Mark Kerstetter

America is like really into Velveeta
—Joni Mitchell

Rock ‘n’ roll is still our folk music
electrified ‘n’ all   Priest’s robes
or white linen suits will do the job
filled with fresh flowers and brio

In a land of Velveeta and hard
dicks in the house of God
sarcasm is a kind of saving grace
like an ember after the liquor

Faith No More no more faith
—in what?   Lies Incorporated
news for sale the whole spectrum
of bull and comic accessories

The capacity to believe in reserve
Skeletors stuck in guillotine
schizoid men laughing in grave
in glowing tones in flowing robes

We make the world that makes us
no one is innocent here   You’ve been
spread on a cracker, eaten it too
a terrible truth impossible to bear

Between a rock and a dark place
we make light from crushed dreams
imperial commands and endless screams
to wrench a song till the day we die

One hand waves, the other’s chained
call it what it is: VELVEETA!
In our pantry’s bricolage we’ll serve
it up in a dish we can stand to eat

Mark Kerstetter is the author of the chapbook, One Step: Prayers and Curses from Atomic Theory Micro Press. His poems have appeared in many journals, including Unlikely Stories, Jerry Jazz Musician and Connotation Press. He is a participant in Issue 19 of Triggerfish Review, in which poets review each other’s work. He was attracted to Triggerfish for the same reason he is attracted to Razor Lit Mag: that art is essentially a conversation, that poems do not merely sit mute on the page, but exist to be discussed. He is also the author of The Mockingbird Sings blog, where he discusses the arts and shares original poems that reference other poems/poets.

Before the Razor
A look inside the creative process of “VELVEETA!”

An ocean of failure lies beneath this poem.

For a long time I wanted to write an essay about one of my favorite rock bands, Faith No More. General remarks about their name, the flavor of some of their songs, and their sarcasm—all of this was possible for me in broad outline. However, I wanted to be able to say something from a technical point of view about how they achieved certain effects and I don’t have those kinds of chops. The essay was never written.

Going back to my early childhood, music was my first love. As a child I sang in church but gradually my faith failed. For a variety of reasons I never became a musician. Instead I became a visual artist and then a poet. Mike Patton is everything I would be as an artist, if I could.

Meanwhile, failing to earn a living through the arts, I’ve worked for many years in a grocery store. There I see up close and consistently the way food is packaged and displayed. I’ve learned that many Americans don’t really buy food. They buy concepts, products. This is true in many ways, from the man who does not associate a package of meat with the animal it came from, to the woman who will only buy the mandarin oranges that come in a certain package with a cute name. Spam is the ultimate food concept. Velveeta is a concept: the idea of cheese without the cheese. I doubt that many who eat it know what it really is.

I recognized a somewhat queasy mélange of emotions in Joni Mitchell’s statement about Americans and Velveeta. The thoughts and feelings her statement stirred in me were similar to those I have when I think about Faith No More, and so I wrote the poem<

I was not quite happy with the first draft. The poem sat for a couple of years while I tweaked it. Then one day it floated to the top like a . . . well, I’d prefer to think of it as a little buoy of sarcasm.