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poetry The Rise and Fall of the United States of America

Carolina poet Dan Albergotti places “American Exceptionalism” in a disturbing historical context.

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The Rise and Fall of the United States of America

By Dan Albergotti

When these days I hear some folks speak of pride,

“American Exceptionalism,”

and how they don’t need to apologize

for any damn thing, I think of the shark.

Specifically, the Greenland shark swimming

in the North Atlantic right now—somewhere

between Plymouth, England, and Plymouth Rock—

that has lived for nearly three hundred years.

I think of it swimming as it has swum

through the drafting of high ideals and through

the mockery of same with chains and whips

and ropes and trees and dogs and grand juries.

It has swum through the Gettysburg Address

and through Burr’s pistol shot, Booth’s lead bullet,

Kennedy’s strewn gray matter, and the flash

that wiped out tens of thousands in Japan.

It has swum through Columbine and Newtown,

through El Paso and Pittsburgh and Vegas,

through Ferguson and Charlottesville and flames,

and through zombie crowds chanting “U-S-A!”

Researchers gauge the age of Greenland sharks

by carbon dating cornea. Their eyes

are tiny, parasites dangling from most.

The poor old things are slow and quite, quite blind.

Dan Albergotti is the author of The Boatloads (BOA Editions, 2008), Millennial Teeth (Southern Illinois University Press, 2014), and Of Air and Earth (Unicorn Press, 2019). His poems have appeared in 32 Poems, The Cincinnati Review, Copper Nickel, Five Points, The Southern Review, The Best American Poetry, and The Pushcart Prize, as well as other journals and anthologies. He is a professor of English at Coastal Carolina University.