“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.”