Can you imagine
The cold shucks of terror brewing in
Washington and Adams and Jefferson
As the colonies they were born within
Entered armed rebellion?
If this battle or that delegation had gone awry,
They would have been hanged alive,
Then left for dead, brutal footnotes in history
with no legacy left.
But they were more than their fear.
They knew, in battle and under fog of war,
That the risks they took could bloom
Into those blessings of prosperity
They offered us.
They were no saints—too many of our founders
were slave owners, and even those who denied
the right of one man to own another allowed
for their country to accept bondage and captivity.
A classic deal with the devil you know,
To save the idea of a country that could be more.
It is the country that remains unborn,
That future state that has reached forward
And grasped those highest ideals
that I struggle for and toward.
Madison and Lincoln and Roosevelt
Knew that to lose the wars they fought
Would spell the end of all they sought;
The death of the Republic, within sight,
Like a night-iceberg with sirens and their call,
with bright promises of an easy out for all,
And yet they led our ship home to harbor.
We have seen union busters and war mongers,
We have felt witch hunts and blunt misogyny;
The worst of mankind has come from our shores,
and festered in our souls, as in any other land.
But time and again, we have taken a stand
against those worst instincts within us—
Patriots, like waves, have risen to the task.
Now at last, we must be the jealous guardians
of our democracy.
We must bear the turmoil and risks,
The weight of war and peace making;
We must check our hardest instincts,
and open the nation up toward love,
toward truth, toward justice;
Or else this fragile experiment
in human decency and human rights,
our democratic republic of states,
Will fall in on itself.
There is no natural momentum in our favor;
The faults of petty men and
the weight of broken institutions
Pulls us down at every step.
But know this to be true:
Always, we have risen again, to find and make new
That which is best within us.
We are not the destination—
Our nation is in progress still
Toward a land of our highest ideals,
made manifest and real;
The land dreamt of by Tubman,
by Anthony, by King; by Franklin,
by Paine, by Hamilton; by Whitman,
Dickinson, Hawthorne, and Hughes;
Imperfect men and women, calling out to us
Across time, toward some new space,
Where the dreams of our fathers and of our mothers
Will come alive.
I do not know the path we will take,
And my faith may yet be misplaced,
But I believe, yes, I believe—
That men may be flawed, and the future may be dark,
And the challenges before us surely are vast:
But we will get past them, one way or another,
Because the spirit that enlivened our forebears
Remains alive and within us.
It is the spirit that spills from Niagara,
That curls down the Mississippi,
That rises to the highest slopes of the Appalachians,
That cascades down from the Rockies;
It is a spirit that has become imbued
Into the very fabric of our being,
Such that no matter how complacent we have become
Still the strength from on high will come,
Arresting our iniquity, enormity, delinquency,
Carrying us, yet again,
toward the place we would call home;
Each of us was born or brought into this textual web,
Supported and comprising those famous words of the dead:
The country as it is and as we imagine it, they are the same,
And we are crusted over with the dreams of those
whose best wishes will keep us from dear infamy.
Many are those who have come to doubt
The strength of our convictions.
But the love we share for our more perfect Union—
It shall not perish from this earth.
It will overcome.