For President Václav Havel
It is essential that Summer be grafted to
bones marrow earth clouds blood the
eyes of our ancestors.
It is essential to smell the beginning
words where Washington, Madison, Hamilton,
Adams, Jefferson assembled amid cries of:
"The people lack of information"
"We grow more and more skeptical"
"This Constitution is a triple-headed monster"
"Blacks are property"
It is essential to remember how cold the sun
how warm the snow snapping
around the ragged feet of soldiers and slaves.
It is essential to string the sky
with the saliva of Slavs and
Germans and Anglos and French
and Italians and Scandinavians,
and Spaniards and Mexicans and Poles
and Africans and Native Americans.
It is essential that we always repeat:
we the people,
we the people,
we the people.
"Let us go into the fields" one
brother told the other brother. And
the sound of exact death
raising tombs across the centuries.
Across the oceans. Across the land.
It is essential that we finally understand:
this is the time for the creative
the human being who decides
to talk upright in a human
fashion in order to save this
earth from extinction.
This is the time for the creative
Man. Woman. Who must decide
that She. He. Can live in peace.
Racial and sexual justice on
This is the time for you and me.
African American. Whites. Latinos.
Gays. Asians. Jews. Native
Americans. Lesbians. Muslims.
All of us must finally bury
the elitism of race superiority
the elitism of sexual superiority
the elitism of economic superiority
the elitism of religious superiority.
So we welcome you on the celebration
of 218 years Philadelphia. America.
So we salute you and say:
Come, come, come, move out into this world
nourish your lives with a
spirituality that allows us to respect
each other's birth.
come, come, come, nourish the world where
every 3 days 120,000 children die
of starvation or the effects of starvation;
come, come, come, nourish the world
where we will no longer hear the
screams and cries of womens, girls,
and children in Bosnia, El Salvador,
Ma-ma. Dada. Mamacita. Baba.
Mama. Papa. Momma. Poppi.
The soldiers are marching in the streets
near the hospitals but the nurses say
we are safe and the soldiers are
laughing marching firing calling
out to us i don't want to die i
am only 9 yrs old, i am only 10 yrs old
i am only 11 yrs old and i cannot
get out of the bed because they have cut
off one of my legs and i hear the soldiers
coming toward our rooms and i hear
the screams and the children are
running out of the room i can't get out
of the bed i don't want to die Don't
let me die Rwanda. America. United
Nations. Don't let me die..............
And if we nourish ourselves, our communities
our countries and say
no more hiroshima
no more auschwitz
no more wounded knee
no more middle passage
no more slavery
no more Bosnia
no more Rwanda
No more intoxicating ideas of
as we walk toward abundance
we will never forget
For we the people will always be arriving
a ceremony of thunder
waking up the earth
opening our eyes to human
And it'll get better
it'll get better
if we the people work, organize, resist,
come together for peace, racial, social
and sexual justice
it'll get better
it'll get better.
From Shake Loose My Skin. Copyright © 1999 by Sonia Sanchez. Used with the permission of Beacon Press.
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.”
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,
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.
land of buildings & no good manners land of sunless people & offspring of colonizers land of no spice & small pox land of fake flowers land of shackle & branches made of rope land of wire fences grabbing sky land that mispronounces my grief land that skins my other land that laughs when my people die & paints targets on my future children’s faces land that steals & says mine land that plants mines & says go back land that poisoned my mother & devoured her body land that makes my other language strange on my tongue land that stripped our saris & clips haloes to its flag land that eliminates cities land that says homeland security land that built the first bomb & the last land that killed my father & then sent back his body land that made me orphan of thee I sing.
From If They Come For Us: Poems (One World/ Random House, 2018). Copyright © 2018 by Fatimah Asghar. Used with the permission of the poet.
I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired
No more turned cheek
No more patience for the obstruction
of black woman’s right to vote
& plant & feed her family
Equality will cost you your luxurious life
If a Black woman can’t vote
If a brown baby can’t be fed
If we all don’t have the same opportunity America promised
Ain’t no mountain boulder enough
to wan off a determined woman
Look at my hands
Each palm holds a history
of the 16 shots that chased me
harm free from a plantation shack
Look at my eyes
Both these are windows
these little lights of mine
Nothing but death can stop me
from marching out a jail cell still a free woman
Nothing but death can stop me from running for Congress
No black jack beating will stop my feet from working
& my heart from swelling
& my mouth from praying
America! you will learn freedom feels like
butter beans, potatoes & cotton seeds
picked by my sturdy hands
Victoria Gray, Anna Divine & Me
In our rightful seats on the house floor
Until my children
& my children’s children
& they babies too
can March & vote
& get back in interest
what was planted
in this blessed land
I ain’t stopping America
I ain’t stopping America
Not even death can take away from my woman’s hands
what I’ve rightfully earned
Copyright © 2019 by Mahogany Browne. Originally featured in Vibe. Used with permission of the author.
