Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed—
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There’s never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek—
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one’s own greed!

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean—
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today—O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.

Yet I’m the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That’s made America the land it has become.
O, I’m the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home—
For I’m the one who left dark Ireland’s shore,
And Poland’s plain, and England’s grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa’s strand I came
To build a “homeland of the free.”

The free?

Who said the free? Not me?
Surely not me? The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we’ve dreamed
And all the songs we’ve sung
And all the hopes we’ve held
And all the flags we’ve hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay—
Except the dream that’s almost dead today.

O, let America be America again—
The land that never has been yet—
And yet must be—the land where every man is free.
The land that’s mine—the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME—
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose—
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people’s lives,
We must take back our land again,
America!

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath—
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain—
All, all the stretch of these great green states—
And make America again!

From The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes, published by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. Copyright © 1994 the Estate of Langston Hughes. Used with permission.

Sun makes the day new.
Tiny green plants emerge from earth.
Birds are singing the sky into place.
There is nowhere else I want to be but here.
I lean into the rhythm of your heart to see where it will take us.
We gallop into a warm, southern wind.
I link my legs to yours and we ride together,
Toward the ancient encampment of our relatives.
Where have you been? they ask.
And what has taken you so long?
That night after eating, singing, and dancing
We lay together under the stars.
We know ourselves to be part of mystery.
It is unspeakable.
It is everlasting.
It is for keeps.

                              MARCH 4, 2013, CHAMPAIGN, ILLINOIS

Reprinted from Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings by Joy Harjo. Copyright © 2015 by Joy Harjo.  Used with permission of the publisher, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. All rights reserved.

Though no word called me, I looked again. 

Each wave of supposition hammered against the black wall. 

Sometimes meaning, like an expiration date, is blurred. 

Then emptiness takes a bow, extending its invitation. 

Like that interval between the performance and the bravos. 

What was there before it dropped away? Was there ever anything beyond this lingering, felt presence? 

Erosional debris piles up in a rift valley. 

As the world pours into me, I pour into the broken word. 

Suggestions, you come to realize, will be dispensed in installments. The poor and the brutalized. A prayer bruise. 

If letters act as synapses, you become a neurotransmitter, conducting the message between them. Trans latus. Carried across. A form of translation. 

But what detonation blew these letters apart? 

Caesura: a gap between words. Mind the gap. 

Yet it’s precisely what’s missing that beckons us. 

When we read, what transpires but a yearning between letters? 

The b is all that’s left of bitterness. The p introduces pain. 

Like opening the door only to be handed a summons. 

Where the house previously stood, now a wind blows. 

Though its first and last plank held, the bridge plunged into the ravine. Given up, left behind with a terrible longing. 

Or thrown overboard and drowned in the middle passage. 

The p and b are testaments of survivors. 

The bodies of letters lying apart from their trauma. 

Cells on opposite sides of a wound draw near and begin to merge. Phantom limb. Though what is absent speaks. 

As I imagine what is nowhere to be found, my own substance grows porous, my life more elusive. 

A glyph, a provocation, and you respond. Art blossoms in the mind. Hey abyss, you still don’t possess all of me. 

Bringing about this call and response. 

How to cure a phantom limb with a mirror? Let yourself see what is there.

 

 

Copyright © 2020 by Forrest Gander and Kay Rosen. Originally published with the Shelter in Poems initiative on poets.org.

It was long I lay
Awake that night
Wishing the tower
Would name the hour
And tell me whether
To call it day
(Though not yet light)
And give up sleep.
The snow fell deep
With the hiss of spray;
Two winds would meet,
One down one street,
One down another,
And fight in a smother
Of dust and feather.
I could not say,
But feared the cold
Had checked the pace
Of the tower clock
By tying together
Its hands of gold
Before its face.

Then came one knock!
A note unruffled
Of earthly weather,
Though strange and muffled.
The tower said, "One!"
And then a steeple.
They spoke to themselves
And such few people
As winds might rouse
From sleeping warm
(But not unhouse).
They left the storm
That struck en masse
My window glass
Like a beaded fur.
In that grave One
They spoke of the sun
And moon and stars,
Saturn and Mars
And Jupiter.
Still more unfettered,
They left the named
And spoke of the lettered,
The sigmas and taus
Of constellations.
They filled their throats
With the furthest bodies
To which man sends his
Speculation,
Beyond which God is;
The cosmic motes
Of yawning lenses.
Their solemn peals
Were not their own:
They spoke for the clock
With whose vast wheels
Theirs interlock.
In that grave word
Uttered alone
The utmost star
Trembled and stirred,
Though set so far
Its whirling frenzies
Appear like standing
In one self station.
It has not ranged,
And save for the wonder
Of once expanding
To be a nova,
It has not changed
To the eye of man
On planets over
Around and under
It in creation
Since man began
To drag down man
And nation nation.

