GHAZAL: AMERICA THE BEAUTIFUL
by Alicia Ostriker
Do you remember our earnestness our sincerity
In first grade when we learned to sing America
The Beautiful along with the Star-Spangled Banner
And say the Pledge of Allegiance to America
We put our hands over our first-grade hearts
We felt proud to be part of America
I said One Nation Invisible until corrected
Maybe I was right about America
School days school days dear old Golden Rule days
When we learned how to behave in America
What to wear how to smoke how to despise our parents
Who didn’t understand us or America
Only later understanding the Banner and the Beautiful
Lived on opposite sides of the street in America
Only later discovering this land is two lands
One triumphant bully one hopeful America
Sometimes I still put my hand tenderly on my heart
Somehow or other still carried away by America
Independence Day is a raucous celebration of American history, and the cherished ideals on which our nation was founded. We throw big parties, our hearts swelled with pride. Fireworks and campfires…hot dogs and hand-churned ice cream…and oh my stars and stripes, the patriotic songs we all know and love!
But from where I sit, this 4th of July seems a bit more subdued. Aside from the televised performances, that is. I’m wondering if it’s because some of us are a bit conflicted about what it actually means to be citizens of a country that’s increasingly divided, and isolated. We are a nation born of immigrants, forged in the crucible of diversity, but in this gloriously Imperfect Union, it’s become a real challenge to find common ground.
This, too, shall pass. We are a resourceful people, strong and resilient. I’m a realist, but I truly believe we can rise above our current circumstances and become, once again, that shining City Upon a Hill. It won’t be easy, but we’ve survived dark times before and can do it again.
To that end, I was really glad when my friend Jama Rattigan introduced me to Alicia Striker’s poem, earlier this morning. It reads, for me, like a lamentation and a psalm. Perfect for today, because while it holds up a mirror to some very hard truths, it also celebrates everything that’s great and good about this country of ours. We’re still America the Beautiful, even if we’re somewhat harder to recognize of late.