By the time I got to Woodstock

Leaning dancer, in charcoal, Woodstock drumming circle, Sep 2018, drawing by William Eaton

I’m going on down to Yasgur’s farm
I’m going to join in a rock‘n’roll band
I’m going to camp out on the land
I’m going to try an’ get my soul free
— Joni Mitchell, Woodstock, 1969

It was an election season, 2018

The candidates and interest groups had their signs along the roadways

My taxi driver, originally from the Caribbean, said more than once that he wasn’t voting

He didn’t know who to believe

The other immigrant I met had been in a bad car accident

Car accidents are a larger part of the American experience than is often realized

The World Health Organization says that, worldwide, 1.25 million people are killed yearly in road crashes

The immigrant had flown back to the Caucasus to get medical care

Good or affordable medical care is not part of the American experience

She made me a dinner of cheese bread and mushrooms, just like back in the old country

She told me about her second husband, an American from a rich family who had become addicted to narcotics and died

I have also read that in one red or blue state opioid prescriptions now equal 68 pills a year for every resident, children included

In the United States as a whole, 60,000+ deaths per year from these pills

The state of Ohio has sued, among others: Purdue Pharma, Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, Johnson & Johnson, Endo Pharmaceuticals, Allergan

I had come to Woodstock to draw the drumming circle

It is the best of what’s left

It takes place in a little triangle of public space with a flagpole

The people who drum make up one half of the circle

There are also a few who dance or shout near the middle

On the other side, the tourists and passers-by who look on

When I began work on this poem the flag was at half-mast in recognition of the Americans gunned down at the Tree of Life Synagogue

It occurred to me, somewhat naively, that a state – a nation – is breaking down when it is no longer able to protect its citizens from violent attack

Be this by the enraged or by the police

To re-establish rule of law we would have to re-establish a sense of justice, which would include addressing income inequality (and how it affects legal decisions, including jail time)

And we would have to rediscover ways of protecting ourselves from attack from within, be it by drug-peddlers or other corporations, or by demagogues in the service of greed, or promotion-seeking colleague slanderers, or

We might divide those Americans who remain of interest into two groups

There are those who have been marginalized by the economy and divorce

Victims of conflict and desire, might we call them

But they would not call themselves anything like this

“Artist” is a word they use

They are trying their best to survive and fit in

And certainly there are moments when they realize that this is not easy, or not easy for them


There are those, like some of the leading drummers and dancers in the Woodstock town triangle, who have slipped their social moorings

And they understand that moorings have been slipped,

Some think they are rebels; some know they are adrift

∩ A tip of the cap to SSI payments, without which some of the nicer things described above might not be possible. From a Social Security Administration website: “Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a Federal income supplement program funded by general tax revenues (not Social Security taxes). It is designed to help aged, blind, and disabled people, who have little or no income; and it provides cash to meet basic needs for food, clothing, and shelter.”

— Poem and drawing by William Eaton

Previously, in 2015, Montaigbakhtinian published another, quite different, yet related piece, a satire: The American Flag is at Half-Mast Today.


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