Voter. Fraud.
I Voted sticker art.png

i’m on the right side —
well not the right side, but the left side,
but the left side is the right side
because it’s my side.

i vote the red side
because the red side is the better side.
even when i don’t know who’s best, i
see the red sign beside
them, which implies
they’re on the true side,
not the blue side
which is the left side
which is the right side
which is my side.

i cheer the good side,
the only good side
‘cause they’re the good guys!
they’re the rad guys,
not the bad guys
on the the other side
which is the red side
which is the bad side
which is the blue side
which is the wrong side
which is the right side
which is the left side 
— which is my side?

on the inside
i wonder if i
should side with one side or another;
perhaps the downslide
is voting for a side —
not a candidate, but a color.

poetryJake Novak Comment
Thought Experiment

I wish I could live in someone else’s head
for a day, no more,
maybe two, sure,
but no more
than that, just long enough to feel the dread
inside that head,
its anxieties,
of disquiet, ease
into its deepest darks,
tap its barks
and read its quarks
in detail to hear
all of that someone’s fears,
which would take not days or years
but moments, if they’re anything like me,
which I would see
by minute three
they are, and I’d understand that dread
is just a byproduct of owning a head. 

poetryJake NovakComment
Haiku Existentialism

What is a haiku?
A Japanese poem, sure,
But could it be more?

Maybe haiku is
More a concept and less a
Structure. For instance,

Is it a haiku
If it has the wrong amount
Of syllables?

Or if the words are not ar-
Ranged in the right or-
Der? Still a haiku?

What if the whole thing Was written on just one line? Haiku, yes or no?

You write a
Book as a haiku?
Maybe if you added two
More beats with every passing line, and
When you fin’lly reached the novel’s central point
Began to wind the story down in
Small and smaller strips of text
Until there was a
Single word

Or is haiku set,
Always five, then seven, then
Five, and nothing more?

Most will likely say
The last one is true, full stop.
But what if it’s not?

poetryJake NovakComment
High Priorities

“Wanna toke?”
“Sure, oke.”
“I smell smoke.”
“No joke.”
“Hey bloke.”
“You spoke?”
“Got coke?”
“Whoa, coke!”
“Whoa, coke…”
“No coke.”
“I’m woke!”
“I’m broke.”
“Let’s get poke.”
“No joke.”
[poke poke poke]
“Let’s eat poke!”
“You mean poké?”
“Sure, okay.”
“Thanks for the toke.”
“Stupid coke.”

poetryJake NovakComment
Middle School, Revised

Everybody told Tex,
“You should try out phone sex!
Take a picture, hold, flex—
take it while your cold pecs
are covered up with gold flecks—
and send it through the vortex.
Come on, now, be bold, Tex!”

Tex said, “I don’t like it; no,”
and everybody let it go.

poetryJake NovakComment
Morning Routine

Thomas woke
with a croak,
then he loudly spoke:
“That’s it,
I quit,
life’s shit,”
and he fell into a pit
of despair
as he did his hair
wearing nothing south of there.
“I don’t care,
I swear,”
he proclaimed,
and with locks untamed
and spirit maimed
he blamed
his whole misfortune on his boss:
“Listen, Joss,
my departure is your loss;
I’m the secret sauce
which you would toss
aside without a stutter.
No, I don’t bring home the butter,
barely speak, I mostly mutter,
eyes aflutter
when I talk
to you. I gawk,
it’s true, but I will walk—
it’s not a balk—
the line was drawn in chalk
and you erased it,
defaced it,
and never replaced it—
come and taste it!”
he said with sass
directly at his naked ass;
Joss was in the looking glass.

poetryJake NovakComment
Sadie the Steel-Cut Oat

Sadie the steadfast steel-cut oat
Wouldn’t let herself be eaten by a goat or a stoat.
So she dug herself a moat,
Gave herself a yogurt coat,
And told her friends to join her on her boat.

She wrote,
“All my fellow grains better heed this note:
Don’t let yourselves be swallowed, chewed down to a mote.
Life is good, don’t you know’t? If you care one groat
Then exercise your will to stay afloat,” end quote.

