Change & Status Quo
by Jason Waldrop


As obvious as whatever you see,
the child colors the cardinal red.

Red is the oldest word for color.
Red is history: the action playing 

on the movie screen is not blood.
Red will bleed on any surface.

Lies, like crayons, are manufactured.
Pretty. Complete. Packed.

(Now. Quick. Close your eyes—
what color is the cardinal’s beak?)

The guidebook teases you, saying 
cardinals mate for life

—these rapid hearts also grieve—
but the second your pencil marks off 

the red bird—sentimentality 
consoling by tally alone—

the open field forces you
back to that trivial question, 

leaving the cardinal’s skull 
in the switchgrass at your feet.

Of course, the feathers were cardinal red 
but the beak, skin over bone—orange.

Nature absorbs attention;
every trick followed by another two.

Close your eyes: observe
tomorrow’s corpse: loss & promise

seeps through the twitch of the eye
to add to the sediment at your retinal base,

while flight, song, belief, blood
all rise into red sky.


Among her last effects, a pair of scissors.
Tips intact, still sharp from proper use, 
but twice the paint worn off the black handle
last seen flaking thirty years ago.
Not like a friend gone gray during a long absence, 
but like a disease diagnosed in end stage.
Or a parent who leaves the hospital bed
—naked, varicose, shriveled—to confront 
our stupid explanations of a minor explosion, 
a long nap, a time change, an interrupted 
news report. The crisis began 
before any of us were born. Shouldn’t we 
have prepared ourselves? Gotten used to it?


For organ donors, the fee will be reduced.
En pointe is an area the size of a half dollar.
Do you have an identical twin?
Did you understand the last question?
The penis is a purse of blood.
Have you ever killed a man, or woman?
This page is left intentionally blank.
Sir, I cannot find your good vein.
Please squeeze this rubber apple.
The points on a checkerboard 
where the dark squares touch
touch without pressure. 
The piano stays perfectly in tune 
no more than 24hrs.

Proverbs of the Prison Wall Shadows

A fingerprint, a vote, a snowflake—
each is unhappy in its own way.

Only happy families are alike.

In our time, the ballot began as an X,
then a stabbing of dots, now a fingerprint.

After snowflakes were singled out by the camera 
microscope, they collected into public record
two years following Black Tuesday.

A vote is cast against one thing and for another.

Change & Status Quo are the Persian cats
in a child’s first political cartoon.

Last night, I dreamt I went to Manderley again.

On average, a snowflake takes ten minutes
to fall a thousand feet. If formation of the crystal

is “decision” and its metamorphosis on the ground
“resignation,” then what is the proper term

for the flight?  Drift?  Panic?

For a long time, every worker would go to bed early.

Our flaws identify us. As long as these imperfections
do not blossom into criminal acts, 
we retain the right to vote.

A vote is either legal or illegal.

Snowflakes are punched out of the cloud
until nothing of the cloud remains.

A punch card machine is a trap for chads.

When you set your traps in the clouds
you remain above the Law.

Every person is born with inalienable rights.
Soon he becomes a body at odds with himself.

Under a microscope, the division between right and wrong
becomes more or less clear?

All children, except one, grow up.

Story Behind the Story

To make the desired family, the camera
rearranges whatever is at hand. The boy 

stole from the purse rather than the wallet.
And if not, would he not have lied
to his inattentive doctor who, after all,
is also only part of a team?

The boy’s first photo was of his dog.
At eye level. And too close. The focal length
unable to compensate a six-year-old’s 
oblivion to the life span of a dog.

Memory holds the canine blur,
but if the flash of paired faces
is not the artifact of a past life, 
then is his dream the camera?

The woman gazes adoringly.
The man measures out equal pride.
But, in reality, this staged couple 
is not his real father and mother.

Jason Waldrop graduated from the American Studies program at Yale University, concentrating on Early Cinema and Silent Film. His poems, essays, and stories have appeared in Ploughshares, Denver Quarterly, The Plume Poetry Journal, The Cider Press Review, Poetry Northwest, Caliban, and New Letters among others. His dystopian novel, The Last Cigarette (not necessarily what you think), won the Mid-List Press Novel Series. 

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