Marks of Patriotism

9 Jul

I have been wrestling lately with questions of what it means to be patriotic. These three poems have been part of the struggle. I distributed some of these earlier, but the first poem is new.

Becoming America

Let America be America again.

Let it be the dream it used to be.q

—Langston Hughes

America’s always becoming.

America is a becoming,

inhabited by us—all of us—

who are becomings,

always on the move to

becoming something 

different, perhaps greater,

than we are today.

America is not a was,

because its  was

was not good enough.

It did not respect,

did not encourage

everyone’s becoming.

and that’s not

good enough.

The American natives

were becomings, too,

but the future they could

become was blocked,

slaughtered—an entire race,

of becoming, a future that

could happen—by intruders 

who could imagine

no future but their own.

The black man’s becoming 

was twisted to conform

to the white man’s future.

The black becoming 

served well and cheap

the future the whites

were becoming.

Enslaving enabled the future

of one, emasculated 

the future of another.

Women served well, too.

Men’s becoming rested nicely

in the bosom of labors

provided by a more

pliant sex.

Was is a pleasant house

for those who are

anesthetized by

stories of the past,

but intolerable

for those who face


The present is a way station.

a pause on the path l

a foretaste of

America’s becoming.

We are the way station:

America’s becoming 

will pass through us 

on its way to the future.

You can’t teach an old dog

An ode to one-half of America

You can’t teach an old dog

new tricks—

not because the old dog

can’t learn

the dog has no desire

to learn something new

the memory of past 

comforts is so sweet 

it ought not be disturbed

pulsates still, warms the blood

hating old enemies 

and fighting old wars 

is most satisfying

just as gnawing on an old 

bone best excites the taste buds

on the superannuated palate 

the best companions

eschew as well the novel ways

let’s rally them to join in

sailing the waters of nostalgia

They set their sights so low

“My name, my personal brand,

is worth millions, I can’t let it

be cheapened!” 

He spoke earnestly to the interviewer.

They set their sights so low—

When your name’s on a tombstone,

what is its worth?

Fame and celebrity

seem to count for a lot,

even seem to rub off 

on those who touch

the sleeve of fame.

So many arse lickers

(as some would say)—

more than one imagines.

They set their sights so low—

Fame is like

yesterday’s newspaper—

a handy wrapper for today’s trash.

As If

A Prose Poem

Lives of denial carry on—

As if it isn’t of highest priority that our nation work to repair an imperfect union of many cultures and persons.

As if it is naive to believe the paths of power and truth should coincide.

As if it is of no consequence that all people are created equal.

As if it makes no difference that at our best we go forward two steps and backwards one.

As if it is not worthy of rational thinkers to hold that the profoundest law of nature, the basis of all things, is the Reality of Love.

As if it is a trivial question whether we are part of a world that is proceeding toward completion and fulfillment.

As if it is irrelevant that we are created in the image of God.

The engaged life is a wager that As If is a signal of the real world.

 (c) Phil Hefner 7/7/2021

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