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>American Fear

April 7, 2011

>Harriet mailed me some volumes of poetry that arrived last week, and one of the volumes is so suited to my current temperament that I suspect her of picking it out especially.  It’s about gratitude and wonder, but also fear.  It’s funny on the way to being even more serious.  By Robert Wrigley, it’s entitled Beautiful Country, and the epigraph accurately forecasts the tone of the entire volume:  “This is a beautiful country.”–John Brown, seated on his coffin, as he rode to the gallows, December 2, 1859.

My favorite poem in this volume, the one that made me laugh out loud several times, is “American Fear.”  It’s about the things we fear, and how they’re connected to the things we love… written from the point of view of someone who loves words and poems. I thought that even those of you who suffer from a mild case of metrophobia (fear of poetry) would enjoy it.

American Fear
“Such as we were we gave ourselves outright.”–Robert Frost

What it is is a company selling “clothing
for the disaffected youth culture.”
T-shirts and sweatshirts, mostly black,
someone’s marketing vision for a new world,
a twenty-first-century Henry (“You can have
any color you want so long as it’s black”) Ford,
that old-time anti-Semite, his once nearly bankrupt
namesake corporation supplanted by this other.

A button on the Web site reads “Ready to Order Fear,”
but everywhere you look it’s free: fear of wolves,
bulls, and bears: fear of the sun, fear of that one
or this one, fear that all it takes is one. Storm fear,
house fear, fear of frost. Fear of gravity is barophobia.
But there’s also Cape Fear, Camp Fear,
and Fear Mountain: you can visit those. There’s fear
of God, fear of the odd; fear of night, fear of air.

Fear of hair is chaetophobia. Eleutherophobia’s fear of freedom.
There’s First Encounter Assault Recon,
“a survival horror first-person shooter developed
by Monolith Productions and published by Vivendi,”
a video game, a generation’s modus vivendi, a way of living
in which we agree to disagree violently.
Ephebiphobia is the fear of teenagers; melanophobia,
fear of the color black; caligynephobia,

fear of beautiful women; and anthrophobia, fear
of flowers. You can spend hours on a list like this.
Pantophobia is the fear of everything. After
230-odd years the republic crawls
through its slow-motion youth, democracy requiring not
only equality but a vast sameness many fear,
as some fear guns and others fear their guns
will be taken away, their beautiful guns,

poetry in them, shining assemblages of articulate parts
in which ammo is the main idea. Consider the idea
that a thing can be beyond perfection, as in a more perfect
union, as in the sky and its endlessness
–astrophobia, that’s called: the fear of stars
and celestial space. As for fear of oblivion,
there is no word for it. Come home late, Robert Frost
rattled the key in the lock and left the door open

until a light was on, a way of allowing what was inside out.
Later, on his farmhouse porch, Frost trembling,
frightened of the dark, a shotgun in his hands. He thought
he could talk Khrushchev into nuclear disarmament
(nucleomituphobia, bomb fear) and sulked because
JFK didn’t call him back. The fear of poetry
is metrophobia, and melophobes fear music, cringing
at the ballgame through “God Bless America.”

Regarding the disaffected, the OED suggest they lack
first of all affection. Put that with logophobia,
the fear of words, and philophobia, the fear of love.
Parthenophobia is the fear of virgin girls. WTF
is internet slang and the initials of the World Taekwondo
Federation, member of the International Olympic Committee.
Why is there no word for the fear of committees,
which are so much to be feared? Fear of Germany

is teutophobia. Vestiphobia is the fear of clothing.
The fear of flags is vexiphobia. On American Fear’s
logo, you can find the flag’s stripes resembling a bar code.
Gringophobia is the fear of Americans, the ones
who fear America ends far north of Tierra del Fuego.
Fear of a white god is leukotheophobia. A snowclone
is a “cliche or phrasal template, multiuse, customizable,
instantly recognizable, timeworn, and open

to an array of variants”–as in, What Would Henry Ford Do?
American Fear’s best-selling design:
a mandible-less skull enwreathed by bullets, bunting,
and feathers, on a base of fifties-befinned bombs.
There is no word for the fear of growing up,
though gerascophobia is the fear
of growing old, and old men fear not
how others might read them by their clothes.

Kings wear robes and senators wear suits. The word senator
comes from the Latin senex, meaning “old man,”
and gerontophobia is the fear of old people.
Chronophobia is the fear of time.
Some old men do not wear T-shirts,
because putting one on can be exhausting
and taking it off worse. Imagine fearing a shirt.
Why is there a word like bathysiderodromophobia?

