It’s not just you who has it wrong.
It’s not just people. It’s every song.
“Summer Nights” has it wrong.
In fact, every song in Grease, wrong.
Every Greek and non-Greek actor in Grease, wrong.
The original cast performance, the encore,
the ovation, every subsequent recording, wrong.
George Xanthis thought Grease was about Greece.
He was wrong.
There are far more people with the name George Xanthis
than I thought. I was wrong. I am wrong.
I have it wrong regardless how I apostrophize
the possessive of George Xanthis.
Summer Lovers, filmed in Greece, has it wrong.
Despite Chicago reaching Number One with the hit
“Hard to Say I’m Sorry,” featured in Summer Lovers,
Chicago had it wrong. The band, the city.
The whole of America, wrong.
Despite Peter Cetera receiving rave reviews
after a 1972 show at the Greek Theater,
and despite it being a decade before he would write
“Hard to Say I’m Sorry,” he had it wrong then,
he has it wrong now, and he will have it wrong
in perpetuity. Nothing personal.


I was wrong to play Teen Angel.
I couldn’t hit the crucial high note.
George W. was seeking re-election.
America was at a low point.
Almost everyone wanted war.
Almost everyone was wrong.
The New York Times would later say so.
But they didn’t say it then.
I didn’t even audition.
But I took the role cuz aimlessness,
cuz restlessness, cuz flattery,
cuz boredom, overwhelming rage
at a country with the wrong
idea of how to get revenge.
Or, the right idea, since revenge
is almost always senseless,
almost always misdirected.
I couldn’t even hit the high note.


An alternate history, February 22, 1998, part 1:
Epcot, Central Florida, the tornado siren
blares its high note as Katherine Harris
evades Disney security, desperately wrangling
stragglers to the safe zone.
Katherine Harris is not a straggler.
She is running for Secretary of State.
She is crouching under the Spaceship Earth dome.
She’s had dreams.
She’s dreamt of beating Sandra Mortham.
She’s dreamt of earthquakes in the sky.
She’s dreamt the call she thinks she made
to the campaign headquarters of Democrat Karen Gievers.
In the imaginary call she spent an hour
convincing the intern who answered to promise to deliver
Karen Gievers to Epcot for a face-to-face.
She imagined all the questions the non-existent intern asked.
Like: don’t you have a primary?
How are you sure you’ll win that first?
Why aren’t you sure you’ll beat us?
Was it an airplane or a bomb you saw
exploding through the cityscape?
Which city?
Should I tell Karen it was an airplane or a bomb
in your dream?
Was it Chicago? Was it Miami? Is this a threat?
Is America in trouble?


You have always signed up for the war.
We shouldn’t have recruited you.
We should have medicated all the men
demanding that we let them kill
whichever enemies were most in vogue
and appropriate to the decade.
We should have taken your toy guns.
We should have kept you out of homes with real ones.
We should have kept you from your friends
whose parents laughed at executions.
We should have shunned our taxes,
let you hate us, let you try to kill us,
held you the entire night without respecting
your free will, your rotten choices,
held you while you cried and hated us,
pressed our lips to your wild brow
as you promised to behead us
skillfully, promising in YouTube speak
we’d best both watch our backs
as soon as you’re eighteen,
enlisting to become the deadliest of weapons:
another child’s hero, another child
taking solace in your camouflage,
your issued armor over fury
we couldn’t start to stop ourselves
from doubting we’d ever subdue.


