We Gave Ourselves Outright

Fourth Of July

The Gift Outright

 
by Robert Frost
 
 
The land was ours before we were the land’s.
She was our land more than a hundred years
Before we were her people. She was ours
In Massachusetts, in Virginia,
But we were England’s, still colonials,
Possessing what we still were unpossessed by,
Possessed by what we now no more possessed.
Something we were withholding made us weak
Until we found out that it was ourselves
We were withholding from our land of living,
And forthwith found salvation in surrender.
Such as we were we gave ourselves outright
(The deed of gift was many deeds of war)
To the land vaguely realizing westward,
But still unstoried, artless, unenhanced,
Such as she was, such as she would become
 

When I was a child my Mother hung the stars and strips flag outside our front door each fourth of July.   She did it on Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day as well.  It was a gesture to honor her Father, who served in both World War I and World War II.  She was genuinely patriotic.  It was a high quality flag, with a good wooden pole and gold knob at the end.  It was stored in our front coat closet and sometimes when we played hide and seek when I was little I would hide in that closet in the dark corner and unfurl a bit of the flag and cloak myself behind it.  It was a winning strategy.  

Hiding behind the flag has been a winning strategy for politicians forever.   An inflated sense of patriotism seems to be a requirement to become a politician.   It feels harder to for me to be patriotic these days.  Yesterday NPR read the entire Declaration of Independence.  The opening is beautiful and poetic.   It gets tougher to listen to as it rolls into the myriad of grievances it spells out and the pomposity of white men declaring everything their sovereign right to ownership, ignoring the in inalienable rights of women, Native Americans and slaves. I am surprised there has not been a larger movement to redress the language of the Declaration of Independence to eliminate the blatant racism that exists within the document.   NPR did a good job of both reading it as written and unpacking the parts that should be questioned and condemned, specifically clause 27; 

“He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.”

To all who believe racism is not structurally still present in our systems of government, we need look no further than our most important documents.  Why do we continue to allow language to exist that is offensive, simply because its historical?  This is  not just a federal issue, the same problems exist at the state level.  As late as February 2020, Minnesota’s state constitution still had a reference to slavery.  Although slavery was illegal from Minnesota’s founding in 1857, it contained a clause that slavery was a justifiable form of punishment for crimes unspecified, leaving plenty of room for interpretation; “There shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude in the state otherwise than as punishment for a crime of which the party has been convicted.”

Apparently slavery is illegal, unless you deserve it, according to my state’s constitution.  Of course that’s ridiculous, but if it’s so ridiculous, why is that language remain, unquestioned for so long?   Removing racist, idiotic, hurtful language, in my mind is not being politically correct, it’s about being politically aligned with how we define our democracy today.  When we allow vestiges of our racist history to remain in our most important government institutions, we give racism a foot hold for justification, a Trojan horse of hate, that continues to wreak havoc on our ability to unify as a nation, with respect for all people.  Let’s read beyond the pretty parts of our government documents, the parts that make our hearts swell with patriotic pride and dig a little deeper.   And then let’s task our politicians with living our collective values and striking down through legislation the racist sentiments that linger still in our government institutions. 


Grandmother’s Land

by William Oandasan

around the house stood an
orchard of plum, apple and pear
a blackwalnut tree, one white pine,
groves of white oak and willow clumps
the home of Jessie was largely redwood

blood, flesh and bone sprouted
inside her womb of redwood
for five generations
the trees now stand unpruned and wild

after relocating so many years before the War
the seeds of Jessie have returned

afternoon sunlight on the field
breezes moving grass and leaves
memories with family names wait
within the earth, the mountains,
the valley, the field, the trees

Published by

A Sonnet Obsession

I am a life-long Minnesotan who resides in Minneapolis. I hope you enjoy my curated selection of sonnets, short poems and nerdy ruminations. I am pleased to offer Fourteenlines as an ad and cookie free poetry resource, to allow the poetry to be presented on its own without distractions. Fourteenlines is a testament to the power of the written word, for anyone wanting a little more poetry in their life.

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