I suppose this is my personal homage to Langston Hughes’s great poem, “Let America be America Again,” about which I’ve written here before. Perhaps it’s also my personal update to that poem, my own “creative misprision”–to borrow Harold Bloom’s term–through which I’m trying to say where I think we are and where I hope we’re going.
America Used to be America (for Me)
I know that I am privileged,
have it easier than the rest.
I know I didn’t know enough:
I was blind; I confess.
I knew our faults were many
but never thought I’d see
us run each other down in hate, because
America was America (for me).
Born-again Bible-thumpers, soulless yuppies,
green tree-huggers, pinko hippy commies,
Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, Muslims,
proud Black Panthers, and Ku Klux Klan Nazis:
we bickered and yelled and argued
but even when we disagreed
I’d have fought for you’re right to be a fool, since
that was America (for me).
Because it was yours and mine,
from San Diego east to Queens,
to dream a dream of what might be
America (I thought, for you and me).
America was America (to me).
America used to be America (for me).
But it never was for Langston Hughes,
Frederick Douglass, or Zora Neale.
And it never will be for Michael Brown,
Freddie Gray, or Philando Castile.
It wasn’t there for Chief Joseph,
and it absconded from Wounded Knee.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton called it by name,
but America wasn’t, when it had to be.
I’ve neither Langston’s soul nor voice,
so I’ll let him speak for me:
America was never but a dream,
but today, that dream must be!
We must learn to face our failures
with the pride that fits the free.
we must learn to work together
to build a land for us (not just for me).
The IOU is long past due;
it’s time to clear our debt.
The promise made must now be kept:
Let America be.
Let America be!
The “land that never has been yet”
cannot today not be
the land of our “more perfect union”—
Oh let America be!