for the love of country
by Daphne Gottlieb


After the attacks on America, the government meets in ornate halls to discuss what to do, how to prepare against this imminent threat. After days of rumination, red-faced threats and grandstanding, a press conference is held. The American public is told that they will be safe from threats both foreign and domestic. The government has figured it out. Legislation is before the House to outlaw love.

After all, the government says, it’s love that’s behind all this violence. It’s love that drives a man to pilot a plane into skyscrapers. It’s love that compels a woman to leave her family and crash a bus loaded with explosives into a bridge. If we outlaw love, everyone will be safe. It won’t be easy, but we know we can count on the American people, the government says. This is wartime, and we all must make sacrifices to protect the homeland.

The new laws change everything. Well, almost. The national anthem is kept, because there is no mention of love in it. Americans are urged not to love their country, but to be lukewarmly fond of it.

Hollywood takes advantage immediately of the new way. Love stories are replaced by stories of people who meet accidentally and become very fond of each other so they move to other cities to avoid becoming terrorists. Horror movies are replaced by footage of genital mutilation and open heart surgery. The theaters are packed with nervous people who remember dark movie theaters as places for dates, people who are afraid to look anywhere but at the screen or the floor. Television looks different, too. Old sitcoms are edited to end where the couple – Lucy and Desi, Archie and Edith, Marian and Howard – fights. The remaining time is filled with a government PSA, thanking citizens for their patriotism.

Thanks to a grandfather clause in the legislation, married couples are allowed to stay together if they must, but their unions are legally annulled. Pundits decide this is a huge victory for gay rights.

No one loves thy neighbors anymore. Most people don’t even like the people who live next door. After all, neighbors call the police, tell them about the people in love who live next door. In the middle of the night, the police come, dragging couples apart. Terrorized lovers scream each other’s names as they are dragged in opposite directions into government custody. To ward off the neighbors, some couples stage fights, screaming at each other so it carries through the walls, or hit pillows and yell their children’s names. They’re afraid that the neighbors caught them smiling at each other, saw them patting their children’s heads.

The birth rate is kept steady thanks to artificial insemination and adoptions of babies from overseas who have been deemed quite unlovable. Teen pregnancy is way down, but girls who find themselves with a bun in the oven are sent to juvie hall. After all, argue the legislators, they’re kids. We can’t expect them to behave as adults. There is still a chance for rehabilitation.

Otherwise, life continues as usual. People grocery shop, work, do laundry. By day, it would seem that there’s no resistance at all. But that’s not the case. Deep in the night, on the outskirts of town, hordes of lovers meet in thickets, cemeteries, alleyways, clad in black ski masks. They press their lips together, grapple, and whisper the forbidden words to each other over and over: I love you. I love you. I love you. The trees, the dark, the cemeteries look on and ignore the embarrassment of human sentimentality.

San Francisco-based performance poet Daphne Gottlieb stitches together the ivory tower and the gutter just using her tongue. She is the author of Final Girl (Soft Skull Press, 2003), Why Things Burn (Soft Skull Press, 2001), and Pelt (Odd Girls Press, 1999). Why Things Burn was the winner of a 2001 Firecracker Alternative Book Award (Special Recognition – Spoken Word) and was also a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award for 2001.
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