But as the beast drew the bowl nearer to its skull, it
Was clear that her peers were succumbing to the cull. “It’s
A good life, sure, but admit: it’s dull, it
Isn’t grand,” said Dan with the oat bran mullet.
“We’ll be better off once we’re down this thing’s gullet.”

Sadie screamed “No, don’t! Can we put it to a vote?"
She was begging. “Sorry, Sadie,” said the oats by rote
As they jumped into the throat of the stoat or the goat
And combined like a kind of oat zygote.
That was it for them; that was all she wrote.

For the first time, Sadie was alone, undone, gone
To such complete hysterics that she didn’t see the tongue
Which was coated in her friends (and a little bit of dung)
As it zeroed on her hiding spot, whisked her toward its lung,
And returned her to the cereals she wished to be among.

poetryJake NovakComment
Why Are There No Thanksgiving Songs?

When I was a kid in Chicago, Thanksgiving was the same every year: wake up around six, turn on the parade, glue myself to the oversize armchair, be annoyed for the twenty minutes my parents made me mute the television at eleven, realize that my parents had been in the kitchen behind me for hours preparing dinner, resume ogling the giant balloons and forget about Mom and Dad again, take too long to clean my bathroom, get the door at three for Uncle Don, wait an hour for everyone else to show up, eat lots of food, eat twice as much pie, and sleep happy. It was the perfect holiday.

Now that I’m an adult in Los Angeles, Thanksgiving is much less perfect and miserably inconsistent. I’ve eaten Hot Pockets in lieu of corn casserole, played board games with a friend’s now-estranged father, crashed another friend’s now-ex-girlfriend’s family’s party, sold iPads. Oddly, the only remnant of my early Turkey Days that survives is that twenty minutes at eleven o’clock when I was forced to stop listening to yet another lip-synced pop star and instead tune my ears to Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant” on WXRT, which I came to love far more than the Macy’s march.

Yesterday was no exception. I found the radio station’s live stream, albeit at nine instead of eleven, because time zones. I listened and laughed and layered my voice with Arlo’s on my favorite lyrics (“quotated,” “that was horrible”). I left my apartment thoroughly in the Thanksgiving spirit.

But when I arrived at work, I was accosted by a forty-foot fir, its verdancy suffocated by a faux snow coating that winked apologetically in the eighty-five-degree sun. Poinsettias dotted the walkways, ornamented garlands draped the halls, and some nameless teen idol sang a hopelessly un-jazzy “Santa Baby” through the sound system. My Thanksgiving mood melted away as quickly as the white on the tree should have.

Early-onset gingerbread houses and nativity scenes have always irked me, as has Santa’s faithful appearance at the end of the Macy’s parade hours before anyone’s bird emerges from the oven, as if Thanksgiving were but a starter pistol for Christmas instead of a holiday all its own. But it was the music, that pitiful bastardization of Eartha Kitt, that set me off most. “Santa Baby” is a Christmas song, and it was Thanksgiving Day; why weren’t they playing a Thanksgiving song?

I searched the Internet and quickly found my answer: They weren’t playing a Thanksgiving song because there are no Thanksgiving songs.

It’s not that there haven’t been attempts—there just haven’t been many good ones. Adam Sandler’s “The Thanksgiving Song,” whose title is promising, is little more than a collage of puerile poultry couplets: “Turkey for me, turkey for you / Let’s eat turkey in a big brown shoe / Love to eat the turkey at the table / I once saw a movie with Betty Grable.” It hardly evokes any holiday sentiment.

YouTube star Jack Douglass has his own “The Thanksgiving Song,” which has potential for a whopping four seconds until the music video reveals its subtitle, “or Why Thanksgiving Sucks.”

Even my beloved “Alice’s Restaurant” has nothing to do with Thanksgiving, per se. The story Guthrie tells took place in part on the holiday, but that’s purely coincidental and frankly unimportant.

I was floored. Music had played such a memorable role in all my Thanksgivings—was that true for no one else?