An alternate history, February 22, 1998, part 2:
Security finds her, after the storm, unconscious
next to one of the eleven thousand Alucobond panels
that make up the giant sphere half-intact above her.
As she’s rushed to the hospital, Peter Cetera
sings “Prima Donna” from the front of the ambulance.
She knows the song well. It is wrong.
She is in a coma, and has time to relive
all of 1984, when she was twenty-seven,
volunteering for Reagan’s re-election,
the countless fundraisers where at least one man,
and often many more, would comment on her make-up,
and she would have to smile through it,
cuz while Reagan was beating Mondale in the polls,
the Florida campaign dreamed of taking every county,
even Gasden, white men with sweaty fingertips
just had to squeeze her and say, “by God,
this time we could take Gasden!”
They didn’t have to squeeze her. They were wrong
to think they could take Gasden – they never did.
It was 1984 inside her brain:
men bright with wrong glistening,
wrapping their slippery fingers around her flinching
shoulders, hips, elbows, ears… “but by God,
imagine taking Gasden county!”
She flinched. That was wrong.
She smiled. That was right.
The men delighted in the contradiction,
and just had to comment on her make-up.
Always during “Prima Donna,” inevitably
blasted after all the checks were signed,
just after dinner, Peter Cetera
rhyming face with race, “a movie queen…”
they’d sing along down on one knee.
They’d thrust their handkerchiefs
onto her cheeks, show her her
foundation, a brilliant discovery,
tell her she was prettier without it.
Just like Florida would be without
that goddamned Gasden county…“but by God,
Gasden could be ours this year!”
Come 1998 Gasden wasn’t theirs,
Republicans quietly rejoiced an uncontested
Secretary of State primary, primarily
cuz Sandra Mortham could conceal
her flinches better when they tried to touch her.
Sandra Mortham would lose.
Katherine Harris wouldn’t know.
Karen Gievers, a Democrat,
two years later would count
all the goddamn ballots
Katherine Harris wouldn’t
in our actual timeline.
Gore would win the presidency.
Katherine Harris wouldn’t know
on election night her husband would find
her book of dreams.
She would faintly hear him through the coma
in snippets between the feedback
coming from a shitty 1984 sound system
inside her mind. Peter Cetera
was singing all the time.
Her husband would get down on one knee,
her book of dreams
open to any of the pages in flames.
Is America in trouble?
She wouldn’t say.
On 9/11 he locked it away.
He kept the TV by her bedside off.
A nurse said that fuckwit Gore
would never go to war.


That nurse was wrong.
Every timeline’s president
after every kind of 9/11
chooses war. Chooses a weeknight
at 9 (8 Central), stupidly
waiting a second or two too
long to recite the retaliation’s
rationale, once the camera,
the country, the White House beautician,
the first M&M blindly picked from the bag,
blesses war with unmistakable red.
In every history they bare
more of their souls in the beginning
stupid staring seconds than with anything
they deadpan afterwards.
President Gore, President Dole,
President Chiquita Fucking Banana,
President Lugar, President Luther
Vandross, Strange, Dickinson,
even President Emily Dickinson
fixes her unflinching gaze
at volcanos we can’t see
we are. The president
demands our red, then blah
blah blahs something for the record.


For the recording, the music director
tells me: we’ll just punch in
someone else’s voice.
I ask: and during the live shows?
Don’t worry, don’t worry,
go down the octave, no one cares.
Apparently the theater made its profit
on slick DVD dubs of dress rehearsal,
all the magic of the live performance
without big backs of heads in view.
In 1971, Chicago, the original cast of Grease
considered the directive from the playwright:
hurt the audience. Kick them
if they get too close, no front row
friendship, you guys are mean,
step on their hands, spit on their heads
if they move near, if they advance,
you guys are tough, you guys are Grease!
The movie got it wrong.
Rydell was really William Howard Taft
High School. Life was rough.
Words were blue. Jim Jacobs’ words
to the 1971 original cast of Grease
in Chicago, sadly true,
repeat themselves in mouths
through every decade. There’s no room,
swear the mouths, don’t get too close,
we’ll bite, we’ll puke, we’ll tongue
your retinas, don’t tempt us, we’re Grease!
Don’t touch us, don’t get too close,
the world’s a stage and your place
is the pit, the trap door,
the cluttered prop department
inside every bleeding heart.
Your place is safe inside the op-ed
pages years after the war,
your moot apologies, your palinodes
mopping up the mess
the waterboarding made.
We are our own drenched text.
We drown in nonsense melody,
Peter Cetera singing to the troops,
“Voices That Care,”
something more than love
burning bright across the oil fields,
Kenny G’s sax solo
more major scale and clear
than the contrapuntal screams
the Tigris can’t be blamed
for muddying off-key
all the way to the Euphrates.


