The Pure Products of America Go Crazy and other poems by MacLean Gander

“The Pure Products of America Go Crazy…”


What drives a man

bombing in Nashville

OD’ed on your toilet

That RV so cheap pathetic really—

When you get lonely you can always go downtown downtown

Does anyone need to know more about America

Than the name Anthony Quinn Warner

Or that our history is unknowable

Why not just say Elvis?

These mirrors and masquerades history books

“The tension between individual liberty and the social good has always been…

You can’t finish that sentence, can you?

But it was in Nashville, so of course places

What things happened in Nashville?

Electrons, really, a kind of skill

That has something to do with money

or control

Proud Boys v. Antifa this lust for violence Chaos grins says

Listen to the trees

Her hair glistens like oiled snakes

& you know darling all it takes

Is one slow kiss under the candlelight

And maybe you might lose your fright

And be the man you said you’d be

Trembling in shade under the apple tree

Said some words you nah know what they mean

Maybe you hoping you weren’t seen

But have to say boo it was like that we watching you


The idea of nobility in human affairs still exists

And there is something to be said for the study of history and language

Whatever you resisted resisted you back

You carried an alarm clock

The idea that time does not exist a child’s dream

Ok say it true now baby say how it feel

You know if you don’t it won’t be real

Make your heart in rainbow slices

See the sunlight how nice is

Make this beat your own heartbeat

Tell me you don’t know the street

Tell you what you not understand

You blow your van up—you not a man

Outside the tent of the destruction

Of the greatest empire the world has known

We watching you


What is the statute of limitations on lynching’s

And the mass graves

–you can find the bones if you look

Or in Nashville some human tissue

Ephraim and Henry Gizzard, 1872

Samuel Smith, 1924

he was fifteen

David Jones

Jo Reed

232 lynching’s in Tennessee

Human tissue debris from RV historic


inside CNN carnival

electrons warm


smile a lie

Tennessee’s “greatest lynching carnival” was held in Memphis in May 1917 when Ell Person, the allegedly confessed ax-murderer of a sixteen-year-old white girl, was burned to death in the presence of fifteen thousand men, women, and little children.


Tonight we must mourn anyone named Anthony Quinn Warner

No story to tell, no rhyme no reason no couplet indebted to any ideology

Just ample evidence of the meaninglessness of time

No babe its about how sad someone gets

He saved everyone with that loudspeaker

And you know those six cops were heroes

What point is there in talking about history

When you know you will die without seeing the end?

Make an intention

It’s ok not to believe in anything, it is easier that way

Remember Anthony Quinn Warner


What drives a man? Antaeus vs. Heracles says

God of the waters, goddess of earth I called to you

Choking on air, my monstrous soul

What were you doing in Libya, anyway?

We could have been brothers

Between us we could have destroyed the gods

The beauty of a suicide bombing that killed no one

The single-minded and purposeless effort like writing Finnegan’s Wake

Or climbing a cliff no one climbed before

Or making sure to leave on the stone “He lived a quiet, ordinary life”

You have no idea how much pain it costs me

To tell you this—you feel troubled by the broken windows

To me they are beautiful

There is nothing more beautiful than broken glass
Catching the flickering oranges and yellows
Of cars and buildings on fire


The idea of meaninglessness

Captured in a single gesture

Make an intention taste the fire

He was designed for summer

The ways in which a human body can be destroyed

Are chronicled. You can’t look away—see it clearly

African American victims, both men and women, were regularly tortured with methods that included eye-gouging, cutting off of the ears and nose, and cutting off fingers and toes joint by joint for souvenirs.

Were you there? We are watching you tell the truth

Don’t look away

I met my darling on a dark street

We talked all night until dawn came

She said she’d love me if I paid the price

Give my skin up, let the sky fall

Keep a shotgun on the kitchen wall

Saying y’all Sicilian don’t be nice

You white boys all look the same

What you got, how your heart beat?

LED’s and Sunlight

Squirrels grow fat when you feed them seeds
Or an electronic barbie with a vicious smile

Like butterscotch razor blades and the ice
Where a blue-jay has joined the squirrel

Is melting slowly in the noon sunlight
So it can freeze again harder

But the plastic doll is tasty and satisfying–
That’s all they need–

Inside the mirror of ice the squirrel looks fat
Blue jays descend in a tight-knit gang now

Chickadees and slate juncos scatter
A cardinal watches from an apple limb

These natural hierarchies are comforting,
A small piece of obsidian in my mouth, sucking on it

LED lights shine all the time, even at 5AM
When juncos are wrapped in their fir trees

Not much illumination but the clowns still dance
And long trucks thrum on the daybreak avenue.


If my anger is a kaleidoscope then tell me
What the shrapnel taught you, taste this black ice.

Inside the intermissions of an interminable drama
There is real blood on the stage. Bend low, taste it–

You’re my bitch tonight, follow my words,
A voice calling hopeless on a weekly phone call from prison—

I never picked up the phone, no one fucking makes bail
In this life, you know that–snakes in the hole—

Avoid them—make feathers in your hair
Somewhere close to edge—rock is scrawled in runes

We slant on dirt like raged farmers so starved for love
We can’t answer the most basic questions.

We have not read the stories yet. We won’t.
This late winter sunset filled with bone.


