I was pleased and honored to be invited to write a poem around the theme “Beyond the Voting Booth” for Anythink Libraries Civic Saturday. Writing a poem on this topic was beyond difficult; no one likes a preachy poet. In the end, I kept coming back to Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, so eventually I invited Whitman’s words to thread through my own (less perfect) ones. His words are the italicized lines below. And I decided to add hyperlinks to each of my original lines; these links are meant not as an endorsement or final word on any subject, but are simply some of the links I visited while spending a week trying to get at the question, “what does it mean to be a citizen?”
In my story, I was a white woman asking now what?
This is what you shall do: Love the earth and sun and the animals
What does it mean to be an American?
despise riches, give alms to everyone that asks
Loving our neighbors isn’t one of our founding tenants.
stand up for the stupid and crazy
Here I stayed silent when I should have spoken, here I spoke when I should have shut up.
devote your income and labor to others
My ancestors stole this land.
hate tyrants, argue not concerning God
I say yes to it.
have patience and indulgence toward the people
I let the shame of it sit till it lifts me out of it.
take off your hat to nothing known or unknown
I seek the stories of those different from me and those the same
go freely with powerful uneducated persons
to find that no one is the same as me and no one is different
and with the young, and with the mothers of families
I find out where my orange juice comes from.
re-examine all you have been told in school or church or in any book
I drink the 5-hour empathy.
and dismiss whatever insults your own soul
I remember it was love that made me.
I will accept nothing which all cannot have
And though the earth is burning under my feet,
All truths wait in all things
and the rivers have burst to flame,
every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you
the sunset behind the mountains
is a spool of gold unraveling.
Clear and sweet is my soul,
and clear and sweet is all that is not my soul