Letter to America by Nancy Lord

Letter to America by Nancy Lord

One Poem

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No Retreatings, Friends!

after “Greetings, Friends!” — a The New Yorker year-end tradition

The framework says, in humility:
Union, justice, and tranquility.
The general welfare we promote
With liberty to more than vote.
For twelve score years we’ve heard the bell,
And now’s the time to do the tell.
The rights we have we must protect
To honor those with all respect.
We’ll start with fathers, George and Tom,
Five more who mostly got along.
Amendment one: five freedoms there:
Religion, speech, the press to share,
Rights to assemble and petition.
(Note the absence of rendition.)
Now jump to thirteen, slavery done.
The next two—not easy—finally won.
Civil rights for all men—but wait.
Women did (wait), for the same debate.
Thank the suffragists, or the –gettes:
E. Cady Stanton, no regrets,
Susan B. Anthony, never bought,
And don’t forget Lucretia Mott.
While we’re at it, bow to Sanger,
Margaret that is, for—don’t dang her—
Birth control clinics meant to free
Us all from unplanned pregnancy.
For immigrants to have a place
Jane Adams’ Hull House made the space.
Celebrate these fine folks and more:
Fierce Rosa Parks straight in her seat,
All those protestors on their feet.
Martin Luther King with his dream:
“Righteousness like a mighty stream.”
John Lewis marched and serves in Congress.
An author now, how’s that for progress?
Dorothy Day, lighting tapers;
Daniel Ellsberg, Pentagon Papers;
H. D. Thoreau, disobedience rights;
Berrigan brothers, radical lights.
Stonewall riots were a starter.
Harvey Milk became a martyr.
Billie Jean led sports to equal pay.
Martina, too, was bold and gay.
Jackie Robinson broke the line
On baseball’s color, to define
Excellence in skill and being.
Human rights for all are freeing.
“The only thing we have to fear
Is fear itself”—we hold this dear
Reminder from Franklin D, who
Asked us to go hand in hand to
Be one nation, in a New Deal—
Not business but for all, for real.
Life, liberty, and the pursuit
Of happiness we shall not mute.
Justices nine make up our court:
Brandeis, Warren, but not Bork.
Brown v. Board of Education,
Roe v. Wade in split decision.
Virginia lost to Lovings’ love.
O-ber-ge-fell, the hero of
Marriage equality, with a ring.
Woody Guthrie was moved to sing
“This land is” and called his guitar
A machine to kill—from near or far—
The fascists. “You may be surprised.
The people . . . are getting organized.”
Pete Seeger hammered out a warning.
Billie Holiday wrung out mourning.
Betty Friedan set us thinking.
Gloria Steinem kept us linking.
For our statue with torch held high
Emma Lazarus’s poem does cry
To welcome huddled masses, poor
Refuse who reach the golden door.
These other writers with the muse:
Ralph Ellison and Langston Hughes,
James Baldwin, Maya Angelou,
John Steinbeck on Cannery Row,
Upton Sinclair for food safety,
Rachel Carson–no DDT.
Joe Hill gave us “pie in the sky.”
Mary Harris “Mother” Jones by
Striking mines saved children’s lives.
Jacques Cousteau’s underwater dives
Pioneered ocean protection
As John Muir’s joyful direction
Taught us love of trees and flowers.
Crazy Horse with vision powers
Fought for rights to what was tribes’.
I. F. Stone called out lies and bribes.
Walter Cronkite, “most trusted man,”
Reported news that was news, and
“That’s the way it is,” he wrapped up.
And so we must now lift a cup
To honor these who give us heart
To not give ground or tear apart.
The last word comes from mindful Prez,
Barrack H. Obama, who says
Science and reason matter, friends.
And the top job is citizens.




Nancy LordNancy Lord, from Homer, Alaska, is the author of several books of fiction and environmental nonfiction, including Fishcamp, Beluga Days, and Early Warming. Her cli-fi or science novel, pH, is forthcoming in September. She is a former Alaska writer laureate and teaches both creative writing (for the University of Alaska) and science writing (for Johns Hopkins University.) Her two great (non-human) loves are coastal Alaska and libraries.
View “Glacier: A Video Essay” by Nancy Lord and Irene Owsley, and Holly J. Hughes’s interview with Nancy Lord, both appearing in Terrain.org.

Header photo of Revolutionary War solders by skeeze, courtesy Pixabay.

Terrain.org is the world’s first online journal of place, publishing a rich mix of literature, art, commentary, and design since 1998.