A Poem for a Fateful Day in America
By Judson Mitchum
at The Funeral for 13,000; Andersonville Historic Site, September 19, 2015
Every prayer once prayed here is still in the air,
but there is also that old wine of astonishment, caught
in the throat. So who are we to have gathered here,
even in praise, even humbled by the blood
of our inheritance? Could we ever be too sure
what history is good for? History is what we are—
creatures made of time and story—the clay of the Bible,
fired and shaped into brittle jars that hold our days.
And today, we are in our element, out in these fields
of wounding stillness at the end of summer,
where we stroll, as freely as we choose, down clean lanes
of grass and stone. We can take our time
and try to understand what we will never understand.
But one measure of our days has commanded us
to fall in, and to stand at attention, to form up
where the stockade swarmed and groaned, a septic mud
the soldiers prayed to God for the end of. The dusk
and the sunrise are still inside us,
and the years go on, and we touch them one by one,
and today, they are the strange beads of a prison rosary,
a ruined bootlace tied in knots. Let us go on, then,
and say Amen to the weapons at our feet, blades of grass,
the beautiful uncut hair of graves. Amen to the night
that takes up its position, Amen to the sun
that advances through the risen dust, with or without us,
whatever we believe. Everywhere, now, in this nation
of old sorrows and new—even trembling with the past,
here at Andersonville—we are suffering
from what we have forgotten. Tell us again, if you can,
how to praise, and how to grieve, and how to witness.
Give us this day, forgive us our trespasses…. The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, but time and chance happen to them all……. Turn you to the stronghold, ye prisoners of hope.
Musings on Election Day: George Carlin
“In America, anyone can become president. That’s the problem.”
American Art – Byron Birdsall: Part I
In the words of one writer, “Byron Birdsall (is) a near-perfect combination of world traveler and artist. Here is a man truly excited about being alive; and this same excitement illuminates his work.”
Below – “Mt. Rainier as Seen through Snow at Mukojima (after Hasui)”; “Adams Arch”; “Rororua Meeting House”; “Hokusai Rainier V”; “With a Silence Deep and White”; “Flamingo Tondo”; “Hokusai McKinley.”
A Second Poem for a Fateful Day in America
“Brandywine Creek Perambles”
By JoAnn Balingit
1. Be it known I was born in deciduous Forest though I appear to come from Sea.
2. In the year of my birth, billion-year-old Rock. Appalachia dapple grey.
3. I looked up at those loaves like a three-year-old met with giant mother’s naked ass. I watered her Toes. I ran and ran.
4. It’s good not to be dead I knew, in my own lap with the mourning dove.
5. Water drinkers hovered around me. Piedmont to fall line, grandparents to parents, coastal plain to marsh, my world of voices and sharp claws.
6. A high song spills from me and quiets never, not for Flood—
7. On summer weekends the city children the city children the city children ride their vinyl creatures down my Shoals.
8. I remember a chorus fell, old growth fell, white village growth, villagers’ low chorus with musket-fire, thunder-fire cloud crack, downpour, the People pouring blood. The Eagle’s white face and tail.
9. I am history of Moss and Temperature.
10. blocked bombed dammed deeded bridged diked drunk fished prayed-in swum dived-into dredged dreaded diverted disregarded painted sung splashed waded drowned-in longed-for named named named
11. And more than once they set fire to my sleeves and petticoats. Jack in the Pulpit, Trout Lily. Mother’s crowns towered down, pinning each other across my slender back. I turned blue, like the Sky.
12. How is it I’ve become my own Mother? Sing in her treble voice? Take her mouth to bed?
13. At night the shooting Stars tack tulip trees to heaven.
14. Father, my Father, wherever you are there is always a body upstream.
15. History of fishing spider, shad, wolf, eel. Bog turtle, heron, peeper, bear. Our Salamander of the Wet Perpetua.
16. Always I am leaving home. Always I am coming home.
17. I looked up and the ash were back, both white and green, sycamores, beech, swamp maple. Oak, centuries of them. Last night’s rain dripped from their leaves onto my silver face.
Musings on Election Day: Franklin Delano Roosevelt
“Remember, remember always, that all of us, and you and I especially, are descended from immigrants and revolutionists.”
A Third Poem for a Fateful Day in America
By Marilyn Nelson
Not vistas, but a home-sized landscape,
beloved rooms storied, painted, lived.