I pick you up
& you are a child made of longing
clasped to my neck. Iridescent,
lovely, your inestimable tantrums,
I carry you back & forth
from the famine in your mind.
Your alphabet wraps itself
like a tourniquet
around my tongue.
Speak now, the static says.
A half-dressed woman named Truth
tells me she is a radio.
I'm going to ignore happiness
I'm going to undo myself
I pick you up
& the naked trees lean
into the ocean where you arrived,
shaking chains & freedom
from your head.
No metaphor would pull you
out of your cage.
Light keens from the dead.
& I'm troubled
by my own blind touch.
Did the ocean release
my neck? Did the opal waves
blow our cries to shore?
You don't feel anything
in the middle of the night.
From Lighting the Shadow. Copyright © 2015 by Rachel Eliza Griffiths. Appears with permission of Four Way Books. All rights reserved.
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.
I'll be at the table
When company comes.
Say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,”
They'll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed—
I, too, am America.
From The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes, published by Knopf and Vintage Books. Copyright © 1994 by the Estate of Langston Hughes. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Harold Ober Associates Incorporated.
We were running out of breath, as we ran out to meet ourselves. We
Were surfacing the edge of our ancestors’ fights, and ready to Strike.
It was difficult to lose days in the Indian bar if you were Straight.
Easy if you played pool and drank to remember to forget. We
Made plans to be professional—and did. And some of us could Sing
When we drove to the edge of the mountains, with a drum. We
Made sense of our beautiful crazed lives under the starry stars. Sin
Was invented by the Christians, as was the Devil, we sang. We
Were the heathens, but needed to be saved from them: Thin
Chance. We knew we were all related in this story, a little Gin
Will clarify the dark, and make us all feel like dancing. We
Had something to do with the origins of blues and jazz
I argued with the music as I filled the jukebox with dimes in June,
Forty years later and we still want justice. We are still America. We.
From An American Sunrise: Poems by Joy Harjo. Copyright © 2019 by Joy Harjo. Used by permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.
The truth is, I’ve never cared for the National
Anthem. If you think about it, it’s not a good
song. Too high for most of us with “the rockets’
red glare” and then there are the bombs.
(Always, always there is war and bombs.)
Once, I sang it at homecoming and threw
even the tenacious high school band off key.
But the song didn’t mean anything, just a call
to the field, something to get through before
the pummeling of youth. And what of the stanzas
we never sing, the third that mentions “no refuge
could save the hireling and the slave”? Perhaps
the truth is that every song of this country
has an unsung third stanza, something brutal
snaking underneath us as we absent-mindedly sing
the high notes with a beer sloshing in the stands
hoping our team wins. Don’t get me wrong, I do
like the flag, how it undulates in the wind
like water, elemental, and best when it’s humbled,
brought to its knees, clung to by someone who
has lost everything, when it’s not a weapon,
when it flickers, when it folds up so perfectly
you can keep it until it’s needed, until you can
love it again, until the song in your mouth feels
like sustenance, a song where the notes are sung
by even the ageless woods, the shortgrass plains,
the Red River Gorge, the fistful of land left
unpoisoned, that song that’s our birthright,
that’s sung in silence when it’s too hard to go on,
that sounds like someone’s rough fingers weaving
into another’s, that sounds like a match being lit
in an endless cave, the song that says my bones
are your bones, and your bones are my bones,
and isn’t that enough?
From The Carrying (Milkweed Editions, 2018) by Ada Limón. Copyright © 2018 by Ada Limón. Used with the permission of Milkweed Editions. milkweed.org.
Although she feeds me bread of bitterness,
And sinks into my throat her tiger’s tooth,
Stealing my breath of life, I will confess
I love this cultured hell that tests my youth!
Her vigor flows like tides into my blood,
Giving me strength erect against her hate.
Her bigness sweeps my being like a flood.
Yet as a rebel fronts a king in state,
I stand within her walls with not a shred
Of terror, malice, not a word of jeer.
Darkly I gaze into the days ahead,
And see her might and granite wonders there,
Beneath the touch of Time’s unerring hand,
Like priceless treasures sinking in the sand.