I go down the octave every evening.
No one vaudeville-hooks me
off the stage, no heresy.
No one minds I sign
my autograph with pleas,
moveon.org and no more blood
for oil bumper stickers.
The war won’t end they know
for years, let the drama
queen have this one thing.
No one tases me. I go scot-free and three
years later watch the college guy in Florida
get electrocuted asking this timeline’s John Kerry
about another disputed election.
Another one! Further brutality!
Ballots! Florida! William Howard Taft
was part of Skull and Bones too!
And they named a school for him!
Jim Jacobs went there! Chicago!
Grease! Enemies! “Contact tase!” And guess
the names of the cops involved…
Wise! King! This writes itself!
And Jesus! His statement is on Wikipedia!
Although Wikipedia is wrong.
It says “Don’t tase me, bro” was trademarked
but no longer is. Back in 2019,
according to tmsearch dot uspto
dot gov, slash toolongtotype,
two people applied to use the phrase
on bandanas semicolon shirts.
They appear to be the backbone of Los Angeles-
based basic obedience classes.
For dogs. Don’t want to get that wrong.
I could update Wikipedia, but I won’t.
I’m part of the problem.
I google Deer Island.
I vicarious violence.
I hike Revere’s ride.
I incorrectly read the dates
on memorial plaques
and think to myself,
my god, we’re under attack.


A possible future, Orlando, September 11, 2028:
a displaced neotropical cormorant
perches atop one of the remaining poles
overlooking what used to be
parking lot 4F, Valencia College
under water, thousands evacuated
the week before, Hurricane Zuko
submerging much of Central Florida,
cancelling the fiftieth anniversary
tribute to Grease’s theatrical debut.
The bird dives into the flotsam
for a fish, but ends up choking
on the spiral binding of a dream
journal, the pages soaked
save one impossibly preserved line:
Is America in trouble?
As it dies its throat turns white,
not from lack of air
or stress to its filoplumes,
but due to a helium balloon
spreading chalk across the sky.
The geoengineering fails
this time, but time
matters less and less.
It’s clear we can’t go back.
There’s no undoing doing
harm once we are this far
gone. Away from the Atlantic
it’s a beautifully bright day.
A few soldiers are overseas,
but most are home to see it.
I blab on about mistakes,
as Google blurs my face,
as a drone as small
as my importance captures
every side of the horizon.
Every search and flood fill
algorithm autocompletes
my rage with grace.
This feels good, this feels right.
Someone’s playing “Summer Nights”
on repeat, no one complains.
Soda fountains open
at record pace. My son grows
virtually, pandemic-cursed,
the worst is yet to come.
But god, today is gorgeous.
Even and especially in Gasden
County, spared from the storm,
it’s hot but free of haze,
the Apalachicola’s banks
mostly hold. The weapons
of mass destruction in Iraq
were never found, won’t ever be.
But god, they’ll keep on trying.
The army’s shown fighting remote
skirmishes can be as cool
as plundering the Persian Gulf
in person. Think of money
saved! The AC blasting bros
miles away from targets
on the screen. The crosshairs
shaved, the draft avoided,
everything is smooth and calm
except the ocean. But god,
this morning’s stunning.
The presidential candidates
hologram their best fake self-
effacing lines about the Middle East.
There is no need
to check the archives.
“Born to Hand Jive”
means the same thing now
as it did last century.
We’re gathering eggs,
chopping the wood and cutting
off legs of our enemies.
Don’t ask who they are.
How low can you go.
How flag, how love,
how semitone. How true
to correct does America sound
when the waters recede,
when the road is a beach,
when the stork’s given up
on delivering. Anything
Johnny Casino will croon
we believe. We are wrong
to assume our battle rites
will ever change substantially.
Bebop to your boo.
Bebop to the land.
Shimmy out of sight
as fast as you can.

Thomas Mixon has poetry and fiction in On Spec, MockingHeart Review, The Broadkill Review, and elsewhere.


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