Election Day is next Tuesday, November 6, and today’s Thoughtful Thursday is dedicated to poems about Election Day. We start with “Old South Meeting House” from January Gill O’Neil, continue with “Rally” from Elizabeth Alexander, (who as you will recall recited a poem at President Barack Obama’s first Presidential Inauguration), and end with the classic “Let America be America Again” by Langston Hughes. Read these poems with your children, talk about the importance of Election Day, and DON’T FORGET TO VOTE on Tuesday. Take your kids into the booth and let them see you exercise this critical right. Enjoy.
Old South Meeting House
We draw breath from brick
step on stones, weather-worn,
cobbled and carved
with the story of this church,
this meeting house,
where Ben Franklin was baptized
and Phillis Wheatley prayed—a mouth-house
where colonists gathered
to plot against the crown.
This structure, with elegant curves
and round-topped windows, was the heart
of Boston, the body of the people,
survived occupation for preservation,
Let us gather in the box pews
once numbered and rented
by generations of families
held together like ribs
in the body politic. Let us gaze upon
the upper galleries to the free seats
where the poor and the town slaves
listened and waited and pondered
Let us testify to the plight
of the well-meaning at the pulpit
with its sounding board high above,
congregations raising heads and hands to the sky.
We, the people—the tourists
and townies—one nation under
this vaulted roof, exalted voices
speaking poetry out loud,
in praise and dissent.
We draw breath from brick. Ignite the fire in us.
Speak to us:
the language is hope.
January Gill O’Neil
(Miami, October 2008)
The awesome weight of the world had not yet descended
upon his athlete’s shoulders. I saw someone light but not feathered
job up to the rickety stage like a jock off the court
played my game did my best
and the silent crowd listened and dreamed.
The children sat high on their parents’ shoulders.
Then the crowd made noise that gathered and grew
until it was loud and was loud as the sea.
What it meant or would mean was not yet fixed
nor could be, though human beings ever tilt toward we.
Let America Be America Again
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!