Pennsylvania

In 2018, Raquel Salas Rivera was named poet laureate of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Rivera will serve a two-year term.

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The Dancing

In all these rotten shops, in all this broken furniture
and wrinkled ties and baseball trophies and coffee pots
I have never seen a post-war Philco 
with the automatic eye
nor heard Ravel's "Bolero" the way I did
in 1945 in that tiny living room
on Beechwood Boulevard, nor danced as I did
then, my knives all flashing, my hair all streaming,
my mother red with laughter, my father cupping
his left hand under his armpit, doing the dance
of old Ukraine, the sound of his skin half drum,
half fart, the world at last a meadow,
the three of us whirling and singing, the three of us
screaming and falling, as if we were dying,
as if we could never stop—in 1945—
in Pittsburgh, beautiful filthy Pittsburgh, home
of the evil Mellons, 5,000 miles away
from the other dancing—in Poland and Germany—
oh God of mercy, oh wild God.

Tear It Down

We find out the heart only by dismantling what
the heart knows. By redefining the morning,
we find a morning that comes just after darkness.
We can break through marriage into marriage.
By insisting on love we spoil it, get beyond
affection and wade mouth-deep into love.
We must unlearn the constellations to see the stars.
But going back toward childhood will not help.
The village is not better than Pittsburgh.
Only Pittsburgh is more than Pittsburgh.
Rome is better than Rome in the same way the sound
of racoon tongues licking the inside walls
of the garbage tub is more than the stir
of them in the muck of the garbage. Love is not
enough. We die and are put into the earth forever.
We should insist while there is still time. We must
eat through the wildness of her sweet body already
in our bed to reach the body within the body.

Occasioned by General Washington's Arrival in Philadelphia, On His Way to His Residence in Virginia

The great, unequal conflict past, 
   The Briton banish'd from our shore, 
Peace, heav'n-descended, comes at last, 
   And hostile nations rage no more;
      From fields of death the weary swain 
      Returning, seeks his native plain. 

In every vale she smiles serene, 
   Freedom's bright stars more radiant rise, 
New charms she adds to every scene, 
   Her brighter sun illumes our skies; 
      Remotest realms admiring stand, 
      And hail the Hero of our land: 

He comes!—the Genius of these lands— 
   Fame's thousand tongues his worth confess, 
Who conquered with his suffering bands, 
   And grew immortal by distress: 
      Thus calms succeed the stormy blast, 
      And valour is repaid at last. 

O Washington!—thrice glorious name, 
   What due rewards can man decree— 
Empires are far below thy aim, 
   And sceptres have no charms for thee; 
      Virtue alone has thy regard, 
      And she must be thy great reward. 

Encircled by extorted power, 
   Monarchs must envy thy Retreat, 
Who cast, in some ill fated hour, 
   Their country's freedom at their feet; 
      'Twas thine to act a nobler part 
      For injur'd Freedom had thy heart. 

For ravag'd realms and conquer'd seas 
   Borne gave the great imperial prize, 
And, swelTd with pride, for feats like these, 
   Transferr'd her heroes to the skies:— 
      A brighter scene your deeds display, 
      You gain those heights a different way. 

When Faction rear'd her bristly head, 
   And join'd with tyrants to destroy, 
Where'er you march' d the monster fled, 
   Tim'rous her arrows to employ; 
      Hosts catch'd from you a bolder flame, 
      And despots trembled at your name. 

Ere war's dread horrors ceas'd to reign, 
   What leader could your place supply?— 
Chiefs crowded to the embattled plain, 
   Prepaid to conquer or to die— 
      Heroes arose— but none like yon 
      Could save our lives and freedom too. 

In swelling verse let kings be read, 
   And princes shine in polish'd prose; 
Without such aid your triumphs spread 
   Where'er the convex ocean flows, 
      To Indian worlds by seas embrac'd, 
      And Tartar, tyrant of the waste. 

Throughout the east you gain applause, 
   And soon the Old World, taught by you, 
Shall blush to own her barbarous laws, 
   Shall learn instruction from the New: 
      Monarchs shall hear the humble plea, 
      Nor urge too far the proud decree. 

Despising pomp and vain parade, 
   At home you stay, while France and Spain 
The secret, ardent wish convey'd, 
   And hail'd you to their shores in vain: 
      In Vernon's groves you shun the throne,
      Admir'd by kings, but seen by none. 

Your fame, thus spread to distant lands, 
   May envy's fiercest blasts endure, 
Like Egypt's pyramids it stands, 
   Built on a basis more secure; 
      Time's latest age shall own in you 
      The patriot and the statesman too. 

Now hurrying from the busy scene, 
   Where thy Potowmack's waters flow, 
Mayt thou enjoy thy rural reign, 
   And every earthly blessing know; 
      Thus He* whom Rome's proud legions sway'd, 
      Beturn'd, and sought his sylvan shade. 

Not less in wisdom than in war 
   Freedom shall still employ your mind, 
Slavery shall vanish, wide and far, 
   'Till not a trace is left behind; 
      Your counsels not bestow'd in vain 
      Shall still protect this infant reign, 

So when the bright, all-cheering sun 
   From our contracted view retires, 
Though fools may think his race is run, 
   On other worlds he lights his fires: 
      Cold climes beneath his influence glow, 
      And frozen rivers learn to flow. 

O say, thou great, exalted name! 
   What Muse can boast of equal lays, 
Thy worth disdains all vulgar fame, 
   Transcends the noblest poet's praise, 
      Art soars, unequal to the flight, 
      And genius sickens at the height. 

For States redeem'd— our western reign 
   Restored by thee to milder sway, 
Thy conscious glory shall remain 
   When this great globe is swept away, 
      And all is lost that pride admires, 
      And all the pageant scene expires.


* Cincinnatus