When I was young,
My schoolteacher told me
That America is an idea,
Not a place;
And that anyone who believes hard enough
Is an American—
Regardless of location.
Indians in the Amazonian jungles are Americans,
Bedouins in the Arabian desert are Americans,
European princes are Americans—
If they so identify.
And there are no “true Americans,”
Only different waves of immigrants
To a land that’s
No one’s and everyone’s.
So my teacher taught me.
But now that I’m grown,
I see my country anew.
America is more than
A nice philosophy.
A political statement.
It’ something you can see,
Something you can touch,
Something you can hear.
I see it in the vast expanses of the great plains;
In the jagged peaks of the Rocky Mountains.
I see it in the steel skyscrapers of Manhattan;
In the picturesque steeples of New England churches.
I hear it in the language of Whitman, Frost, Poe, Longfellow;
In the speeches of the great orators—
Webster, Bryan, Lincoln, Roosevelt;
And in the fiery sermons of the Christian revivalists.
I hear America’s soul
In the old-time string bands of Appalachia—
The jovial fiddle, the rustic banjo.
In the jazz orchestra, the Negro spiritual,
The whirling Baptist organ.
In the vibrating sousaphone bassline
Of the colorful Labor Day parade.
I feel America
In the fine sand of Key West,
In the immaculate Utah snow.
In black gold freshly sprung from a Texas oil well,
In the precious ore of a Colorado silver mine.
I find America in a warm morsel of gritz,
A bowl of beef stew, jambalaya, clam chowder.
I think back to my teacher’s words,
That America is anything, anywhere, anyone.
And I can’t help but scoff at the notion.
When my best friend signed up for the marines,
He didn’t go in thinking about fighting for people
In Scandinavia or East Asia—
His mind was on his hometown,
And the wife and kid there waiting for him.
When he came back from his combat tour in a casket,
It wasn’t the Union Jack or the Dannebrog
He was wrapped in,
But Old Glory in all her majesty.
And at his funeral,
No other melody but “Taps”
Could ever have moved me so.
America is more than an intellectual exercise.
It’s our cities, history, language, culture.
America is living, breathing.
More than an idea,
America is a nation
To be adored.
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