The Fifty-First State

There will never be a fifty-first state.
It would be too much
to have another state bird,

another state flower, another state
motto for schoolchildren
and game show contestants

to memorize. It would ruin the symmetry
of our national constellation.
We like that a hundred pennies

and a hundred senators go
into every misspent dollar. Besides
with a sky like this

forty-nine stars seem more likely
than fifty-one. So cancel
your hopes for Puerto Rico,

the District of Columbia,
Samoa and Guam, Guantanamo Bay.
The unbalancing light

of that tiny star
would turn the flags of our childhood
into stovepipe hats

and rumble seats, Indian pennies
and muskets
and scratchy old LPs —

something to be sent
to the attic or the trash, something
to burn less brightly.


Charles Rafferty’s poems have appeared in The New Yorker and The Southern Review, and his stories have appeared in Sonora Review and Cortland Review. His most recent chapbook of poems is Appetites (Clemson University Press). Currently, he directs the MFA program at Albertus Magnus College.