American Dreams / Wake Up Call – Michigan Quarterly Review
Cover photo features the cover of MQR’s Fall 2022 special issue ‘Fractured Union: American Democracy on the Brink'

American Dreams / Wake Up Call

Fall 2022 | Les James Reads "American Dreams / Wake Up Call” MQR Sound

Les James reads her poem "American Dreams / Wake Up Call", an online exclusive for MQR's Fall 2022 issue 'Fractured Union: American Democracy on the Brink'.
This is a wake up call.
Oh say can you see?
Will you open your eyes?
Face the reality
that all the things we’ve been told to get –
all the things we’ve been told to be –
all the things we’ve been told
we’re supposed to achieve –
all these things we’ve been sold with 
red white and blue marketing –
are the reasons why 
so many will never be free.
Chained to debt, 
or trapped in poverty,
or otherwise stuck paying the bill 
for someone else’s prosperity.  
Because when capitalism is the end
people are just a means.
And now we’re all enslaved to these 
commercialized American dreams. 

Cause here’s the thing –
they’ll reel you in.
Drown ya, drug ya, luv ya.
They’ve got your number.
Anything you’ve gotta to have,
every desire turned necessity,
all this and more can be yours,
satisfaction guaranteed.
Hot off the plate, it’s yours to just take:
crack that’s never done,
sex that’s just for fun,
gold cards by the ton,
(suicide without the gun).
Yes this is how the end’s begun.
Everybody listen! Everybody take heed!
Stop playing Russian roulette with these 
trigger-happy American dreams.

Look closely, 
because they're not what they seem –
they charm but deceive, 
steal but say please,
take payment without delivering,
give you what you want 
and confiscate what you need.
They just ain't what they're made out to be.
They're liars, criminals, scoundrels, and thieves.
They're bad medicine, my friend,
bad medicine indeed.
They cure the symptoms 
as they quicken the disease.
Strangers with candy –
we all know the theme.
We gotta just say no to these 
sugarcoated American dreams.

In the end 
only you can break the cycle of greed.
Save yourself from yourself –
stop buying into the scheme.
Cause too long we’ve been chasing 
this trumped up fantasy,
but it’s really just 
a broke down fairytale fallacy,
that’s got us striving for prizes 
that can’t be redeemed,
and perpetually filing 
for moral bankruptcy.
If you hear what I’m sayin’
and know what I mean –
it’s time to finally wake up from these 
make-believe American dreams.

Editor’s Note: This piece is an MQR Online exclusive accompanying the launch of “Fractured Union: American Democracy on the Brink,” our Fall 2022 special issue.

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