Letter to America, Poem by Ian Ramsey

Letter to America by Ian Ramsey

One Poem

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Open Letter to America

Dear America,

Up here in the quiet northeastern corner of the country,

             as twilight’s red seeps across low-tide mud flats,

I’m shivering, onshore, stamping cold feet, but

             my sorrow-hollowed legs wobble, seeming to float above the snow,

and I wonder:

                         Have I mistaken the sky for ground?

A loony question, I know, but, hell, these days are topsy-turvy.

I’m wondering if the guys clamming, a hundred yards out,

give a damn about shammed-up politics as they yell and laugh,

mutter and spit, dig clams, bloodworms.


             And their cigarettes:

The votive glow makes me think of other men I’ve known

in towns like Rock Springs, Minot, and Lindytown;

men who sputter and slug old engines to life, fountain sparks,

lay pipe of heroic dimensions; men scurfed with age,

with bar code mustaches, who skid trees and muster bore drills;

far from the coastal-bicycle-coffee-utopia-hipstervilles;

far from the bricked-out-country-club-campuses

where my students study genomic splicing and Uruguayan literature;

far from Stockton’s Little Manila and from Miami’s gayborhoods;

I’m thinking of the thousand-year pueblos,

             of small towns along the Chattahoochee, the Wabash.

And, America, you’re all of that:

a wildassed manifesto of hope

even as you’re thumping with contempt,

             frivoled to bits.


I’m thinking of two weeks ago, America,

when I flew to your other bright sea,

to the Bay Area’s technogloboltopian ubering hubbub,

to gather with 25,000 of your greatest earth scientists.

The conference rooms dense with footnoted predictions

             about Jupiter’s magnosphere,

with oh-so-serious post-docs and their poster tubes,

and a hundred huddles of introverts conversating

about nutrient cycling in the Pacific, aeronomy,

the hydrogeology of Pleistocene megafloods.

But electrifying that small, sprung-up city of science:

a sense of portent, an immense unbound urgency,

a Now-is-the-Time unwhispered ethos of Stand Up and Fight,

             for Borneo forests, for clean energy grants, for climate studies.

Like a thrown deadbolt had thrown open a door,

these thousands of quiet, diligent academics

             –their decades spent fumbling to map eternity’s architecture–

were suddenly talking revolution, were pouring aquifers of intelligence

             into calamity’s cracked sink,

harnessing choreographers to express melting Chukchi ice,

filmmakers to anime the shifting gulfstream,

leveraging the private despair of labwork

             into a chorused cause.

These true children of Galileo and Hutton and Pinchot.

Strong as rocks. Powerful as weather. Unwavering as mountains.


                         And as I stand here, now,

sunset’s red sinking to stars, the tide galloping back in,

a dark gravity helps me find footing, uneven,

on the bristling, common ground I share with the clammers,

the ecohydrologists, Alabama soccer moms, roughnecks, and cosplayers.

The thousand synagogues, PTAs, labor unions, immigrant families,

garden clubs, woodworker guilds

who are digging in, taking a stand, together.


The age and the moment call.




Ian RamseyIan Ramsey lives on the Maine coast, where he serves as the director of the Kauffmann Program for Environmental Writing and Wilderness Exploration at North Yarmouth Academy.  Hi work has appeared in the anthology Maine Voices, and is he is the founder of an environmental writing contest for Maine high school students and a summer environmental writing seminar for high school students. He also directs a community steel drum band and is a founder of a statewide roots music festival for teenagers. A licensed Maine sea kayak guide and ultrarunner, he often leads international and backcountry trips. He holds an MFA from the Rainier Writing Workshop.

Header photo of dove in flight by flosca, courtesy Pixabay.

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