This poem is in the public domain.

Put down that bag of potato chips, that white bread, that bottle of pop.

Turn off that cellphone, computer, and remote control.

Open the door, then close it behind you.

Take a breath offered by friendly winds. They travel the earth gathering essences of plants to clean.

Give it back with gratitude.

If you sing it will give your spirit lift to fly to the stars’ ears and back.

Acknowledge this earth who has cared for you since you were a dream planting itself precisely within your parents’ desire.

Let your moccasin feet take you to the encampment of the guardians who have known you before time, who will be there after time. They sit before the fire that has been there without time.

Let the earth stabilize your postcolonial insecure jitters.

Be respectful of the small insects, birds and animal people who accompany you.
Ask their forgiveness for the harm we humans have brought down upon them.

Don’t worry.
The heart knows the way though there may be high-rises, interstates, checkpoints, armed soldiers, massacres, wars, and those who will despise you because they despise themselves.

The journey might take you a few hours, a day, a year, a few years, a hundred, a thousand or even more.

Watch your mind. Without training it might run away and leave your heart for the immense human feast set by the thieves of time.

Do not hold regrets.

When you find your way to the circle, to the fire kept burning by the keepers of your soul, you will be welcomed.

You must clean yourself with cedar, sage, or other healing plant.

Cut the ties you have to failure and shame.

Let go the pain you are holding in your mind, your shoulders, your heart, all the way to your feet. Let go the pain of your ancestors to make way for those who are heading in our direction.

Ask for forgiveness.

Call upon the help of those who love you. These helpers take many forms: animal, element, bird, angel, saint, stone, or ancestor.

Call your spirit back. It may be caught in corners and creases of shame, judgment, and human abuse.

You must call in a way that your spirit will want to return.

Speak to it as you would to a beloved child.

Welcome your spirit back from its wandering. It may return in pieces, in tatters. Gather them together. They will be happy to be found after being lost for so long.

Your spirit will need to sleep awhile after it is bathed and given clean clothes.

Now you can have a party. Invite everyone you know who loves and supports you. Keep room for those who have no place else to go.

Make a giveaway, and remember, keep the speeches short.

Then, you must do this: help the next person find their way through the dark. 

Reprinted from Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings by Joy Harjo. Copyright © 2015 by Joy Harjo.  Used with permission of the publisher, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. All rights reserved.

Once the world was perfect, and we were happy in that world.
Then we took it for granted.
Discontent began a small rumble in the earthly mind.
Then Doubt pushed through with its spiked head.
And once Doubt ruptured the web,
All manner of demon thoughts
Jumped through—
We destroyed the world we had been given
For inspiration, for life—
Each stone of jealousy, each stone
Of fear, greed, envy, and hatred, put out the light.
No one was without a stone in his or her hand.
There we were,
Right back where we had started.
We were bumping into each other
In the dark.
And now we had no place to live, since we didn’t know
How to live with each other.
Then one of the stumbling ones took pity on another
And shared a blanket.
A spark of kindness made a light.
The light made an opening in the darkness.
Everyone worked together to make a ladder.
A Wind Clan person climbed out first into the next world,
And then the other clans, the children of those clans, their children,
And their children, all the way through time—
To now, into this morning light to you.

From Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings by Joy Harjo. Copyright © 2015 by Joy Harjo. Used with permission of the publisher, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. All rights reserved.

Translated by Fady Joudah

They will fall in the end, 
those who say you can’t. 
It’ll be age or boredom that overtakes them, 
or lack of imagination. 
Sooner or later, all leaves fall to the ground. 
You can be the last leaf. 
You can convince the universe 
that you pose no threat 
to the tree’s life. 

From You Can Be the Last Leaf (Milkweed Editions, 2022) by Maya Abu Al-Hayyat and Fady Joudah. Copyright © 2022 by Maya Abu Al-Hayyat and Fady Joudah. Reprinted with the permission of Fady Joudah.

I’m Nobody! Who are you?
Are you – Nobody – too?
Then there’s a pair of us!
Don't tell! they'd advertise – you know!

How dreary – to be – Somebody!
How public – like a Frog –
To tell one’s name – the livelong June –
To an admiring Bog!

