I don’t feel like a very patriotic person these days. I’m not proud of America—neither now nor of our past. I don’t really understand what American culture is and, when I do, it makes me sad and angry to think that foreigners associate Americans with loud, pushy, short-sentenced, nouveau riche, white men.
At a Gillian Welch concert the other week, it struck me that really the only thing that makes me “proud to be an American” is American music: blues, bluegrass, jazz, Americana, rock and roll. And maybe our land? Though it’s not like it we didn’t steal much of that, too.
I once asked my grandfather, who immigrated to the US from Switzerland in the late 1950s, about the 2016 US presidential election. “It seems to me like Switzerland doesn’t undergo this kind of existential warping between two extremes all the time, though that may just be because Switzerland is mostly white, Christian, Swiss people,” I said. “What do you think?”
He patiently explained to me, “Actually 25% of the Swiss population is foreign born, almost twice the US ratio. Switzerland has the right of initiative and of referendum so that the people can challenge new laws or even propose their own.” He added, “America has definitely changed for the worse and we cannot rest until this trend is repudiated or we will be in danger of authoritarian government.”
Well, here we are. Indigenous Peoples Day 2018 and Brett Kavanaugh newly elected to the Supreme Court. More video footage of loud, pushy, short-sentenced, white men broadcasting worldwide from America.
Last year, the poet Claudia Rankine came to Denver both to speak to the general public and to work with the mayor, Michael Hancock, and local law enforcement on social justice issues regarding racism and equality. My roommate Emily and I drove down to Denver to hear her speak with the mayor.
Rankine answered several audience members’ questions—submitted ahead of her talk—and specifically addressed the general feeling of exhaustion, overwhelmed-ness, and apathy many people expressed after the 2016 election. “Who says it’s over?” she asked us. “Who says it’s over?” she demanded.
Several weeks later, I wrote this poem. It feels like one of the most patriotic things I’ve done, and it seems even more timely now.
“Who Says It’s Over?”
After Claudia Rankine
I am paying attention to your pain, America.
It is long & dark, a road cleft through desert
center & slipping toward canyon, toward cracked
tectonic depths. We are all mired
in her fracture, her history that keeps happening
& happening in layers laid bare at the slow
slicing of water that follows water
through sandstone. Our inherited skin,
our inherited strata of shame. America:
Every now is our bright new birth.
This new layer just as rough as all. Sisters,
brothers: this coarse shining never over.