In Pursuit of Dawn

I have never heard America described as quiet.
Even street lights seem to pulse to some interminable heartbeat
beneath buildings endeavoring for the clouds.
Our purposeful words often laced in ample volume.
In such social engagements
all varieties of people run together—
words flowing, ideas pooling—
eager to share and just as soon to hear.
But have ideas—opportunities—collaborations
extending beyond the bounds of our borders
with reverberations felt through every city, capital, and country
ever began with silence and seclusion?

My stepfather created opportunity
from the destitute nothing he was dealt,
consoled only by the American dream
that came as whispers under snow-dappled stars.
And from these muffled mumblings
he bettered his situation.

He is one of America’s thousands,
evidence of excellence obtained by
those in pursuit of changing their fortune.
And as snow-ridden summits yield to streams
and torrid deserts to the placid waltz of grassy plains,
each of us—
guided by the compass of our will—
is free to climb, swim, or walk
to wherever we may choose.

All countries of ample years have a shadow beneath their flag
cast by historical inequities amended too late.
But how it still catches the propitious wind!
Always endeavoring to fly higher and baste the somber shade beneath.
As it flutters, we stand reverently
for those who can no longer
and for those who cannot yet.
The horizon an interminable stretch of past and future
we gaze upon it, in remembrance of what was,
yet trekking forward toward what can be.

We are a coalescence of voices,
each with unparalleled inflection,
yet our conglomeration of somber and elated tones
still manages to reach harmony.

The diversity of our country
—of opinions and cultures and beliefs—
as extraordinary as the vast, varying landscapes.
Some tall, imposing, confident as the Rockies;
the great height of their achievements
not formidable but inspiring.
Still others humble and hushed as the plains;
yet their voice embodied in the breeze touches all.
From mountains to marshes to mesas,
we are united in the embrace of the same two seas.
Invaluable are contrasting beliefs
bridged by curiosity and a common desire for betterment.
A miscellany not of problems but possible solutions are we.
Speak up, I implore you,
for in your voice we might find the answer.

The American dream—
one smile, one sunrise,
one decision to pursue an insatiable passion
for words, for equality, for science
—away from the American reality.

When hardships splatter like ebony ink across the skyline,
extinguishing the hues still smoldering from the former day,
pinpricks of hope still remain.
And in these celestial bodies we find solace,
arranging the stars against the somber background into
symbols and pictures of progress.
And beneath them we endure in pursuit of dawn.

Related Poems

On the Pulse of Morning

A Rock, A River, A Tree
Hosts to species long since departed,
Marked the mastodon,
The dinosaur, who left dried tokens
Of their sojourn here
On our planet floor,
Any broad alarm of their hastening doom
Is lost in the gloom of dust and ages.

But today, the Rock cries out to us, clearly, forcefully,
Come, you may stand upon my
Back and face your distant destiny,
But seek no haven in my shadow.
I will give you no hiding place down here.

You, created only a little lower than
The angels, have crouched too long in
The bruising darkness
Have lain too long
Face down in ignorance.
Your mouths spilling words

Armed for slaughter.
The Rock cries out to us today, you may stand upon me,
But do not hide your face.

Across the wall of the world,
A River sings a beautiful song. It says,
Come, rest here by my side.

Each of you, a bordered country,
Delicate and strangely made proud,
Yet thrusting perpetually under siege.
Your armed struggles for profit
Have left collars of waste upon
My shore, currents of debris upon my breast.
Yet today I call you to my riverside,
If you will study war no more. Come,
Clad in peace, and I will sing the songs
The Creator gave to me when I and the
Tree and the rock were one.
Before cynicism was a bloody sear across your
Brow and when you yet knew you still
Knew nothing.
The River sang and sings on.

There is a true yearning to respond to
The singing River and the wise Rock.
So say the Asian, the Hispanic, the Jew
The African, the Native American, the Sioux,
The Catholic, the Muslim, the French, the Greek
The Irish, the Rabbi, the Priest, the Sheik,
The Gay, the Straight, the Preacher,
The privileged, the homeless, the Teacher.
They hear. They all hear
The speaking of the Tree.

