Narrative of Power: Essays for an Endangered Century Common Courage Press, 2004

Let America be America Again, Round 2

Let America be America again . . .
—Langston Hughes

But was it ever?
Perhaps for those
who roamed with buffalo and spirit song
before Vespucci came
bearing a name so foreign to their lives.
Perhaps for the families
pushing their wagons west
planting crude crosses
as they rutted heartland and rivers,
the challenge of mountains.
Conquest already the nation’s business,
raucous scratch to an underbelly
bleeding in expanding waves,
peach pits tossed in a sea of salt.
 
The poet who pleaded Let America be America
again, let it be the dream it used to be
was black and queer
and sang to all who live upon this land.
Could he feel, in the pain of his slave grandmother
the fireball that would one day consume
patients in an Afghan hospital,
or see Iraq—half children—
pulverized beneath America’s bombs?
Through the prophetic pain
of Auschwitz, Hiroshima, Santo Domingo,
could he have imagined slender guerrillas
routing the greatest war machine
or a dictator who would spread his smiling teeth
to swallow the world?
 
For America to be America
we might start by giving back the name
it grabbed for us alone,
stole from the nations of Central,
Latin and South America.
For America to be America
each of us can begin
by cocking an ear to Langston’s plea
and putting the other to the ground
where water trembles in the aquifers
rocks move with gravitational flow
birds nest before flight
and small animals like those on every continent
await our next voracious move.