Letter to America by Charles Jensen

One Poem

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Dear America,

A cento of Adrienne Rich

You’re beginning to float free
Toward a new kind of love
Burning itself, burning down
The blueprint of a life.

I wanted to choose words that even you
Intend to refuse shelter
With a lie. And each
A beautiful tumor
Feeding on everything.

The words are maps
In a room where too much has happened for you to bear—
Not a map of choices but a map of variations,
Our country moving closer to its own truth and dread.
I know already who wants to buy it, sell it, make it disappear—
You’re what the autumn knew would happen
On a grey day of early spring, faint flakes driven.

Now that I watch you,
Your dark scribbled flags
Designed to keep the unwanted
To the wind.

This isn’t a Russian poem, this is not somewhere else but here.
I came to see the damage that was done.
I want you to see this before I leave
And you must look back.

A conversation begins
In the empty street, on the empty beach, in the desert.

Isn’t revolution but a way of knowing
Language cannot do everything.



[Sources: “Dreamwood,” “What Kind of Times Are These,” “Yom Kippur 1984,” “A Valediction Forbidding Mourning,” “Burning Oneself Out,” “Cartographies of Silence,” “Diving Into the Wreck,” “For the Dead,” “From an Atlas of the Difficult World,” “November 1968,” “Prospective Immigrants Please Note,” “Victory,” “For the Record,” “Implosions”]


Charles JensenCharles Jensen is the author of five chapbooks, most recently Breakup/Breakdown, and a full-length collection, The First Risk, which was a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award. He directs the Writers’ Program at UCLA Extension.

Header photo of painted and cracked flag by Natasha Kramskaya, courtesy Shutterstock. Photo of Charles Jensen by Philip Pirolo.


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