I love Julia Alvarez
I’ve liked her poetry for a long while, but I especially love what she’s done with the AP’s request for an inaugural poem. I’ve written before about my problems with Frost’s poem for Kennedy, and it shouldn’t be a surprise that I wasn’t alone. Alvarez voiced many of the same reservations, though in a far better–and poetic–way than I did. Here’s her poem:
The land was never ours, nor we the land’s:
no, not in Selma, with the hose turned on,
nor in the valley picking the alien vines.
Nor was it ours in Watts, Montgomery–
no matter what the frosty poet said.
We heard the crack of whips, the mothers’ moans
in anthems like an undertow of grief.
The land was never ours but we believed
a King’s dream might some day become a deed
to what we did not own, though it owed us.
(Who had the luxury to withhold himself?)
No gift outright for us, we earned this land
with sorrow’s currency: our hands, our backs,
our Rosas, Martins, Jesses, our Baracks.
Today we give our land what we withheld:
the right at last to call itself one nation.
I’m teaching occasional poetry in my Poetic Forms class in a couple of weeks, and I planned to bring in the inaugural poems anyway. I’m adding this one to the list.
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