A Nation Under Hope

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.

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Look, Wait, and Listen

We are fickle.
By the second spring rain,
We are already waiting
for summer to come.
We are so fickle.

We see, and feel,
The drops of water
come against our faces,
And we shiver, congested,
feeling inconvenienced.

Someone lets us sleep in, or
Does a chore, or runs an errand,
and after briefly feeling grateful,
Soon we find some new minor hindrance
to raise a ruckus about.

It is still raining, though—
If you pay attention.
And the slick sound of the cars
rolling past and far away
somehow fails to marvel you.

Perhaps out in the world,
An airplane full of people waits
for the rain to clear. At the delay,
The people still feel some minor irritation
even once they are lifted into the heavens.

There is so much to fear, to loathe, to waste—
But how emptied life becomes,
When all the marks and blips of beauty
are left to fester, turned to sludge,
amidst all that is wrong in the moment.

The beauty that surrounds us
Is not of a single moment, but transcends
And is waiting, on both sides of the traffic,
For our attention to return, to set in,
But only if we are ready.

Someday, when you can, if you can,
Go out in the nighttime, while it still rains,
Walk aimlessly, or run some errand,
And allow your face to be painted upon
with a thousand miraculous raindrops.

Because even if we all must inevitably return
To market conditions and interpersonal relations,
Along with all the many petty shocks of living—
There is some strength in mundane beauty,
sought and caught from outside of time:

not much, but perhaps enough.

Dollar Bills Walking on the Beach

They say at Fyre, they’re using

Tents bootlegged from disaster relief;

Which makes me think—

We can pay such keen attention

When those who are brought

Far from home and given stiff rations,

Have bought their own damnation.

 

Our fascination comes not at the conditions,

or else we’d witness more of the poor,

But in deference to those who paid good money

and were shorted.

 

In short,

We only care to hear your story

if you can spend tens of thousands

on a luxury music experience—

Otherwise,

We ain’t got the time.

Poetry After the First Date

We have these ideas in our heads of what authors are based on small snippets of their corpora.

I think one of the really strange pleasures/frustrations of literary study is reading more of an author’s corpus. At the moment, I’m thinking of Dylan Thomas and W. H. Auden.

Of the former, I had initially read “Do not go gentle into that good night” and “And death shall have no dominion”, his two most popular poems. Of the latter, I had sought out “The Shield of Achilles”, “Musée des Beaux Arts”, “In Memory of W. B. Yeats”. And honestly, I disliked all five poems quite a bit, with Thomas seeming stilted and Auden seeming forced.

As I read more Auden, however, I became deeply enamoured with his deep sensuality and his sensitivity to emotion, politics, and forces beyond our control. More recently, as I’ve read more Thomas, I’ve been surprised at how almost nonsensical his poetry is, how devilishly sly its twists and turns tend to be, and how truly difficult a time I’m having trying to make any headway through it.

We have these ideas in our heads of what authors are based on small snippets of their corpora. To have those ideas challenged is not always pleasant, but it is often rewarding.

April 15th

I am afraid—
or is writing that
over-indulging in
a kind of histrionic,
pathos-laden, sentimental
slapdashery?

If so, what else
is on the menu?

I am afraid that there will be no job
after I finish my PhD,
And afraid of my fear, wondering what
it might do to me,
how it might warp me,
turn me desperate,
outward looking,
with eyes like a raptor’s.

I am afraid of the world,
of the president, of his staff,
But I am more afraid of how little fear
I hold for such monumental things
in those moments when I self-conspire
and consider my own job prospects.

I am most afraid of myself,
That my fear will turn inside me,
turn sour and stringent, forgetting
the joys beyond any job,
the life beyond the marketplace—
And yet, now a voice breaks in,
reminding me of how “meaningful”
existential questions really can be
on an empty stomach.

How do you make choices
between competing, uncertain, lives?

I am afraid I will deny myself
What I want most, for fear
that someday I will regret the choice;
I am afraid of what I do not know,
about the world and its ways,
but also about myself and my mysteries.

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In the face of such fear,
How can we relearn ourselves,
retune ourselves and go forward—
To make peace with the limits
of certainty and of doubt,
To accept our love as our love,
and our lives as our lives;
How can we forgive ourselves now
for the regret and resentment we fear
we may someday hold for us as we were,
in this moment now and never again,
As we come to a final, supine choice?