A farm bought with a painting
and a ten dollar personal check.
And almost from the beginning,
the intention to pass on
what an artist sees, what artists make.
A parcel of land, a vast legacy.
Admire the houses, barns, outbuildings,
and studios, uniformly Venetian red.
Respect the visible sweat work of stones
laid in walls and foundations, terraces and walks.
Admire the sunken garden, the wildflower meadows,
the path through thick woods to the fishing pond.
Walk through the farm envisioned by artists.
Admire the home artists made.
Or you can step from a museum’s polished floor
across a carven, gilded threshold
into the farm reimagined in brushstrokes.
From that wooden bridge over there,
hear those three women’s tinkling laughter?
Over there the other way, see
the black dog panting near the youngish man
lifting stones into a half-built wall?
Step out of the frame again, and be
enveloped in birdsong and dapple.
Feel the welcome of small particulars:
the grove beside that boulder,
the white horse tied in front of that barn.
With eyes made tender, see
those elms, from shadows on the grass
to the highest leaves’ shimmer.
With your friends, lovers, family, stride
across this chromatic broken brushwork.
Sit a minute at the granite picnic table
with the artist’s daughters, dressed in summer white.
You can daub this earth, so lyric, so gentle,
from the limited palette of your own love right now.
Any place you care for can hold an easel.
Everything around you is beautiful plein air.
Musings on Election Day: Allen Ginsberg
“America I’ve given you all and now I’m nothing.”
A Fourth Poem for a Fateful Day in America
“Central Avenue Beach”
By Adrian Matejka
—Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, 2016
Just off of Highway 12, Sandburg’s signature
of time & eternity: the muggy marshes
& thick forests of the mind, sand that sings
its memory of glaciers & the glaciers before
them. 14,000 years of them. After
the Potawatomi got marched away & before
the steel makers’ smokestacks & the abandoned
Bailly Nuclear Plant cupped this lakeshore
like hands around a beach party’s last
dry match: Lake Michigan’s wide-brimmed
posture as close to an ocean as the scrub
brush, gulls, & rocks around here will get.
Every town around here
has a Central Avenue, complete
with blustery flags & home-
cooked meals. Blank storefronts
& churches next to other churches—
lake light filtering through
their stained glass windows
most sunny afternoons after 3pm.
Steeples, one after another,
like the Great Lakes’ waves
trying to blink constant sand
out of wet eyes. & at night, all
of the avenue lights up. No street
lights, but stars & moon blinking
in agitated water while the industrial
lights on the fringes dim like blank
faces traced in constellations.
Listen to the Sand
Hill Cranes folding
into the dim fringes
like prayer hands.
Listen to the yellow
up in the middle
of knotted branches
like a hungry chorus
in these perfectly
paused trees. Even
at night, the birds
grab sand-swirled air
with nonchalant wings.
In the day or at night, central is centrālis in Latin & means exactly
what the warblers, trees, & restless dunes think it means: ruffles
of sand between the angry human fist & the equally angry
human face of industry, deregulations & pollutants as uninvited
as the sea lamprey wiggling through the locks & canals.
After the canals & their creaking locks
& the oxidized ships & their bleary horns,
the sun edges the blue between cuffed waves
& unrepentant shore. After gravity’s
insoluble gears pull all of this water away
from Central Avenue & back to the center
& the fish swim away from shore through
the gills of noises & sediment in that sideways
way fish do. In a lake this big, it’s possible
to swim in circles all day & get no further
from the moon than this parade of whitecaps
on the edges of the dunes. The same
frustrated tendencies of circle, these waves.
The same cornered ingenuity, this great lake.
These dunes, always on the mainline’s wet
cusp—polished, brocaded & fabulous.
Musings on Election Day: John Steinbeck
“I saw in their eyes something I was to see over and over in every part of the nation- a burning desire to go, to move, to get under way, anyplace, away from any Here. They spoke quietly of how they wanted to go someday, to move about, free and unanchored, not toward something but away from something. I saw this look and heard this yearning everywhere in every states I visited. Nearly every American hungers to move.”
A Fifth Poem for a Fateful Day in America
“American Zebra: Praise for the Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument”
By Diane Raptosh
I like how, when I look out
onto this desert Idaho plain,
I can pretty much graze my palm
on the Pliocene—
and doing so, greet the great wide savannahs of Africa—
mossy and tree lined,
laced in saber-toothed cats,
hyena-like dogs and a half caravan
of even-toed camels.
