This Has Been a Test of the Emergency Broadcast System

Jan 31, 2020

Today's poem is "This Has Been a Test of the Emergency Broadcast System" by Jeffrey Thomson. He is a poet, memoirist, translator, and editor, and the author of multiple books including: Half/Life: New and Selected Poems from Alice James Books (October 2019). He is currently professor of creative writing at the University of Maine Farmington.

He writes, "'This Has Been a Test of the Emergency Broadcast System' is a post-9/11 poem that is one of a series that tries to think about the way our every-day language is corrupted and manipulated.  In this case, corrupted by violence and calls for revenge.  Corrupted by the continuous dialog of war.  But it is also a poem that tries to find the poetry in the face of that.  Tries to see how these pieces of ordinary language contain a kind of beauty and grace, as well.”

This Has Been a Test of the Emergency Broadcast System
by Jeffrey Thomson

Had this been a true emergency
there would have been the sound of

falling rubble and bowing girders.
There would have been blare and clash,

ruckus and mortuary work.
There would have been symphonic want

and multi-syllabic heartbreak, banner headlines
and bandwagons. Had this been a true emergency

you would have been directed to breathe
in the smoke from the lingering fires

of all the speeches that reference this day.
There would have been soldiers sent

and garrisons, oil and tents, rifles black
as snouts. Roughing up. Electrodes

and hoods. There would have been a man
thrown from a helicopter. Genuflecting

and orchestras and roundups, yes, and hoodlums
rumbling through the streets in vast, gassed-up militias

of the night. There would have been
the illusion of control. Fear of suitcases.

A ban on ball bearings. A new architecture
based on Kevlar and concrete and

the absence of windows that will not
be missed. Had this been a true emergency

there would have been caskets and a run
on flags. Sniggering and something about a zoo.

Razor wire and tent camps. Sealed roads
that lead into tumbleweeds, the small clutch

at the roots as the wind takes them.
There would have been loneliness and wicked

nostalgia. In the mountains where no one
will be allowed there would have been

an accumulation of snow like an unending
series of predictions. but there would have been

no warning. Have a nice day.

Poem copyright © 2019 Jeffrey Thomson. Reprinted from Half/Life: New and Selected Poems, Alice James Books, 2019, by permission of Jeffrey Thomson.