06 April 2016

To Be a U.S. Citizen*


By Norman Rockwell


It’s enough to walk the ground
and have someone to run to laughing—
until teachers in school and church and home
explain the yes’s and no’s and rituals of belonging
and I make unconscious choices to conform.

I sing “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” and “O Say Can You See?”
and learn they are of my country, free under the flag I pledge to,
always standing and placing my right hand on my heart.  “O, Mine Eyes
Have Seen the Glory”—but swords and bombs and guns and Fourth of July
fireworks make my soul jump back while friends laugh as if it is fun
to be surrounded by noise worse than thunder.

At 18, we graduate high school, vote and serve in the military. 
We legally use dangerous substances like alcohol and cigarettes. 
We have been driving and paying taxes for two years—holding jobs
and making contributions to home, state and country. 
What is possible?  Marriage and babies or college.

I take classes that unravel childhood indoctrination, and my eyes see 
the gory pictures of Vietnam death and Southern hangings.  I learn “yes” 
is a true citizen’s answer to “O say can you speak?” and find voice to say 
My Country, 'Tis for Thee we want liberty and justice without violence—
'Tis for Thee we sing and insist on the glory of equality, 
on saving mountainsides and lives, on making the promised land 
where freedom rings.   



For my prompt Poets United Midweek Motif ~ Citizenship
(Which opens at 6 am)
and for Day 6 of NaPoWriMo.

*Note:  All April poem-a-day poems are rough drafts awaiting revision.

Copyright © 2016 Susan L. Chast



16 comments:

Sumana Roy said...

"Tis for Thee we want liberty and justice without violence—"...ah..we all want our land to be as simple as this yet the world still bleeds....very thoughtful lines Susan...

thotpurge said...

Classes that unravel childhood indoctrination... yup...so needed especially in today's media directed thinking.

rallentanda said...

Well it seems that a great deal of unravelling of indocrination needs
to take place.In particular with regard to the descendants of the slaves.
Far be it for me to criticise another's country negatively but when a black American stranger communicates to an Aussie of what is happening over there in the hope of my spreading the word....things must be seriously grim (for them!)

Evidently some are attempting to seek asylum in Canada as persecuted people and I do believe one has been successful.This is really a terrible terrible state of affairs.

Old Egg said...

Some of us are proud of our country yet others are proud to made a profit out of us and lead us down paths we didn't want to travel for we are expendable. Sadly we are no longer the heart of the country we were but a commodity to be traded. What an insightful poem this is Susan.

dsnake1 said...

i think that it is this diverseness, this varied mix of race, culture, religion and opinion that made the US great. though she has many flaws, most of the world still look upon her to lead.

Leslie Moon said...

Freedom is a costly and fragile commodity in our present world.

Jae Rose said...

We can only learn the history we are given but we can choose to see the truth and sing for what we believe in - even within the boundaries of where we belong - which is what i sense here..a knowing and also a respect for your citizenship.. i think all children are inevitably indoctrinated in some way..even if they are stranded on a desert island there will eventually be 'rules' - I guess Piggy could tell us that

Sanaa Rizvi said...

This is absolutely magnificent in its glory -

Lots of love,
Sanaa

kaykuala said...

insist on the glory of equality,
on making the promised land
where freedom rings

Equality and freedom so yearned for but so elusive. It is expected to be the cravings of many for a long time to come.

Hank

Sherry Blue Sky said...

Oh. My. Goodness. This is wonderful. It gathers steam and culminates in lines of absolute perfection. Yes, that is the kind of countries we want - everywhere.

Myrna R. said...

Whew! This is powerful Susan, especially that last stanza. I wish it could be read by every American.

Mary said...

Yes, we want liberty and justice without violence! A worthy goal for any country! May freedom ring!

Luk Lei said...

This self-discovery of whitewashed history seems to be a weirdly rite of passage as we grow up and expand beyond the typical American grammar school experience. A strong sense of patriotism combined by a sense of disgust after one learns how we got here. The beauty of being taught to critically think despite being expected to absorb what you are told. This is a great complement to that experiece, Susan.

Magical Mystical Teacher said...

Flaws indeed! But what country isn't flawed?

Therisa's World said...

It's beautiful, as is, Susan. Myself, I have experienced the prejudice that pasts as reality, in North American culture, and daily life, as a trans-person. May this dream be, but a stepping stone, for a greater truth, to emerge, as Dr. King's words become realty, for everyone.

Nicholas V said...

No violence... YES! Citizenship with responsibility and true participation in the democratic process, YES! I find it amazing that so many Americans do not vote in elections. How can they be responsible citizens then?