It could be “This” (first word of first stanza) or it could be “That” (first word of second stanza). In a land shared by Evangelicals and atheists, being American is “the miracle of  / revelation or nothing.”

A line later, Abels again uses the word “exceptional,” this time to describe the country’s people through its gas prices. We may have glossed over this adjective the first time it appeared, but here we’re challenged to re-examine it. Maybe it’s used sarcastically (gas prices ain’t that cheap). Maybe it’s used to illustrate that being a rogue nation may have benefits to the American people, but it also has lasting negative effects on the nation’s global relations.

Religion, economics, and politics merge with the next sentence, which begins with a pun on the word “Prophets.” Soon after, the repetition of the word “blood” four times in three lines injects the poem with unabashed criticism. Yet the poem as a whole, because of what precedes and follows these lines, cannot be taken as criticism alone of the American people. At the core of being American, and quite possibly at the core of Abels’ writing this poem, is still this desire “to sing a song clearly,” to inhabit a place “where we are all / dancing in the open mud.”

– The Editors