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Love it or Leave it

I grew up in Oklahoma

It wasn’t anything I’d recommend

If you’ve got any choice in the matter

Sure I know, theoretically, some people choose Oklahoma

But as for me and mine

We had Oklahoma thrust upon us

Starved and coralled here

Promised this hot, flat, dry land

Like the other 38 tribes

They only put us here,

Because white folks didn’t want it

Until the day came

When the Whites who had gone West

Because they failed in the East

Found out someone else squeezed all the golden eggs

Out of the American Dream before they got to California

And by god the government had better open up the Oklahoma territory

To godfearing, white, Americans

Or there was gonna be hell to pay in the polls

Some people choose Oklahoma

Some people have Oklahoma thrust upon them

My Great Grandmother had to go before the Oklahoma State Legislature

To Buy a House inside the city limits

It was against the law

They said

It would drive down property value and introduce a criminal element

They said

In the end she got her house in town

But she paid well over three thousand dollars in 1923 money

For an empty lot

In a year when a loaf of bread cost 9 cents

So, Is that a win or a lose? I can’t tell

I grew up in Oklahoma

But I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone

Sure there were some beautiful summer nights here and there

And some magnificent thunder storms

But from the day I started school

I heard the drone of Oklahoma Values beating in my ears

“You’re different and that’s bad”

“You’re different and that’s bad”

From the teachers

From the principals and pastors

But most of all from the other children

“You’re different and that’s bad”

“You’re different and that’s bad”

It drove me half crazy

And I would have gone the rest of the way

If I hadn’t noticed they said it to everyone

“You’re different and that’s bad”

“You’re different and that’s bad”

Too Black

Too Brown

Too Smart

Too Slow

Too Gay

Too Poor

Too Different

They told me every place was exactly like this place

They told me there was no sense in leaving

They told me everything worth having was right here

They told me so many lies by the time I turned 18

I saw no point in believing anything I had not tested for myself

And so I left

And I found that people treated me better

Some place else

I found they paid me more

And better yet afforded me some respect

They didn’t cut me off

Or shake their heads

Or condescendingly pat me on the head

When I said my piece

But most importantly of all

They said

“You’re different and that’s wonderful”

“You’re different and that’s important”

“You’re different and that’s precious”

I can’t explain what happened next

Except to say there were elderly who needed me

I can’t explain except to say

I convinced myself my child’s perception had exaggerated the worst

It hadn’t

The drone of my childhood had become a full blown anthem

They played from loudspeakers every morning

“You’re different and that’s bad”

“You’re different and that’s bad”

Like a call to prayer for consumerism and conformity

Ringing out from the Churches and the Mall and the High Schools

And my my stomach churns with guilt that I have brought my children here

Where even the misfits mirror back the cruelty that is shown on them

“You’re different and that’s bad”

If you don’t live you’re life like a character from TV

There’s no place for you here

“At least I have a happy homelife” my third grader said of his bullying

“It’s normal” his teachers all said

Not because they were cruel people

But a fish seldom knows when it’s wet

They had learned the most important lesson of Oklahoma

“You’re different and that’s bad”

There can be no tolerance of the slightest deviation

People sneer at anyone making 20 cents an hour less than they do

Kneel down in starry-eyed worship to anyone making that magic 100,000 a year

Money is the only thing that trumps Blue-Eyed Crew Cut Jesus here

They like Ndns as long as it’s a mascot or a football star

And 99 out of a hundred whites claim a Cherokee grandmother

But the only thing they know about Ndns is that they live in a different part of town

Oh they are happy to honor their neighbors by wearing a warbonnet from the Love’s giftshop

Make nasty jokes

Or tell spooky stories

Or put a tortured Ndn on a school spirit ribbon

Or put up some ugly “End of The Trail” piece of dreck on the wall of their business

But don’t ask them for respect

And don’t expect them to know anything more about the Kiowa, Comanche, and Apache than someone from in Connecticut

Because if the Governor isn’t going to do it

The man on the street sure isn’t

A woman tried to open a coffeehouse in 2003

Plain clothes cops sat in unmarked cars across the street

Accused the Goth kids who hung out there of being a gang

What did they fight over, eyeliner?

But the cops said she was missing permits

She couldn’t have any more musical entertainment without the proper permits

Said her faucets were the wrong size

Even though she’d checked with the city hall from the beginning

The city Hall said they didn’t issue that permit to anyone anymore

Hadn’t issued one in years

Did that mean she could she have music without the permit?

No, it did not.

She couldn’t afford a lawyer

And the ACLU had more cases than they could handle and a backlog of more

And they didn’t have funds for all the cases they did have

Meanwhile at the park

I heard a respected organizer say

“See you advertise it as a show, not as a Christian show

By the time they figure it out you’ve already got their 5 dollars”

“What about permits?”

“Tell ‘em at the city hall it’s for a Christian Show, they won’t give you any trouble”

You can’t vote the corruption out

Poll workers get the print outs of ballots cast

But they never match up with the results printed in the paper

Democrats show up to vote

And find their party suddenly switched

Without knowledge or consent

And no recourse or explanation offered

During the last presidential election two dozen people I know

Were told they weren’t on the voting roles and sent to vote miles away

Or denied altogether

And every one of those people are brown

And there’s no recourse

No lawyer is willing to take the case

But it hardly matters because what judge could be trusted to listen?

If you’re part of the charmed circle

If you have power

You can do as you please

And if you aren’t

If you’re different – and as we all know- that’s bad

Then they are doing you a favor letting you breathe their air

And if you don’t appreciate it you can just leave

Which is a joke

Because they don’t pay you enough to live on

Let alone leave

Leaving is a dream

Which is too bad

Because if everyone who would leave if they could leave did leave

They wouldn’t have anyone to push around anymore

And maybe they’d have their theocratic, free market paradise

Maybe they’d have exactly what they asked for

Maybe they’d have exactly what they deserve

In my fantasies I start a new kind of Oklahoma Lottery

The leaving Oklahoma Lottery, so once a week

some lucky Oklahoman will win enough money to leave and never come back

to move some place where people are nice to you

Whether you have money or not

Some place people smile at you even if you don’t go to the same church

Some play you can be yourself without being a pariah

Someplace you can have a mural that isn’t painted over

Or public art that isn’t some lumpen tribute to the crony system

Some place the children of Christians aren’t allowed to beat the children of atheists

While the teachers look on unconcerned

In fact no one is allowed to beat anyone

Some place they don’t ask your church affiliation in routine job interviews

In 1986 a woman I knew took a bus from New York City to Okeemuh

To see the birth place of Woody Guthrie

She found nothing but a dingy plaque

When she asked a convenience store clerk

If they had any Woody Guthrie souveniers

The answer was “What if we ain’t proud of the fact?”

Not to put on airs

Or presume the mantle of my betters

But I have every reason to believe

Oklahoma isn’t proud of me either

I never chose Oklahoma

But I can choose to leave

If you’re happy here

And if they like you because you’re not different

If you’re part of that charmed group that makes the rules and does as they please

I leave it to you

For some of us Oklahoma is Hell

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