Honorable Mention: “A Public History” by Max Siewert

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“We would like to honor this poem for its honesty and the power of its message.  It is funny and relatable, but by the end has transcended into something deeper, something that speaks to the true history of our culture.”

~Vol 5, Poetry Board

“A Public History” by Max Siewert


I sit here steeping in the History

Of Our Land, a class, and my eyelids dense.

A teacher, shrill at his pulpit, recites

to the silent rows of desks and students:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident,

that all men are…” my pen drops, my sight blacks

the desk legs tremble and I hear Ocean –

seeking depth in the sands of my inner beach

I can see our true Lady Liberty

kneeling in the dirt. She’s draped in the dull

jade gown which she filched from the Iroquois,

Catawba, Choctaw, and Creek. The Natives

who shared their fish, corn, wisdom, and knowledge

with the savages who would betray them

eventually to steal their hunting grounds,

burn their homes, rape their women and children.



I see why she stoops so low now, and how

her crown pines for the Nature that once was,

Nature that hides now in the oaks who shed

their trunks and rot into divinity.



So deep is my reverie that the scepter

held by Lady Liberty does not shine,

guide, shimmer, or teach, but instead it falls.

Falls in black ashclouds – grime culled from the backs

of Germans, Italians, Chinese, and from

the husband who brought family by ship

to polish the shoes of Christians who called

him yellow. Or the daughter, destitute

and attending men in brothels for coin.

Or the minister told that he knew not

the word of God and would be spurned heaven.

They will never hold the scepter, and so

it falls like stinging sweat from the fissured

palms of Africans, Irishmen, and Jews.

There was the grandmother of eight who stole

what time she could from her master to teach

her son, daughter, and grandchildren how to read.

There, in a gutter, lived the lonely wife

who left home to best famine, and still

had to bury her children in the mud.

And there was the street-sweep who knew the burn

of warm spit on his forehead all too well.



All together they were Americans.

Beckoned by Lady Liberty’s gold staff

to the eastern coast of teeming land where

they first beheld its radiance, as if

only in a dream, then ceded life’s breath

to paint with truth the lungs of Our Land

and the sickly veins of its governance.

I hear the collective voice of lives past:

the dying utterances of the slave,

the immigrant, the first woman to vote,

the soldier, the farmer, the criminal,

and the jailer, and they are one Ocean.

Their waters will cover her feet and lick

her shins until she falls like cornhusk.

And the men, women, and children will come

clad in white to form a circle of one,

one nation and one people gathered here

together to cast a single acorn

into the pit and declare this Their Land.



My eyes open and so too do my ears

to a teacher sleepy at a lectern

spouting a message addressed to none but

me: “…we mutually pledge to each other

Our lives, Our fortunes, Our sacred honor.”


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