I like how, when I look upon these bluffs,
I have to leave off acuity—
level all spectacle,
Even so, here blows
another tumbleweed. Be careful
with that match!
Hear it now,
skeletal frolic of O’s.
I love how this lookout
offers no viewfinder.
So I must mesh with the idea
of what might have been
the lontra weiri,
Hagerman’s mystery otter,
nearly four million years ago.
Should I not add this riverine creature
was named for singer Bob Weir?
Dare I admit I am way, way thankful
he fathered the Grateful Dead,
which helped bring us hippies,
sideburns shaped into states of Idaho?
These, plus those love-ins
we never quite had down in Nampa,
where I grew up, 117 miles from here.
It all instilled what I will call gratitude’s latitude—
bones of articulate hope.
I like how standing still in this place
serves to remind
that every epochal zone
clearly inheres in us. Notice.
Most people only look
for what they can see. Oh, Great Dane-ish
Hagerman Horse. Maybe you’re Africa’s own
Grévy’s zebra. Should I not grab you here
in this wayfaring now—and stiffly by the mane—
to say yes, of course, I am indebted?
I’m here at this look-out—
the long meanwhile, whole Snake River histories
molted and soaked in
then found their shot to break free
to the bone layer
under that soil-load
dubbed by the digging biz
Listen here, visitor.
Lay your millstone down,
once and for everyone.
can you see—hey,
here’s some binoculars : What kind
of place will we be
when I cross over
into you and you cross over into me?
American Art – Byron Birdsall: Part II
In the words of one writer, “Birdsall is a landscape watercolorist… a man who likes to play with shapes. His watercolors are distillations of reality, scenes reduced to their basics, with the integrity of the subject intact. His mentors are the great Japanese wood block printers, Hokusai and Hiroshige. Their influence is particularly evident in his washes… flawless gradations of color that ebb and flow.”
Below – “Mt. Rainier as Seen from Megura Drum Bridge and Sunset Hill (after Hiroshige)”; “Circle of Rainier Power”; “The Cat Contemplates Flowers”; “The Aura of Rainier”; “Thunderstorm”; “Cobalt Gold”; “Venus Rising.”
Musings on Election Day: Jack Kerouac
“So in America when the sun goes down and I sit on the old broken-down river pier watching the long, long skies over New Jersey and sense all that raw land that rolls in one unbelievable huge bulge over to the West Coast, and all that road going, and all the people dreaming in the immensity of it, and in Iowa I know by now the children must be crying in the land where they let the children cry, and tonight the stars’ll be out, and don’t you know that God is Pooh Bear? the evening star must be drooping and shedding her sparkler dims on the prairie, which is just before the coming of complete night that blesses the earth, darkens all the rivers, cups the peaks and folds the final shore in, and nobody, nobody knows what’s going to happen to anybody besides the forlorn rags of growing old, I think of Dean Moriarty, I even think of Old Dean Moriarty the father we never found, I think of Dean Moriarty.”
A Sixth Poem for a Fateful Day in America
“Detour of the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument”
By Craig Santos Perez
For Kyle & Aunty Terri
Every year, more than a million tourists march
through military museums, memorials, and ghostly
battleships as “Remember Pearl Harbor” echoes
with patriotic fervor. But what if they learned how
to pronounce, “Puʻuloa,” the Hawaiian name for this
sacred place, where pristine watersheds once flowed
to the sovereign sea, once birthed an estuary teeming
with spawn, fish, and oysters. What if tourists praised
Kaʻahupāhau who, in the form of a shark, protected
the harbor for generations? What if they recognized
the reciprocity between sugar profits, white men,
and the sharpened edge of a bayonet constitution?
Would they recite every name on the Kūʻē Petition
and finally hear the true history of the overthrow and
illegal annexation? Would January 17, 1893, live
in infamy? What if tourists were given a free map
of PACOM (Pacific Command)? Would they feel
its eyes and tentacles surveilling and strangling
36 countries and half the world’s population?
What if they hiked to all 700 toxic Superfund sites
in Pearl Harbor, and enjoyed a picnic of wild caught
seafood from these contaminated waters? What if
this monument of valor instead condemned violence?
