Monday, January 20, 2014

this is true and that is true and these things are true, and yet.

i've been writing a lot, just not down.  hoping that as one word, line, thought goes, it will consider coming back when called, when searched for.  it matters less and less, which is satisfying.

still sleeping in spurts, the happiest being of ninety minutes.  i woke early this morning as my earbud played to a snoozy brain and ben harper singing "like a king."

i did not make that up.  it took me almost to the end of the song to piece together what day it was, and why it mattered to wake up to ben harper singing "like a king."

"Like A King" (1993)

Well Martin's dream
Has become Rodney's worst
Can't walk the streets
To them we are fair game
Our lives don't mean a thing

Like a king, like a king, like a king
Rodney King, Rodney King, Rodney King
Like a king, like a king, like a king
How I wish you could help us Dr. King

Make sure it's filmed
Shown on national T.V.
They'll have no mercy
A legal lynch mob
Like the days strung up from the tree
The L.A.P.D.

Like a king, like a king, like a king
Rodney King, Rodney King, Rodney King
Like a king, like a king, like a king
How I wish you could help us Dr. King

So if you catch yourself
Thinking it has changed for the best
You better second guess
Cause Martin's dream
Has become Rodney's worst

Like a king, like a king, like a king
Rodney King, Rodney King, Rodney King
Like a king, like a king, like a king
How I wish you could help us Dr. King

hours later, going through emails, missing the ones i did not get, i stopped for today's offering from the academy of american poets "poem-a-day" electronic gift box.  it was langston hughes' "Let America Be America Again." i did not waste a precious moment wishing some tea party enthusiast would read it, sit with it, be with it for a few minutes.  well, apparently i wasted a fleeting minute or two.  a lovely thing, this poem, an example of a poet's sight and essential fairness. this is true and that is true and these things are true, and yet.

this is true and that is true and these things are true, and yet.

Let America Be America Again
by Langston Hughes

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." 
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, 
O, yes, 
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!

this is true and that is true and these things are true, and yet.

then i wandered a bit, following the "if you liked that, then here, you might like this" coquetterie.  i landed on another poem: "The Day I Saw Barack Obama Reading Derek Walcott's Collected Poems" by yusef komunyakaa.  that was nice, but what was nicer was the next "come hither," an NPR interview with derek walcott on the matter of a president who reads poetry. 

he makes my point quite well, i think. for those of you confused as to what my point might be, this is true and that is true and these things are true, and yet.

from the transcript of that interview, available in its entirely HERE:

Walcott says it's good for people in power to read poetry because human beings are complex and contradictory, and poetry can capture that. Like in Langston Hughes' poem "Theme for English B" when the black student writes to his white teacher, "Sometimes perhaps you don't want to be a part of me. / Nor do I often want to be a part of you. / But we are, that's true!" Or in Walt Whitman's line, "I am large -- I contain multitudes." 
Walcott likes the idea of a president who reads poetry and thinks about this kind of human truth. Someone who can see beyond the act of political posturing. 
"There's a deeper truth in the contradictions that exist in poetry than there is in foreign policy. Foreign policy changes with generations. One generation you're the enemy of Japan, the next you're the friend of Germany and so it's never stable. Who are our enemies and when are they our enemies? You can't deal with those lies, there's a deeper truth in there." 
For Walcott, politics and poetry are a natural pair. He wrote his latest poem for Obama. The title, "Forty Acres," refers to the "forty acres and a mule" offered to slaves after emancipation. That offer was revoked. And the phrase came to represent a broken promise of equality. 
"The way I knew [the poem] was going to perhaps finish itself was finding the rhyme which sometimes happens in a poem, like crowd and plowed. Once that happened, I saw the furrow that the plow had made. Same thing as if say a limousine were going through a crowd it would make a furrow of a kind and the turnover of the dirt would be the separation of people before the president's car, which of course becomes a plow, so the idea of the design of the whole endeavor of the plowing becomes the endeavor of shaping the flag, with all the states, confederate and union together, led by this plowman who is the young president." 
Walcott draws on the history of slavery in his poem for Obama. But, he says Americans shouldn't make a big deal of the fact that they elected their first black president. 
"What is there to celebrate to say that he's black and he's a president. The celebration is a contradiction of the belief. The statement is all men are created equal, but when they become president, you say 'Oh, we've got a black president.' How can they be equal if that's the case?" 
He says they should focus on the kind of person Obama is, and celebrate that their next president is courteous, dignified and he reads poetry.

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