Birds and so on, apple blossoms and knives,
Slime on the river stones, a trail of blood
Up trap-house stairs, no light in the sky,
Rain falling and the stream rising to flood—

Dawn sends artifacts like an oracle,
Some gibberish about nature and the human,
A bounty of coins from a failed empire
Like trying to spend Japanese pesos
From the WWII occupation
At the Firehouse in Manila
On a girl who would be nice to you
But just for a while—that money was fake.

My last doctor told me that I was “programmed to die”—
He said that. It was strange,
My body was fine but he wanted me to understand
I would inevitably die, so what did I believe in?

They called him Crazy Eddie
In the small-town practice he had,
And he put me through the course on miracles for free,
Reading the Bible and Bagavad Gita, the Secret Garden
And the Wizard of Oz, a sort of mad map
Of ways to think the soul persists beyond death,
That there is a larger reality we can’t see.

It didn’t work. I am just a reporter.
All I can do is say what I see, or what I remember.
Fifty years ago, in this same country place, I owned a horse.
I rode him bareback on the dirt roads,
Veering sometimes into an open mowing to ride full out,
Gliding over his galloping body like a sprite.

Once he shied and I flew off into the soft grass,
Stunned for a moment, breath knocked out.
I came to with wildflowers all around me.
Then I climbed back on and rode home

Solstice: Green River

One mourns at dawn, blue light on the snow,
Cracked windows locked against the cold.

What can one say? I’ve always marveled
At time’s bleak nature, scored now by ice
Coating still-green grass and the dirt road,

And while the landscape is winter-barren
The ghosts that inhabit this place are partying
In liquid light of the fireplace, rafters shaking,
That tune from 1939 going round and round.

One year we visited where the girl witches were hanged,
A christmas sojourn to Salem. There was no cause for celebration.
There were addicts on the sidestreet. A grey smudge
Lay like a quilt on the bay. Gulls swooped and screamed.

This year ghosts scratch graffiti on the frost.

Solstice: Songbirds

This austere December sunlight on thin snow
Today’s ghetto, shards of grass pocking through frost,
The light slanted so deep against the high windows

It might as well be sunset, that yard-arm passed
At dawn, ice glazed on the water glass,
No sound on roads, just winter’s vacant heart.

In this season, December’s full moon Cold Moon—
A couple of weeks to wait for the Wolf Moon,
The spirit I long to inhabit my body.

Cold moon says look at the light, weep, and sing
Songs of joy since you have no choice,
Play that violin in the concentration camp of your body.

Inside the churning of dreams and lost time
A spirit made of ice and hot chocolate
Says drop those seeds from your hand. Songbirds will follow.


So this the day you meet the dead—you knew
It would come, ice in your hair and tangled wires,
And while you said you have no fear you knew
That you were afraid. The wood is made of ghosts.

Inside the enchantment of the cold moon
You searched a way to speak to them, the ghosts
Inside the wood walls where heat depends on burning.
But the full moon’s a motorcycle and the wind

Against your face as you ride into the sky
Won’t let language free except you are screaming
How much I love you at the sweet savage spirits
That cling like wraiths to the dark leather of your soul.

When the full dark comes you walk to the graveyard,
Touch the cold stone with your hands, then go home again.

Solstice: Meteor Shower

At five AM shooting star flowers on black,
Flaring without explanation, just quick
And lovely, the way all things are, and this frost

Glitters like answering stars in porch-light,
Dead leaves shining like gems.

My arms are filled with wood
But I still look around, how quiet the night is,
How constellations have not changed

Since I was a child and soon light will start
These skeletons of trees green again,
The dead grass needing mowing.

Nothing is permanent, or temporary, but something else
That we have no language for except
The stars fall from sky they remind us

Some things are beautiful, the way we dance
In sky, dancing for free—no one takes coins home
From this game, we play stacked odds,

Dancing until dawn finally comes
With an unusually beautiful shade of blue
That like everything else has no name.

written by MacLean Gander© 2021

MacLean Gander grew up in Manhattan, where he attended the Collegiate School before studying at Harvard, where he received an A.B. in English and American Literature and Languages, cum laude. He was the Hoyt Fellow in creative writing at Boston University in 1981, where he took his Master’s in Creative Writing (Poetry).

In the 1980s he worked for several years as a researcher, writer, and reporter for Newsweek’s international edition in New York, and then spent two years in the Philippines covering the 1985 elections and 1986 “People’s Revolution” as a freelancer accredited to The Nation. After returning from Manila, he decided to relocate in Vermont and change his career path, taking a faculty position at Landmark College. In 1988, he was appointed English department chair, a position he held for nine years. In 1997 he was appointed Vice President of Academic Affairs and Dean of the College, a position he held for 11 years, a period of rapid growth and change for the college. During this time he earned an Ed.D. in Educational Leadership and Change from Fielding Graduate University. As Vice President for External Affairs and Strategic Planning from 2008 – 2009 he led and participated in the College’s consulting initiatives with the Kipp Charter Schools, The Prince Salman Center for Learning Disabilities Research in Riyadh, and with several other organizations and groups.

After returning to the faculty in 2009, MacLean held appointments in the writing department and then in the Core Education Program, teaching courses in composition, creative writing, journalism, and education. He currently holds an appointment in the Professional Studies program, where he teaches courses in journalism, leadership, and narrative nonfiction. He also donates his time as an investigative reporter for The Commons, Windham County’s nonprofit independent newsweekly, a role in which he is able to engage journalism and business students in internships and in doing reporting in real-world contexts. He lives in Brattleboro, Vermont, with his wife, the poet and artist Shanta Lee Gander.

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