What if national and state parks didn’t simply preserve
the myth of American innocence, but actually told
the truth about American empire? Would you offer
prayer and respect to the ancient bones buried here
under layers of soil and story? Would you give
more than an apology? Would these stolen places
finally return to their native stewards and descendants.
Maybe then, these tributes to colonial power
will finally become healing testaments of peace.
Musings on Election Day: Kurt Vonnegut
“America is the wealthiest nation on Earth, but its people are mainly poor, and poor Americans are urged to hate themselves. To quote the American humorist Kin Hubbard, ‘It ain’t no disgrace to be poor, but it might as well be.’ It is in fact a crime for an American to be poor, even though America is a nation of poor. Every other nation has folk traditions of men who were poor but extremely wise and virtuous, and therefore more estimable than anyone with power and gold. No such tales are told by the American poor. They mock themselves and glorify their betters. The meanest eating or drinking establishment, owned by a man who is himself poor, is very likely to have a sign on its wall asking this cruel question: ‘if you’re so smart, why ain’t you rich?’ There will also be an American flag no larger than a child’s hand – glued to a lollipop stick and flying from the cash register.
Americans, like human beings everywhere, believe many things that are obviously untrue. Their most destructive untruth is that it is very easy for any American to make money. They will not acknowledge how in fact hard money is to come by, and, therefore, those who have no money blame and blame and blame themselves. This inward blame has been a treasure for the rich and powerful, who have had to do less for their poor, publicly and privately, than any other ruling class since, say Napoleonic times. Many novelties have come from America. The most startling of these, a thing without precedent, is a mass of undignified poor. They do not love one another because they do not love themselves.”
A Seventh Poem for a Fateful Day in America
By Alberto Rios
“I will wait,” said wood, and it did.
Ten years, a hundred, a thousand, a million—
It did not matter. Time was not its measure,
Not its keeper, nor its master.
Wood was trees in those first days.
And when wood sang, it was leaves,
Which took flight and became birds.
It is still forest here, the forest of used-to-be.
Its trees are the trees of memory.
Their branches—so many tongues, so many hands—
They still speak a story to those who will listen.
By only looking without listening, you will not hear the trees.
You will see only hard stone and flattened landscape,
But if you’re quiet, you will hear it.
The leaves liked the wind, and went with it.
The trees grew more leaves, but wind took them all.
And then the bare trees were branches, which in their frenzy
Made people think of so many ideas—
Branches were lines on the paper of sky,
Drawing shapes on the shifting clouds
Until everyone agreed that they saw horses.
Wood was also the keeper of fires.
So many people lived from what wood gave them.
The cousins of wood went so many places
Until almost nobody was left—that is the way
Of so many families. But wood was steadfast
Even though it was hard from loneliness. Still,
“I will wait,” said wood, and it did.
Musings on Election Day:Barack Obama
“In the unlikely story that is America, there has never been anything false about hope.”
An Eighth Poem for a Fateful Day in America
“Ghazal: America the Beautiful”
By Alicia Ostriker
Do you remember our earnestness our sincerity
in first grade when we learned to sing America
The Beautiful along with the Star-Spangled Banner
and say the Pledge of Allegiance to America
We put our hands over our first grade hearts
we felt proud to be citizens of America
I said One Nation Invisible until corrected
maybe I was right about America
School days school days dear old Golden Rule Days
when we learned how to behave in America
What to wear, how to smoke, how to despise our parents
who didn’t understand us or America
Only later learning the Banner and the Beautiful
live on opposite sides of the street in America
Only later discovering the Nation is divisible
by money by power by color by gender by sex America
We comprehend it now this land is two lands
one triumphant bully one still hopeful America
Imagining amber waves of grain blowing in the wind
purple mountains and no homeless in America
Sometimes I still put my hand tenderly on my heart
somehow or other still carried away by America
American Art – Byron Birdsall: Part III
Artist Statement: “The artists I respect have one motto… DO. That’s how the good works emerge. It’s a weakness to wait for the Muse to speak. To be an artist, you have to be doing, all the time.”
Below – “Mt. Rainier as Seen from Bambara in 1834 (after Hiroshige)”; “Dogwood Shadows”; “A Golden Delight”; “Brightness falls from the air…”; “And soon came upon a pond near which a herd of cows was grazing. (After Ivan Bilibin)”; “Mount Rainier as seen from the Back of a Wave on the Open Sea off Kanagawa”; “Rima of Rainier.”