My Poem to Introduce that “I’m with His”
The day following midterm elections, 2014,
I walked dejectedly to my familiar coffee shop.
The politics of fear and hatred had once again polled shockingly well.
Suddenly I saw—and I swear this is true—
a car parked right outside Radinas with a bumper sticker that read:
“Proud White American English Speaking Male Born in the USA
Don’t Like It, Leave USA.”
The graphic of his flag had room for only sixteen stars,
Only six red stripes of shed blood,
not a seventh vein.
My daughters are two shining stars.
Are they not welcome?
My wife is an immigrant.
What about her?
(Praise God, at least she is as white as Jesus is.)
What about the Muslims at the mosque on Claflin Ave.?
What about the Mexicans who work for my friend’s roofing company?
I went inside, ordered my usual,
and then resolved right then and there to resurrect an abolitionist broadsheet.
William Lloyd Garrison published The Liberator
weekly without fail
from 1831 until after the Civil War’s conclusion in 1865.
Would that I had been as faithful with The Liberator Today in my two years.
Today is the second anniversary of a birth of an idea.
Today is the day after another election.
I have returned to this coffee shop as if on pilgrimage,
not to a place, but to a commitment.
This morning President-elect Donald J. Trump invited me
to sign on to his vision: Join with him, he said, and we will
Make America Great Again.
No thank you. I choose Hughes.
This morning the Reverend Franklin Graham called me,
as if he thought he were any leader of mine,
to join in on a vision to Make America Whole Again.
I don’t understand your evangelical glossolalia any more, so
No thank you. I choose to Make America Again.
Here today, after almost half of US voters chose Donald Trump,
but, remember, more than half did not. . .
Here today, after “eighty percent of evangelicals” supposedly voted for Trump,
But, remember, not 100 percent. . .
and certainly not 80 percent of Black evangelicals, or Latino evangelicals,or female evangelicals, or Millennial evangelicals,
invisible to electoral strategies,
but not to me
any longer, by God. . .
I’m with His.
Here today I choose his vision of making America.
True, his is no less secular a vision than Trump’s,
though the celebratory death rattle of the Religious Right protests otherwise.
His vision at least has the grace to include the white working class poor,
as if Harlem were a more welcoming place.
Secular or not, I carry the Holy Spirit in my being,
and with Him, the Spirit that is, in Langston Hughes’s lines,
I can envision my spirit running freely
Let America Be America Again
Langston Hughes, 1902 - 1967
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.”
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,
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!