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  • Writer's picture Leslie Lewis (she/her)

America Will Be

April is also National Poetry Month in America.

Here's one from Dartmouth professorof English, Dr. Joshua Bennett, PhD.


After Langston Hughes

I am now at the age where my father calls me brother

when we say goodbye. Take care of yourself, brother,

he whispers a half beat before we hang up the phone,

and it is as if some great bridge has unfolded over the air

between us. He is 68 years old. He was born in the throat

of Jim Crow Alabama, one of ten children, their bodies side

by side in the kitchen each morning like a pair of hands

exalting. Over breakfast, I ask him to tell me the hardest thing

about going to school back then, expecting some history

I have already memorized. Boycotts & attack dogs, firehoses, Bull Connor in his personal tank, candy paint

shining white as a slaver’s ghost. He says: Having to read

the Canterbury Tales. He says: eating lunch alone. Now, I hear

the word America & think first of my father’s loneliness,

the hands holding the pens that stabbed him as he walked

through the hallway, unclenched palms settling

onto a wooden desk, taking notes, trying to pretend

the shame didn’t feel like an inheritance. You say democracy

& I see the men holding documents that sent him off

to war a year later, Motown blaring from a countryboy’s bunker as napalm scarred the sky into jigsaw

patterns, his eyes open wide as the blooming blue

heart of the light bulb in a Crown Heights basement

where he & my mother will dance for the first time, their bodies

swaying like rockets in the impossible dark & yes I know

that this is more than likely not what you mean

when you sing liberty but it is the only kind

I know or can readily claim, the times where those hunted

by history are underground & somehow daring to love

what they cannot hold or fully fathom when the stranger

is not a threat but the promise of a different ending

I woke up this morning and there were men on television

lauding a wall big enough to box out an entire world,

families torn with the stroke of a pen, citizenship

little more than some garment that can be stolen or reduced

to cinder at a tyrant’s whim my father knows this grew up

knowing this witnessed firsthand the firebombs

the Klan multiple messiahs love soaked & shot through

somehow still believes in this grand blood-stained

experiment still votes still prays that his children might

make a life unlike any he has ever seen. He looks

at me like the promise of another cosmos and I never

know what to tell him. All of the books in my head

have made me cynical and distant, but there’s a choir

in him that calls me forward my disbelief built as it is

from the bricks of his belief not in any America

you might see on network news or hear heralded

before a football game but in the quiet

power of Sam Cooke singing that he was born

by a river that remains unnamed that he runs

alongside to this day, some vast and future country,

some nation within a nation, black as candor,

loud as the sound of my father’s

unfettered laughter over cheese eggs & coffee

his eyes shut tight as armories his fists

unclenched as if he were invincible

From Owed, 2018.

What do you think of this beautiful poem?

Let me know in the comments. And as always, thanks for reading this.

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