A welcome to readers

As a resident of this planet for more than four fifths of a century, I have enjoyed both successes and disappointments in a wide variety of vocations, avocations, and life experiences. This blog satisfies my desire to share some thoughts and observations--trenchant and prosaic--with those who are searching for diversions which are interesting, poignant and occasionally funny. I also plan to share recommendations about good/great movies I've watched and books and articles which I've found particularly mind-opening, entertaining, instructive. In addition, I can't pass up the opportunity to reflect publicly on how I am experiencing the so-called Golden Years. Write anytime:

Thursday, February 9, 2012


The other day on Colorado Public Radio, I had one of those "driveway moments" they talk about, except mine was an "underground parking garage moment." The occasion was the celebration of Langston Hughes' birthday on Talk of the Nation hosted by Neal Conan. Towards the end of the program, Neal asked one of his guests, Nikki Finney, a National Book Award winning poet from the University of Kentucky, to read one of Hughes' poems.  She chose Let America Be America  Again.

I was unfamiliar with this particular poem although I knew Hughes' work  pretty well from my days teaching American Civilization.  However, these verses spoke to me in a deep and powerful way, so much so that I remained in my car for a while after Finney had finished, the radio had grown silent,  and the moist, musty scent of damp  concrete had seeped into my car.

There in the mostly dark basement of my apartment building, I tried to imagine what Black people have felt ever since they were forcefully brought to America early in our nation's life. I couldn't help the tears welling up when I realized the painful truth of Hughes repeated refrain for himself as as an American Black person: "America never was America to me." How incredibly awful, not to be in any sense "at home" in America or to participate in or share the original dream except as a dream...only a dream, never a reality.

More tragic, of course, as Hughes points out, is that it is not only the Black people for whom America has never been America. Later in the poem he broadens his observations to include the poor farmer, the worker, the people in debt without relief, those who never got ahead because, for whatever reasons, the decks were stacked against them. Lord what a tragedy, and how guilty I feel, that I have been fortunate enough to have dreamed the dream and enjoyed its benefits, but not responsible enough to help improve the condition of those who honestly and sadly have said--and say right now--America must become America to all of us, not just to me.

I join with the Occupiers, temporary and permanent,  who cry out that we must take back our land from those who "live like leeches" on our lives, from those who espouse power, profit, gain and greed--all at the expense of the rest of us--the poor white, the Negro, the Indian', the immigrant, those who are down trodden for any reason.

For me, Hughes' poem trumpets a call to awareness and demands that I take whatever action I can to advance the cause of human freedom and justice, as much as I can--given my own station in life. At the very least I can be kind to others, give support and lend a shoulder to the weary or tearful, stand up and complain when people make racist  remarks, or tell immigrant jokes, or put down the opposite sex, or ignore people who are hurting in their lives. 

We can all do something--at the very least, in an election year, we can avoid  supporting and electing ideologically motivated, greedy and self-serving people to the legislature and White House. 

Let's swear the oath: America will be...and we can make America America again.

Here's the poem. Try reading it aloud--making use of his punctuation. Listen to the sound and feel the feelings. It's a beauty. I dare you not to get teary.

Let America Be America Again
by Langston Hughes

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed--
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There's never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this "homeland of the free.")

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark? 
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery's scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek--
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one's own greed!

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean--
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today--O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.

Yet I'm the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That's made America the land it has become.
O, I'm the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home--
For I'm the one who left dark Ireland's shore,
And Poland's plain, and England's grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa's strand I came
To build a "homeland of the free."

The free?

Who said the free?  Not me?
Surely not me?  The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we've dreamed
And all the songs we've sung
And all the hopes we've held
And all the flags we've hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay--
Except the dream that's almost dead today.

O, let America be America again--
The land that never has been yet--
And yet must be--the land where every man is free.
The land that's mine--the poor man's, Indian's, Negro's, ME--
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose--
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people's lives,
We must take back our land again,

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath--
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain--
All, all the stretch of these great green states--
And make America again!

© 2012, Academy of American Poets. All Rights Reserved.