Subways are beautiful in their tunnels and troughs,
their soiled, palatial stations. “Go in fear of abstractions,”
Pound said. He suffered not from metrophobia,
but from madness. “To fear” in Italian is temere.
“What thou lovest well remains, the rest is dross,”
wrote Pound. “Better to go down dignified
with boughten friendship at your side than none at all,”
wrote Frost. He had a lover’s quarrel with the world.

Among American Fear’s other shirt designs, one called
“Your Pretty Death Bed,” a young woman,
her wrists slashed, looking asleep and covered
by the Stars and Stripes. There is no word
for the fear our daughters will commit suicide
beneath a patriotic blanket. Robert Frost’s son, Carol,
shot himself with a deer rifle on October 9, 1940.
“I took the wrong way with him” wrote Frost,

who would outlive all but two of his six children.
A citizen opposes the reintroduction of gray wolves
to the American wilderness, because they are Canadian,
as though they might harbor within their genes
a disinclination for revolution and a soft spot
for the queen. Freddie Mercury was a gay British genius,
and homophobic sports teams all across the nation sing his
“We Are the Champions.” He’s number 50

among the 100 Greatest Britons, four slots ahead
of George Harrison, twelve ahead of Jane Austen,
and a whopping twenty-three in front of Geoffrey Chaucer.
Ronald Reagan is number one on the American list.
The only poet in the top twenty-five is Muhammad Ali,
who comes in just above Rosa Parks but well behind
Elvis, whose pelvis was censored from the television screen.
No word for the fear of free speech,

but a man was not allowed to board a flight at JFK
because his T-shirt, in Arabic and English, read,
“We will not be silent.” American Fear’s shirts
will not alarm the Transportation Security Administration,
also called the TSA. The fear of silence is sedatephobia.
The TSA is also the Tourette Syndrome Association,
and based on Boswell’s descriptions it is theorized
that Samuel Johnson suffered from the malady,

making frequent odd grunts and muttering
under his breath “too, too, too” meaning also
and yes and more, meaning many,
meaning he meant to know all the words,
and the problem with all is everything. All men, all words,
all fears. This beautiful, fearful,
and fearsome country, such as it is,
such as it might yet, someday, become.

Bathysiderodromophobia, by the way, is fear of the subway, which the poet reveals in the next line.

I was laughing out loud about the “fear that our daughters will commit suicide” and the bit about Freddie Mercury.  Also, I love the word “ephebiphobia” and think I will be using it frequently over the next month.

After I read “American Fear” I went on to the next poem according to the way I was reading through the volume, which was backwards.  “A Rumor of Bears” left me with tears in my eyes. And then I got to the title poem, “Beautiful Country,” and “thought about what was wrong and more wrong” but ended up being “promised another day when everything would be better,” courtesy of what has become of the American military since Vietnam.  And I kept reading and becoming more like Wrigley’s picture of Johnson, thinking “also/and yes and more, meaning many,/meaning he meant to know all the words.”

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10 Comments leave one →
  1. April 7, 2011 1:15 pm

    >What's the word for fear of being late to your appointment because you started reading the Necromancy Never Pays blog and couldn't pull yourself away from the day's poem?Thanks for sharing this one. I laughed aloud at least twice.

  2. April 7, 2011 1:18 pm

    >What's the word for fear of your daughters growing up too soon and swooning over pop music idols?

  3. April 7, 2011 1:20 pm

    >Awesome! I guess I don't have ephebiphobia since I substitute teach at the high school. But sometimes I wonder if I am starting to develop this.

  4. April 7, 2011 1:26 pm

    >PAJ, Necrorisusphobia.FreshHell, Infatubeiberphobia.Care, be afraid. Be very afraid.

  5. April 7, 2011 1:32 pm

    >Jeanne, maybe your next poem should be Edward Lear. Infatubeiberphobia reminds me of Manypeeplia Upsidedownia. And this poem reminded me of Charlie Brown screaming "That's It!!!" loud enough to bowl Lucy out of her psychiatrist's booth in Charlie Brown Christmas. I like a poem that begins wide and reels you in, tightening the web. And I'm glad you are enjoying the book.

  6. April 7, 2011 2:18 pm

    >Harriet, your ear for imitation is infallible; I was reading Lear (and Ogden Nash) last night.Thanks for sending me this book!

  7. April 8, 2011 3:59 pm

    >The Samuel Johnson bit is marvelous, and how it's placed.

  8. April 8, 2011 8:00 pm

    >Trapunto, yes!

  9. April 10, 2011 10:59 pm

    >That is wonderful! For one thing I just love knowing words for things, and for another that poem is just charming.

  10. April 11, 2011 2:34 am

    >Jenny, Yes, I learned a new word from the poem, and now I keep inventing new "fear" words in my head because it's fun.

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