(Photo by Ken Trainor)

At first glance, this was one of my least favorite flags. It has been flying over Mickey’s fast food-ery on the Oak Park side of Harlem Avenue for the longest time, possibly years. So long that I think even Mickey’s has forgotten about it. I would look at it every time I waited in the McDonald’s drive-thru on the River Forest side across the street. It looked neglected. Ignored. 

Maybe it was the pandemic, but the more I looked at that beat-up flag the more it grew on me, the more it represented my complicated feelings about a country in crisis. And why not? After all, the flag Francis Scott Key wrote about in “The Star-Spangled Banner,” during the bombardment of Ft. McHenry in Baltimore Harbor in 1814, probably looked pretty beat up, too. 

To honor July 4th, here is a song of praise for my favorite flag:

It yet waves

Unfurled by a stiff wind
This flag flies 
Full staff
Over Harlem Avenue,
Mutual boundary,
Connector of villages.

Does that banner,
Spangled with stars, striped with bars,
Flailing and fraying on its long edge
Yet wave
O’er the land of fast food
And the home of the hungry,
Celebrating patriotic commerce
As we await change and a drink
At windows 1 and 2
Of McDonald’s drive-thru, 
Which helps the mobile masses
Keep body and soul together
The state of our union 
From the seat of our dissolution
Behind wheel and dashboard,
Windshield and rear-view mirror,
Our big-screen view of the world?

Yes, this flag yet waves
24/7/365
Like a weathered, worn dish towel
Ready for the rag bin
Soaked in grime and time
And “the thousand natural shocks” 
Cloth is heir to,
A symbol of disrepair 
But not despair.

Long after red-glared rockets
And bombs air-bursting
In battles of yore
This flag yet waves
Over the battles of everyone’s everyday.

Heroically it waves
Over this avenue of exhaust
And exhaustion
Flayed, frayed and filleted
It waves
Over broadsides and undersides
Overlords and underclass
Over slow-motion dying
Aspirations and asphyxiations
Knees on the necks
Of unrealized ideals.

No pristine, antiseptic emblem
But this most real of flags
Under guard
With liberty and justice
For some
It yet waves
Like a fringed, dingy jacket
Hanging on for dear life.

Yes, it waves 
The very answer to Key’s key question
It waves over all 
Who consent to be governed
And those who don’t
Taxpayers and tax cheats
Liars and those who swallow lies
Truth-tellers and those who punish them.

It waves 
O’er the land of the free market 
And the home of indigenous bravery
Over migrant manifest destiny
Over grifters, drifters
And uplifters.

This most real of flags waves
From dawn’s early light
Through gleaming twilight
And into the darkest of nights.

Yes

It yet waves
Over who we hope to be
And who we actually are.

Could any flag be more real than this flag? May they never take it down.

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