America is still not America

Dear President Trump,

The other day I signed up for a “poem-a-day” newsletter. I was looking for Langston Hughes’s poem “Let America Be America Again,” which should be required reading for US citizens on the 4th of July. In looking for the poem I stumbled on the option of having a poem show up in my inbox everyday and since my life has been light on poetry and I’m lazy, I signed up. Before I tell you about today’s inaugural poem I want to note that I think the title of Hughes’s poem ought to be “Let America Be America” without the “Again” since the America he is talking about is like one of my thought experiments — it hasn’t happened; it’s still a distant ideal and as Hughes makes clear in the poem, the America he lived in never was America to him. America is still not America to his grandchildren and thus America is not America to any of us.

Actually this reality of America falling far short of the founding principle that all of us are free to pursue Life, Liberty, and Happiness is reflected in a line of Mary Jo Bang’s poem I want to hold up to you. Her poem is called “In the Street” and the line is “If someone stands next to you, they are there, even when outside the picture.” If someone stands next to you, President Trump, they are there even when the camera is only focused on you. If someone stands next to me but the picture that is snapped only captures me (or them) then the picture is incomplete but it’s the official record of who was there, then. Who is in the pictures and why? We tend to be so drawn to whatever the easy, apparent stimulus is that when we see a picture or think about a situation we forget we are seeing or thinking about only a tiny narrow, edited slice of whatever and whoever was or is happening. There is no way to “solve” this — no picture or mind can represent or hold all things, but America would certainly be more America for us all if we pushed ourselves to remember we are beholding only tiny bits of the whole. America would be more America for us all if we reckoned with our ignorance and bias and said to ourselves and each other, do you want a turn in the frame today? Do you need a turn in the frame? Here, let’s take pictures of all of us and put them all up for us all to see.

May we all be visible and safe.
May we all be happy to see one another.
May we all have healthy egos that are ok with being seen.
May we all make space for each other.

Tracy Simpson

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