Homo Americanus

freeform hollerin’ at the Lit conference (in syllabics) 


No. We don’t want you to breathe in – then out.  

No need to stand up, stretch out, twirl your wrists.  

Most assuredly, no incantations 

Are being asked of you, not a single word. 

Know what, Jack, Jill? Scrap the four directions. 

Your identities and ours beside yours 

On a coatrack at the door, quite comfy  

How much whacking can your piñata take? 

Yes, you stand on stolen land, you may now

Zounds! Methinks my station merits the ploy

Which, under these conditions, is public  

Though you’re planted on private property. 

We do acknowledge that: the conditions 

The one thousand directions not to take

At this after after party, we call 

Anarcho-Tyranny Über Alles

Or, simply, The Finance Oligarchy. 

Please be modest, slithering on the ground

Scooping up treats, subtracting from the whole 

Our allotments of failed Liberal Schemes 

Coming into view as we splinter up.


Who won the prize? The prize among prizes. 

A prize of a prize, you might say, a win 

Over one more prize – to win – a prize, won.

Surprise! There’s no prize for that. Or for this.

Piñata sticks swung blindly all at once 

Is more to the point, bloody point, hobbling

Stumbling onto the arena of Kultur

But what’s at a distance tracking it all?

Or, in close: poetics as detainee 

Marks it a fugitive – in mind, and gut. 

We were just about to jump outta here 

As the smoking debris began to cool

Before the dawn of more Centrist Hokum. 

But here we are, herding piss-poor students 

Into the bare halls of Career Poet. 

There’s exactly five things a prize can do:

One: it bestowith wings to wingless works

Two: it stauncheth today’s systemic wounds 

Three: perchance it payeth the rent – golly  

Four: it groweth wings on the fugitive  

Five: it clipith the fugitive’s new wings 


Strategies recalibrating tactics 

Kind of works. Kind of what might not – is you.  

Games abound this side of the barricades 

One of them is Self™, as designed by “you”­ 

But here’s another piñata at hand 

Popped out from nowhere, perplexing, tempting. 

Fellow insurrectionists, lend an ear

Identity thinking stalls <hard reset> 

And bullhorn this – all night long, publicly:  

Old Universalisms pen us in

Where we mean to run with a New Story. 

New Stories, reject Catastrophizing 

Refuse a forgone Tragicomedy

Stage an Alternative Futurity  

Identity thinking stalls <hard reset>

Blindfolded, Homo Americanus 

Grab this trusty stick, grip it mightily

Raise it high – and on the downswing – crack it.

Now the bards scramble, now the bards bag up

Scraps of self, whose purpose – they know not what

Though it’s arousing, all this newfound pep.

Rodrigo Toscano is a poet and essayist based in New Orleans. He is the author of ten books of poetry. His latest book is The Charm & The Dread (Fence Books, 2022). His previous books include In Range, Explosion Rocks Springfield, Deck of Deeds, Collapsible Poetics Theater (a National Poetry Series selection), To Leveling Swerve, Platform, Partisans, and The Disparities. His poetry has appeared in over 20 anthologies, including Best American Poetry and Best American Experimental Poetry (BAX). Toscano has received a New York State Fellowship in Poetry. He won the Edwin Markham 2019 prize for poetry. He works for the Labor Institute in conjunction with the United Steelworkers, the National Institute for Environmental Health Science, National Day Laborers Organizing Network educational / training projects that involve environmental and labor justice culture transformation.