Deep thunder shakes this warm July evening
and lightning flashes over the waterfront
filling the clear, starry sky with acrid clouds and glimmering rain
falling to the water as children gaze
in shock and awe,
waiting for the next big one to explode.
False bombardment as celebration:
such fits my nation, founded in genocide and slavery,
this nation baptized in the blood and tears
of Navaho and Cherokee and all the tribes of the American holocaust
a nation that devoured one quarter of its sons
in four short, blood-soaked years; my nation,
a nation of efficient bigots and hungry hypocrites,
giving the world Gettysburg and the Trail of Tears
as models for problem-solving;
a nation unlike any other, not able to live up to its promises
because no other nation dares make such promises.
The bright violence of rockets’ red glare lights our sky
like the bold Declaration ignited the world, and thunder
rocked mighty kings from complacent belief in their divine rights,
rocked the people of Europe, thirsting for their own rights
and land and a chance to pursue a little happiness;
yes, rocked even distant Asia, deep in its ancient dream
foolish men joyfully following the distant thunder
to seek the fabled Golden Mountain.
The promise was made and broken and made yet again,
and the anger of betrayal torched the cities of the sixties,
and singed our hearts
and in the redeeming pain of change
made them a little less impure.
Yes, we are imperfect,
but we know our sins
and pay for them over and over again,
and to remind ourselves of the debt yet unsatisfied,
every summer we celebrate in the only way fitting for such a nation;
In the starry sky fiercely glowing with liberty
and in the transcendent thunder
of the Promise.
(4 July 2011)