Jared Morningstar is a high school English teacher and adjunct English professor at Saginaw Valley State University and Delta College. He writes about his interests and observations of the world around him. Morningstar has published three collections of poetry and prose (American Fries, American Reality, and A Slice of American Pie) through Alien Buddha Press, and he was nominated for the Pushcart Prize in 2020. He lives in Michigan with his wife and children.
Make Art Dangerous Again
Like Twain roasting the KKK, at the height of its powers, calling them cowards who only find courage in a crowd with other half-men under masks again. Like Chopin pondering a world without men, that greater happiness and freedom could be found when a woman wasn’t bound to a husband and his last name again. Like Hughes, too, seeing America, acknowledging what Whitman wouldn’t, and making sure the nation read his page for English B, that its blinders were torn off, and that it had to admit that Black people were less free again. Like Guthrie arming himself with plain-spoken speech against fascists and greedy capitalists who were willing to let the poor starve in alleys and ditches just so they could keep lining their pockets again. Like Ginsberg howling against conformists to save the best minds of his generation from those who’d crush their spirit and dreams and keep them imprisoned by rules in a suburban hellscape again. Like Hendrix setting fire to his guitar, literally, and metaphorically when he blistered “The Star Spangled Banner” at Woodstock, raising awareness to bombing overseas and injustice at home again. And like Banksy, still creating with a vilified medium in the faces of close-minded squares, forcing them to look directly at what’s wrong with the world and the authoritarians who’d choose to keep art in museums and the public ignorant again. So pick up your pens, guitars, brushes, your spray paint, keep up the good fight with words instead of fists, and let’s raise hell so that we don’t end up living there, so we can keep the promise alive, so one day, things will truly be great again.
The Promise (Was Broken)
Springsteen once wrote a song about innocence lost, when Thunder Road went silent and dark as some lonely, hopeless Nebraska highway. A character confidently searching for a better life in the form of rock and roll and a Dodge Challenger he built himself to pull out of the town full of losers. But hard times and reality struck, as they often do. The wheels fell off his ambitions; the Challenger had to be sold. The dream died, but the dreamer didn’t, resulting in another, yet familiar, tale of tragedy. Then Springsteen became a star instead of a heartbroken wanderer like his unlucky protagonist who can charge hundreds for tickets and own as many muscle cars as he pleases. Meanwhile, so many others couldn’t even afford the parts to build half a Challenger, let alone the time to assemble one: too many responsibilities, too few opportunities. Is it really more sad to experience the loss of the American promise than it is to not have a chance at it in the first place? Truth is, I’m happy for Bruce and the hope he gives to millions but every once in a while, I get a little sad when I’m reminded that while he gets to be The Boss, we were dreamers too, but we’re all still living in that town full of losers; we’re the employees, and we always will be.
An upward glance revealed clouds hovering in from the west; a terrible downpour was upon us. It made my arthritic joints pop, and an old, familiar sadness set in as I thought about the families, the children, who only hours ago were basking in the warm summer sun, obviously planning picnics, bike rides, and play dates in the park: the kind of day I remembered so often with my parents and siblings before the divorce, before having to spend sunny days mowing lawns and behind cash registers, trying to save for that Mustang that I never could afford. Before the war took my brother, and the bottle took my sister, when I was forced to reckon with the fact that we’d never play one more game of catch. Outside, neighbors scurried like squirrels, packing up their backyard barbeques, hoarding delicious t-bones and Ball Parks. And then, I saw children skipping home to escape the marble sky, finally tripping, falling into the loving arms of their mothers and fathers, protectors. Too bad, I thought, they should have checked the forecast. Then, I thought of that last childhood summer, that last game at the park, when I dropped that can-of-corn fly ball that would have given us the game. “Don’t worry,” my brother said, “we’ll get them next time.” But I was too busy blaming the drizzle that started to fall from the sky in the last inning (it caused the ball to slip out of my mitt!), too angry to appreciate the moment, the final moment, for there was no next time. Why was I so naïve? I should have checked the forecast. Rain needled the roof and windows. Life was absent from the now-silent street, reminding me of the emptiness within, and I felt every bit 80 years old. Sitting beside the window, I prayed everyone would make it home through the storm so they could enjoy one more day in the sun, one more game of catch.