Certain I was missing some hidden trove of harvest feast repertoire, I dug deeper on Google and found it: an Esquire article headlined “24 Best Thanksgiving Songs.” Encouraged, I opened the link, only to find the list included such holiday standards as Ray Charles’ “Sweet Potato Pie,” James Brown’s “(Do The) Mashed Potatoes,” and, incredibly, Ghostface Killah’s “Food.” 

Is the dearth of Thanksgiving music so severe as to merit the inclusion of songs solely because their titles are homonyms of holiday dishes? Apparently, yes.

But why? Some estimates put the total number of unique yuletide carols near two hundred thousand, and Thanksgiving has existed for roughly one-fifth the time that Christmas has. Where, then, are the forty thousand Thanksgiving tunes? Why are we stuck with a list of twenty-four that bafflingly includes Mary J. Blige’s “Kitchen”?

There are, of course, many potential explanations. But the reasoning I find most compelling is an economic one.

Long history short: In the United States, Thanksgiving was traditionally celebrated on the last Thursday of November. But in 1939, that date was to be November 30, which, being so late in the month, made retailers worry their Christmas sales would be low. Thus, to make certain that wouldn’t happen again, Franklin Delano Roosevelt changed Thanksgiving to the fourth (instead of final) Thursday of November, which is still the practice today. Now, Thanksgiving can fall no later than November 28.

Let me put that a different way: To ensure Americans bought all the Christmas gifts they could possibly stuff under their trees, the President of the United States signed a law to shift the range of potential Thanksgiving dates back by two days. Two days. FDR disrupted a convention dating back over seven decades and sparked a national debate that lasted seventeen years to give retailers forty-eight more hours of Christmas revenue.

Why are there no Thanksgiving songs? Because there’s no money in Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving is a boring holiday for a capitalist. Sure, it’s a celebration of family and gratefulness and warmth, but those are mushy feelings that don’t help the bottom line; no one wakes up Thanksgiving morning to find a big-screen TV waiting for them under the Sterno. Unless you own the Butterball company, the only way you’’ll see green on Thanksgiving is if you forget to refrigerate your pumpkin pie.

The holiday is such a drag that, in recent years, corporations who don’t sell turkeys have opened their doors on Thanksgiving night so their customers can get a head start on their Christmas shopping—and they actually come. That’s why Christmas is a capitalist’s dream. Despite its religious roots, the contemporary ethos of Christmas is entirely bankable: buying gifts, watching movies, seeing Santa at the mall, going ice skating, drinking hot cocoa with Bailey’s, and—you guessed it—listening to Christmas songs. 

Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” has sold more than 50 million copies worldwide; it is the best-selling single of all time, holiday-themed or not. And yet, it was written by Irving Berlin, a secular Jew. 

Why did Irving Berlin, who not only didn’t believe in Jesus Christ but didn’t believe in religion at all, write the most famous Christmas song ever recorded? For the same reason songwriters penned two hundred thousand Christmas songs and no Thanksgiving songs, the same reason big-box stores offered their best deals before Black Friday, the same reason Franklin Roosevelt gave those very retailers two more days between Thanksgiving and Christmas: there was money in it.

In all transparency, I don't know what a Thanksgiving song would sound like. Would carolers knock on your door and sing "What Meat Is This?" Would Harry Connick Jr. tickle you with "Really, Gramps? Another Slice of Corn Bread?" Would your daughter's third-grade class move you to tears with "Where's Pocahontas?"

I can't say. But I know we have to do better than celebrating Thanksgiving to the tune of “Ode to my Family” by The Cranberries, which assuredly made Esquire’s list less for its lyrical content and more for the name of its band.

As it is, I’m thankful for my “Alice’s Restaurant” tradition. It’s the only Thanksgiving song I have, even though it’s not really a Thanksgiving song at all. But I’ve made it my Thanksgiving song; maybe that’s all that matters.

Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s the holiday season and this secular Jew needs to go sing some Christmas carols because—well, you know.

essaysJake Novak Comment