Poetry used by permission of the publishers and the Trustees of Amherst College from The Poems of Emily Dickinson, Ralph W. Franklin ed., Cambridge, Mass.: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. Copyright © 1998 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. Copyright © 1951, 1955, 1979 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College.

1

I witnessed nothing
to speak of because
we were Free.

My life at four was the same
as at three. Then whispers wound
into my ears, or,

Father never whispered–
he gave me fire to breathe–
all the oxygen lit the room,

burning me up until my breath
writhed in the body’s drum.
Nothing changed but my mind.

 

2

I have a sense of him having said–
to Mother? a Soldier?–
something, but recall

none of the words,
only a sentence ending,
susurrous, in a hiss.

I froze. Put together
the words were menacing, sneak-
attacks, after which fear

riddled me day and night
like bullets. I have never not lived
with the fact of having heard,

 

3

the tear in me trauma
rent when I secreted
zero at the bone.

Father was high up–I never got
his echelon straight before the war
was over–but he was someone

who knew things
done to whom by whom
and when I snuck to the door

to listen the sound words
made was lightning flashed
right into my skull.

Originally published in Shenandoah. Copyright © 2019 by Cynthia Hogue. Used with the permission of the poet.

I have folded my sorrows into the mantle of summer night,
Assigning each brief storm its allotted space in time,
Quietly pursuing catastrophic histories buried in my eyes.
And yes, the world is not some unplayed Cosmic Game,
And the sun is still ninety-three million miles from me,
And in the imaginary forest, the shingled hippo becomes the gray unicorn.
No, my traffic is not with addled keepers of yesterday’s disasters,
Seekers of manifest disembowelment on shafts of yesterday’s pains.
Blues come dressed like introspective echoes of a journey.
And yes, I have searched the rooms of the moon on cold summer nights.
And yes, I have refought those unfinished encounters.
      Still, they remain unfinished.
And yes, I have at times wished myself something different.

The tragedies are sung nightly at the funerals of the poet;
The revisited soul is wrapped in the aura of familiarity. 

“I Have Folded My Sorrows,” by Robert Kaufman, from SOLITUDES CROWDED WITH LONELINESS, copyright © 1965 by Bob Kaufman. Used by permission of New Directions Publishing Corp. 

I had never created man before so I invented my son first as a dream body. In order to create the dream body I must first believe in the force of opposites, a terrible tension of what has existed and the struggle yet to come. And it is true, that I had a notion of him for many years; for generations my imagination traveled in search of him.  

It seems unlikely that a kiss would have roots in the Haitian Revolution, but it does. Over a century ago, an uprising of hundreds of thousands of slaves freed themselves from chain and rope, from whip and guillotine, from bondage through the struggle of blood. They fought for thirteen years in a revolution to stand on the shores of their own land, newly named Haiti, as free people and they kissed the ground however damp with the blood of their mothers, fathers, brothers, and sons. Slaves, newly liberated whispered my son’s name, his dream body envisioned there, beneath the rust of shackles, beside shards of slaveowners’ homes, rising with smoke from burned plantations. Past the pinnacle of scoured light, past the canopy of trees dripping with the uprising of future leaves, my son begins his journey to me.  

Once there was a chain of kisses as my mother said goodbye to her brothers and sisters lined in a row, as she left Taiwan for America, a shock of leis around her neck as she waved to a country of ghosts. My mother’s history was equally complex. She left China in 1949, when communists led by Chairman Mao took over mainland China. My mother crowded into a boat that would take her to the coast of Taiwan known as the beautiful island, which she would one day yearn to leave.

By foot, by boat, by train, by bus, by plane. It seems impossible these two histories intertwine so that one day I may find a dream body housed inside mine. All along, I wring my hands and worry, will I know how to mother him? What language will I speak? What will my mother utter once she discovers the detour of my ancestry? Will she abandon me, turn the portraits of my ancestors toward the wall, backs directed away from my longing? 

.

When I woke, the doctor’s voice was muffled and thick. My mind moved in syncopated pulses and I pushed until all energy drained and my body cracked open. Liquid gold rushed away. Finally and now. He arrived, a purpled creature, violet and squirming, face crushed into an emperor’s expression. 