This poem is in the public domain.
I had a dream
I had a dream that I was in America
I mean I was actually in the land of the beautiful
And the home of the brave
My boss came into my office and said
‘Hi Bob, how’s it going?
Why don’t you take off early and here is that raise”
As I pulled my Suburban, up to my suburban home
I checked the mail in the box
And saw that I was approved for another home equity loan
Girl scouts were there ringing the bell with cookies to sell
Of course, I bought a box
As Hillary quieted down Marmaduke, who had begun to bark
And later on, me—the wife & kids took a bike ride to the park
When we returned got back we had apple pie with ice cream on top
Then we buckled up and headed on down to the Redbox
To get some videos to watch
When we got in, the kids put on their pjs
And we met in the den
Relaxed on the couch for some family time watching videos
Then all these strangers turned to me and said:
What are you doing here? Don’t you know...
Dreams are Illegal in the Ghetto
Gunshots ring in the heat of the night
Followed by screams, violently disrupting my dreams
In my neighborhood
I don’t have to read the paper or watch the news
To know that something bad happen around here tonight
But once the ambulance leaves, the police sirens stop,
And the crowd disperses
The silence soaks into my soul, sobering my senses
In this often over-intoxicating society
I try to relax but the Devil just won’t let go
He keeps pointing to the signs that are posted all around me
That read: Dreams are Illegal
My neighborhood is the bottom of the barrel
Where drugs get mixed
Here there are no brothers and sisters
Just confused brothers and sisters
Here people drown in the backwash
Of the latest political scandal
In the midst of ghetto chaos dreams are quickly lost
The Devil is in sweet control
As dreams are stole
There is no honor amongst thieves
So dreams are stolen with ease
A high school graduate barely seventeen
Gives up her college dreams, for a pair of tight jeans
And a chance to be the next inner city queen
In the inner city checks and basketballs bounce with regularity
Life and death intermix with no disparity
Some children live for nothing, some children die for nothing
Everyday blue skies are gray
All they know is, they wanna make $doe
The Devil has them chasing a colorless rainbow
At the end there is no pot of gold, just a pot of steam
Which He exchanges for their dreams
Bona fide slaves are made in the Devil’s dream trade
Without dreams you are equivalent to being non-existent
Our children need to be told they can achieve
And that God bless those that hold on to their dreams
We have to take down the signs so that our children won’t know
That the Devil is trying to make dreams illegal...
You are in the black car burning beneath the highway
And rising above it—not as smoke
But what causes it to rise. Hey, Black Child,
You are the fire at the end of your elders’
Weeping, fire against the blur of horse, hoof,
Stick, stone, several plagues including time.
Chrysalis hanging on the bough of this night
And the burning world: Burn, Baby, burn.
Anvil and iron be thy name, yea though ye may
Walk among the harnessed heat and huntsmen
Who bear their masters’ hunger for paradise
In your rabbit-death, in the beheading of your ghost.
You are the healing snake in the heather
Bursting forth from your humps of sleep.
In the morning, your tongue moves along the earth
Naming hawk sky; rabbit run; your tongue,
Poison to the filthy democracy, to the gold-
Domed capitols where the ‘Guard in their grub-
Worm-colored uniforms cling to the blades of grass—
Worm on the leaf, worm in the dust, worm,
Worm made of rust: sing it with me,
Dragon of Insurmountable Beauty.
Black Child, laugh at the men with their hoofs
and borrowed muscle, their long and short guns,
The worm of their faces, their casket ass-
Embling of the afternoon, leftover leaves
From last year’s autumn scraping across their boots;
Laugh, laugh at their assassins on the roofs
(For the time of the assassin is also the time of hysterical laughter).
Black Child, you are the walking-on-of-water
Without the need of an approving master.
You are in a beautiful language.
You are what lies beyond this kingdom
And the next and the next and fire. Fire, Black Child.
Copyright © 2020 by Roger Reeves. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 16, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people
He has plundered our—
destroyed the lives of our—
taking away our—
abolishing our most valuable—
and altering fundamentally the Forms of our—
In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for
Redress in the most humble terms:
Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury.
We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration
and settlement here.
on the high Seas
Copyright © 2018 by Tracy K. Smith, from Wade in the Water. Used by permission of Graywolf Press. All rights reserved. www.graywolfpress.org.
There is no chance that we will fall apart
There is no chance
There are no parts.
Copyright © 2017 by the June M. Jordan Literary Estate. Used with the permission of the June M. Jordan Literary Estate, www.junejordan.com.