Saturday, July 4, 2015

Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Poetry

Happy Birthday, America. This July 4 we can celebrate that the land of “liberty and justice for all” has gotten a little more just and a little more free. I hope in coming Fourths of July, we can continue to say that, because we still have a long way to go.

Here is how I will celebrate – by sharing three different poetic “songs” about the American experience.

This first one celebrates the working men and women of our country and is written by our first truly American poet.

I Hear America Singing
by Walt Whitman

I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear,
Those of mechanics, each one singing his as it should be blithe
     and strong,
The carpenter singing his as he measures his plank or beam,
The mason singing his as he makes ready for work, or leaves off
     work,
The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat, the
     deckhand singing on the steamboat deck,
The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench, the hatter singing
     as he stands,
The wood-cutter’s song, the ploughboy’s on his way in the
     morning, or at noon intermission or at sundown,
The delicious singing of the mother, or of the young wife at
     work, or of the girl sewing or washing,
Each singing what belongs to him or her and to none else,
The day what belongs to the day—at night the party of young
     fellows, robust, friendly,
Singing with open mouths their strong melodious songs.

This second poem reminds us that there are those among us who have had to fight, and must continue to fight,  for their seat at the American table.

I, too
by Langston Hughes

I, too, sing America.

I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.

Tomorrow,
I’ll be at the table
When company comes.
Nobody’ll dare
Say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,"
Then.

Besides,
They’ll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed—

I, too, am America.

This third poem is written by the newly appointed poet laureate of the United States; the son of migrant workers from Mexico and another group still fighting for a full measure of liberty and justice in America.

Song Out Here
by
Juan Felipe Herrera

if i could sing
i’d say everything         you know
from here on the street can you turn around
just for once i am                     here
right behind you
what is that flag what is it made of
maybe it’s too late i have
too many questions where did it all come from
what colors is it all made of everything
everything here in the subways
there are so many things and voices
we are going somewhere but i just don’t know
somewhere
but i just don’t know
          somewhere
do you know where that is i want to sing
so you can hear me and maybe you can tell me
where to go so you can hear me and just maybe
you can tell me where to go
all those hands and legs and faces going places
if i could sing
you would hear me and i would tell you
it’s gonna be alright
it’s gonna be alright
it’s gonna be alright it would be something like that
can you turn around so i can look into your eyes
just for once your eyes
maybe like hers can you see her
and his can you see them i want you to see them
all of us we could be together
if i could sing we would go there
we would run there together
we would live there for a while in that tilted
tiny house by the ocean rising up inside of us
i am on the curb next to a curled up cat
smoking i know its bad for you but
you know how it is just for once can you turn around
a straight line falling behind you it’s me i want to sing
invincible                                             bleeding out with love

just for you

Enjoy the holiday and remember that the “rockets’ red glare” need not blind us to the fight for social justice that continues and that is the very definition of what this country stands for.