Born from the urgency of immigrants, how futile all of my years of worrying. I should have known my boy would row his small boat to me, regardless of the sky above that shook down its lightning, and even if the ground was bruised and famished of fruit and even freedom, he would continue on as if a force were lulling him to bedrock. Right here between his eyebrows, there is swell of light, a country where I belong, no longer a stranger to my own skin. My mouth to his temple, an alarm cries. Tanks roll through the tale squeaking, turning their heavy wheels. When I kiss him, history’s weapons fall from my pockets, shields cast beneath attalea trees. I will now end my days of resistance, my lips searching the entirety of his dream face made mortal, my lost shadows now migrating in unison. 

“Revolutionary Kiss” reprinted from Hybrida: Poems by Tina Chang © 2019 by Tina Chang. Used with permission of the publisher, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. All rights reserved.

The deed is done, O Kings: the blood is shed:
   The sword is broken:—broken, too, the Cross.
But she, the mother eternal of the dead,
   Though sorrow-laden, smiles at the loss.

You go down grimed with the blood and smoke of wars;
   Your armies scattered and your banners furled;
She comes down covered with the dust of stars,
   And gives her life again to build the world.

From A Chant of Mystics (James T. White & Co., 1921) by Ameen Rihani. This poem is in the public domain.

Thy love’s as tender as the drooping rose that
          sadly says to earth:
“No more have I the strength to take what
          thou giv’st me;”
But unlike her, alas, thy love’s complaint of
          dearth:
“Thou hast no strength to give what I demand
          of thee.”

Thy love hath heard the many whispered prom-
          ises of every soul;
His birth methinks is nigh coeval with the
          birth of time:
He lives in death throughout the ages, and his
          goal
Is hidden in the faded flowers from every
          clime.

His soul is deeper than the sea and deepest cav-
          erns in its bed;
’T is higher than the highest sky above our
          own;
’T is purer than the morning dew a-dripping
          from the salvias red;
’T is mightier than the four winds, blowing
          from every zone.

This love hath offered me the keys of all his halls
          and towers,
And to my heart with clinging kisses he ap-
          pealed;
But, ah, forgive me God! must I the sweetest
          flowers
Refuse because they do not grow in Beauty’s
          field?

From Myrtle and Myrrh (The Gorham Press, 1905) by Ameen Rihani. This poem is in the public domain.

Are you alive?
I touch you.
You quiver like a sea-fish.
I cover you with my net.
What are you—banded one?

This poem is in the public domain.

translated by Richard Aldington


The Morning Star flies from the clouds and the bird cries to the dawn.
Amaryllis, awake! Lead your snowy sheep to pasture while the cold grass glitters with white dew.
To-day I will pasture my goats in a shady valley, for later it will be very hot.
Among those distant hills lies a very great valley cut by a fair stream.
Here there are cold rills and soft pasture and the kind wind engenders many-coloured flowers.
Dear, there I shall be alone, and if you love me, there you will come alone also.

 


 

Lusus Pastorales continens (IV) 

 

Jam fugat humentes formosus Lucifer umbras,
    Et dulci Auroram voce salutat avis;
Surge, Amarylli, greges niveos in pascua pelle,
    Frigida dum cano gramina rore madent.
Ipse meas hodie nemorosa in valle capellas
    Pasco, namque hodie maximus æstus erit.
Scis ne Menandrei fontem, & vineta Galefi?
    Et quæ formosus rura Lycambus habet?
Hos inter colles recubat viridissima silva,
    Quam pulcher liquido Mesulus amne secat:
Nec gelidi fontes absunt, nec pabula læta,
    Et varios flores aura benigna parit.
Illic te maneo solus, carissima Nympha:
    Si tibi sum carus, tu quoque sola veni.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on September 11, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.

translated from the Spanish by Jack Hirschman

Like you I
love love, life, the sweet smell
of things, the sky-blue
landscape of January days.
And my blood boils up
and I laugh through eyes
that have known the buds of tears.
I believe the world is beautiful
and that poetry, like bread, is for everyone.
And that my veins don’t end in me
but in the unanimous blood
of those who struggle for life,
love,
little things,
landscape and bread,
the poetry of everyone.


Como Tú

Yo, como tú,
amo el amor, la vida, el dulce encanto
de las cosas, el paisaje
celeste de los días de enero.
También mi sangre bulle
y río por los ojos
que han conocido el brote de las lágrimas.
Creo que el mundo es bello,
que la poesía es como el pan, de todos.
Y que mis venas no terminan en mí
sino en la sangre unánime
de los que luchan por la vida,
el amor,
las cosas,
el paisaje y el pan,
la poesía de todos.

From Poetry Like Bread: Poets of the Political Imagination (Curbstone Press, 2000), edited by Martín Espada. Used with the permission of Northwestern University Press.