Al Maginnes

Seeing the Brown Shirts

On television they march again, amateur brown shirts,
          homegrown Nazis, self-appointed
foot soldiers of apocalypse, sworn to foment terror greater
          than what capers in them
on the nights they find their beds sober or wake too suddenly
          to recall their memorized cant.

Television is as close as I need to come to their scraped heads
          and spittle-red mouths, their uniforms
purchased with dollars saved from low wage jobs, laboring
          side by side with the races
they claim to despise, and tailored by hopeless mothers or girlfriends
          forbidden to watch “Oprah.”

My brown-skinned daughter points at the television as she points
          at everything.
“Idiots,” I say to her. “Dumbasses,” a word I’ll repent when
          she repeats it in company.
I can call them names or scorn them; I cannot stop her
          from seeing them or hearing

their invective today, but some day when she understands their venom.
          I can only hope that when
they gather on some street or corner and raise their voices
          that I have taught her something
of how hate roots itself in fear, that it dresses in uniforms and marches,
          that it repeats slogans

whose message is always the same—what is different
          must be terminated. No exceptions.
Not the black man who allowed some arm weary Nazi low rider
          a few minutes’ rest as they stacked
a trailer full of engine parts in hundred-degree weather.
          Not the Latino foreman

who bought beer to thank the crew for working late.
          And not my daughter who,
by the time she is old enough to read this, I hope will be
          more patriotic than I,
liberated from my doubts about a continent gorged and gone slack
          on hubris and glory.

Let her uncover the compassion and wisdom I want, knowledge
          that pities the spark of fear,
that turns a man insane enough to pull on a uniform
          and swear fealty to a regime
defeated and fearful of the girl who has already lost interest
          and gone to sleep in my arms.