They hear the first and last of every Tree
Speak to humankind today. Come to me, here beside the River.
Plant yourself beside the River.

Each of you, descendant of some passed
On traveller, has been paid for.
You, who gave me my first name, you,
Pawnee, Apache, Seneca, you
Cherokee Nation, who rested with me, then
Forced on bloody feet,
Left me to the employment of
Other seekers—desperate for gain,
Starving for gold.
You, the Turk, the Arab, the Swede, the German, the Eskimo, the Scot,
You the Ashanti, the Yoruba, the Kru, bought,
Sold, stolen, arriving on the nightmare
Praying for a dream.
Here, root yourselves beside me.
I am that Tree planted by the River,
Which will not be moved.
I, the Rock, I the River, I the Tree
I am yours—your passages have been paid.
Lift up your faces, you have a piercing need
For this bright morning dawning for you.
History, despite its wrenching pain
Cannot be unlived, but if faced
With courage, need not be lived again.

Lift up your eyes upon
This day breaking for you.
Give birth again
To the dream.

Women, children, men,
Take it into the palms of your hands,
Mold it into the shape of your most
Private need. Sculpt it into
The image of your most public self.
Lift up your hearts
Each new hour holds new chances
For a new beginning.
Do not be wedded forever
To fear, yoked eternally
To brutishness.

The horizon leans forward,
Offering you space to place new steps of change.
Here, on the pulse of this fine day
You may have the courage
To look up and out and upon me, the
Rock, the River, the Tree, your country.
No less to Midas than the mendicant.
No less to you now than the mastodon then.

Here, on the pulse of this new day
You may have the grace to look up and out
And into your sister’s eyes, and into
Your brother’s face, your country
And say simply
Very simply
With hope—
Good morning.

America, I Sing Back

for Phil Young, my father, Robert Hedge Coke, Whitman, and Hughes

America, I sing back. Sing back what sung you in.
Sing back the moment you cherished breath.
Sing you home into yourself and back to reason.

Oh, before America began to sing, I sung her to sleep,
held her cradleboard, wept her into day.
My song gave her creation, prepared her delivery,
held her severed cord beautifully beaded.

My song helped her stand, held her hand for first steps,

nourished her very being, fed her, placed her three sisters strong.
My song comforted her as she battled my reason

broke my long held footing sure, as any child might do.

Lo, as she pushed herself away, forced me to remove myself,
as I cried this country, my song grew roses in each tear’s fall.

My blood veined rivers, painted pipestone quarries
circled canyons, while she made herself maiden fine.

Oh, but here I am, here I am, here, I remain high on each and every peak,
carefully rumbling her great underbelly, prepared to pour forth singing—

and sing again I will, as I have always done.

Never silenced unless in the company of strangers, singing

the stoic face, polite repose, polite, while dancing deep inside, polite
Mother of her world. Sister of myself.

When my song sings aloud again. When I call her back to cradle.
Call her to peer into waters, to behold herself in dark and light,

day and night, call her to sing along, call her to mature, to envision—

Then, she will make herself over. My song will make it so

When she grows far past her self-considered purpose,
I will sing her back, sing her back. I will sing. Oh, I will—I do.

America, I sing back. Sing back what sung you in.

Now What

And so I sat at a tall table
in an Ohio hotel,
eating delivery:
cheese bread

with garlic butter, only it was
not butter, but partially
hydrogenated soy
bean oil

and regular soybean oil and it
came in a little tub like
creamer that’s also not
dairy.

America in 2019
means a poem will have to
contain dairy that is,
in fact,

not dairy. On Instagram: a man
has bought a ten foot by four
foot photo of a bridge
he lives

beside, bridge he can see just outside
his window, window which serves
as a ten foot by four
foot frame.

My materialist mind, I can’t
shake it. Within a perfect
little tub of garlic
butter,

a relief of workers, of sickles,
fields of soy. We were tanners
pushed to the edge of the
city

once, by the stench, the bubble of vats
of flesh and loosening skin,
back when the city pulled,
leather

bucket by leather bucket, its own
water from wells. Then we worked
the cafeterias
at the

petroleum offices of the
British. Then, revolution—

Simple.