A slender, unlikely stalk pokes through the damp soil
slowly winding up its pole, decade by decade
seeds planted long ago by pale men
with a pale notion of justice
nourished and enlivened by time, blighted by fear and envy
pollinated by the persistent buzz of optimistic workers
roots tended by humble worms beneath the earth
seasons of warmth and cold, tender buds appearing
sometimes nipped away by frost
sometimes blooming in sunlight
But spring fades—
petals shrivel and fall, and hope is lost
but then we realize there is something there
beautiful, green, and round, and full
still unripe on the vine, but slowly growing plump
in the summer heat
Land of incarceration, home of the insecure
promissory note still unfulfilled
those in despair, stung too often by hope
it is small comfort, and not enough—I know
but know this—we are not finished
we have not yet arrived
the fruit you long for has not gone sour—
it is still going sweet.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
America has never fully lived up to this ideal. Often to an absurd degree. As a black man in 1852, when Frederick Douglass gave his famous Fourth of July Oration in Rochester, NY he very vividly pointed out how he was excluded from “the rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence,” bequeathed by our forefathers.
And 111 years later in 1963, in his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech, Martin Luther King Jr. said, “When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir…It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note…” He also was unable to fully enjoy the promise of July 4th, 1776.
And now, 56 years later, we still live in a country working through the legacy of white supremacy and sexism—where voter suppression and Gerrymandering are used to entrench political parties—where money equals speech—where we have the highest incarceration rate in the world—where we’ve decided justice is to destroy the lives and communities of immigrants who simply want to partake in that promise.
But there is nothing more American than fighting to be an American, even in the face of hatred and power. It doesn’t happen fast enough, and it isn’t fair, but at least we can look back at people like Douglass and King and see that progress can be made. And even though it doesn’t happen fast enough, and it isn’t fair, I do believe we’re going to keep bringing more people inside that inheritance. That’s what makes the Fourth of July a holiday worth celebrating.
“it is still going sweet.”
Most Heavy-handed Line:
“Land of incarceration, home of the insecure”