A terrific voting poem

I took writing classes from Jack Grapes for many years. I wrote much of my memoir Leaving the Hall Light On there. And still I go to an occasional workshop or poetry refresher. Jack has always been my favorite writing instructor.

And he is a wonderful writer and actor as well. I received the following poem in an email the other day and feel it’s very much worth sharing with my readers here. It validates the importance of voting and now that we finally know the results, it confirms how voting is a  power we must not throw away. I voted. I hope all of you did too. Hopefully you feel as happy with the presidential election results as I do.

Here’s Jack.

Lori and I voted yesterday.
We got to our local polling place at 9am, an hour before they opened.
That great art-deco building, the Saban Theater, on Wilshire Blvd.
Got a parking spot directly in FRONT of the place.
Sacre Bleau! We expected long lines. Except for the guy taping up
voting directions and an American flag, the place seemed deserted.
We set up our folding chairs and made ourselves comfy,
read books between chatting about what we were reading.
When they finally opened the doors,
there were two other people in line behind us.
We coulda come at 10, but it was nice to sit
there on the side street of the Saban Theatre
where a year ago, we’d attended a Grateful Dead tribute group,
and the week before, a Don McClean concert,
and where 47 years ago I saw Norton and Ali fight for the heavyweight championship
on March 31st, 1973, the first of their three fights,
the one where Norton fractured Ali’s jaw.
Now for a few days, it was a voting place.
The new electronic system was quite simple,
all things considered.
Took us about ten minutes.
My first time voting was in 1960, sixty years ago,
when I voted for John Kennedy, I had just turned 18,
and could vote. The polling place was around
the corner from my house, in Mrs. Bergeron’s garage.
All my neighbors where there, most of them Nixon people,
but there was an odd cameraderie. Would see Mr and Mrs Senac
in the little corner grocery, Rizzo’s, most every week.
Mr Rizzo was there too, as was his son, Ree-Ree,
who, like me, was voting for the first time.
He was wearing a Nixon button.
When we were kids, we used to play football
in the empty lot next to the grocery store.
We also made a club house out of the old orange crates
that piled out back of his dad’s grocery.
That was 60 years ago.
Now Mrs. Bergeron greeted me, not as Jack, the kid who played football
with her son Daryle, but as a man, voting for the first time
in his life. “Well, Mr. Grapes,” she said, “here’s your ballot.”
That’s how it began for me. In a small garage,
next to a vacant lot, across from a small grocery store,
on a dead-end street, unpaved except for oyster shells
scattered from one side of the curb to the other.
For a few minutes, every four years, whether you’re standing
in a makeshift polling place in someone’s garage
or in the lobby of an art-deco movie theatre,
or in a basketball arena or public library,
you hold onto a small share of power,
power to determine who will represent you in the legislature,
and the power to determine who will occupy the White House
for the next four years.
Back then, when I was 18, that feeling lasted a few minutes, but I made a point
to remember it, think of it as sacred.
Not too sacred, ’cause I knew how so many black people
in my own state, and in the neighboring states of Mississippi
and Alabama were discouraged, in small, subtle ways,
and sometimes in larger, more efficient beauracratic ways,
from exercising that right, the right to vote.
But still, rights are usually won in small increments,
after much effort and strife, part of the process of getting
into “good trouble.”
Whether gerrymandering or other forms of voter suppression,
sometimes validated by our Supreme Court,
the fight for those words in our constitution —
that “all men [and women] are created equal,
and that they are endowed by their creator with
certain unalienable rights, that of
life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,”
and all that other blah blah blah about
liberty and justice for all —
that fight goes on, to make those words reality.
The constitution implies that this nation is perfect,
but the object of the constitution was to make it
“a more perfect union.”
That phrase has always struck me as odd.
How can anything be more pefect?
In a way, it was a stroke of genius on those framers’ part.
While not admitting any faults, they still allowed
for the possibility, that even unlike GOD,
who is already perfect, we could be “more” perfect.
The great arc of history proves that we are
striving still for greater perfection,
but in some way, all of us share with Moses
that same grief, that we will never enter the promised land,
but we can be part of the slow struggle for liberty
and justice that was promised for all in our Constitution.
Not just liberty and justice for ourselves, but for everyone,
especially those who in one way or another have been denied
those basic rights, or have them minimized.
We can do our part.
Some of us do more than others, but in some small way,
each of us who walk into that little “booth”
and check those circles, declare our intention.
We declare our intention.
An intention is not a reality.
But in our hearts, this is what we hope,
that somehow, inch by inch, the fight will go on,
and we will make our small mark, not for perfection,
which we know is unattainable, but for “more perfection,”
which, according to our founding document, is possible.




Jack Grapes is an award-winning poet, playwright, actor, teacher of Method Writing, and the editor and publisher of ONTHEBUS, one of the top literary journals in the country. He has won several publishing grants and Fellowships in Literature from the National Endowment for the Arts. He’s also received nine Artist-in- Residence Grants from the California Arts Council to teach writing in various schools throughout Los Angeles. He is the author of 13 books of poetry, including TREES, COFFEE, AND THE EYES OF DEER, and BREAKING DOWN THE SURFACE OF THE WORLD. A spoken-word CD, Pretend, was recently issued by DePaul University. He is also author of a chapbook of poems and paintings titled AND THE RUNNING FORM, NAKED, BLAKE. Others include LUCKY FINDS, a boxed set of 50 cards that extend and parody the dynamic artistic productions of high-modernist poets such as Ezra Pound and Charles Olson, Last of the Outsiders: Collected Poems, 1968-2019, and Wide Road to the Edge of the World: 301 Haiku with a prose introduction, “A Windswept Spirit,” in 201 chapters and 601 paragraphs.

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