Sunday, July 4, 2010

Happy Independence?

Happy Independence from America!
Today I celebrate my independence from the ugliness
of America’s past
declare my disconnection from its rigid spirit,
my independence from its caustic politics,
and claim my ancestry among those who reveled in the woods,
the mountains,
the lakes,
the stones,
the trees
of this magnificent continent.
I am an American.
Among the Chippewa, the Sioux, the Lakota . . . the Micks
from Ireland.
We are of them.
We honor what they honor,
and so,
we are Americans.


  1. This piece by Richard Eskow speaks to this for me:

    i thought they were
    wind chimes
    in the streets at night

    They say they love our country, but you cannot love the nation if you don't love the land. If you desecrate the ground we walk upon you don't love the land. If you pursue your own interests and ignore the fate of the planet, you don't love the land. If you allow those who walked these lands before us to remain in poverty, you don't love the land.

    with my young eyes
    i looked to the east
    and the distant ringing
    of ghost ponies
    rose from the ground

    I have quoted from d. a. levy's poem "the bells of the Cherokee ponies" before. levy was a Beat-era poet from Cleveland. He went to San Francisco, the Beat epicenter, but returned to Cleveland. He had a sense of place. He was rooted in the American soil, in the soil under the streets and sidewalks of Cleveland. There he lived and there he died.

    i looked to the east
    seeking buddhas to
    justify those bells
    weeping in the darkness

    Why quote an obscure and long-dead poet on the Fourth of July? Isn't this a time for brass bands and fireworks? Yes, it is. But somewhere in the rockets' red glare, long-dead ponies still run.

    The Underground Horses
    are rising

    Utica NY was a gritty, dirty place to be born. It was so corrupt that Life Magazine named it "Sin City USA" when I was nine years old. We would watch the fireworks from a small park near our house. Railroad tracks ran through the park.

    Utica was in the Mohawk Valley, named for the tribe that once lived there. The Mohawks were not always a peaceful people - blood is in all of our histories - but they were part of the Iroquois Confederacy. The five nations of the confederacy had negotiated peace, developed a common currency, and created a Constitution before they ever came into contact with Europeans. We learned that in school.

    We also learned that they lost their land. Did we ever dream in long-ago Utica that one day we might lose ours?

    Cherokee, Delaware, Huron
    we will return your land to you

    We can still return the land to its rightful owners in a way - by recognizing its value, and by remembering its previous inhabitants. They are our ancestors now, too. We're joined forever by the common covenant of this land.

    the young horses
    will return your land to you
    to purify the land
    with their tears

    Environmental standards have been "relaxed" (what a bucolic word for an act of violation!) all over this country. Our greed and consumption is threatening the very planet we depend on for survival. People are barely beginning to awaken to the urgency of our situation. This is being done by political and business leaders (is there a difference anymore?) who are already buying their retirement homes in Dubai.

    d.a. levy is gone, but the Hopi elders are still here. So are Gary Snyder, Bill McKibben, Al Gore, and thousands of other "environmentalists" who fight for our very survival. So are the spiritual leaders who remind us of the interconnectedness of life. Does that sound New-Agey to you? It won't seventy-five years from now, if you're still around to feel the heat and observe the suffering.

    The Underground Horses
    are rising
    to tell their fathers

    "in the streets at night
    the bells of Cherokee ponies
    are weeping."

    I'm going to a potluck today. There I'll talk with old friends and watch fireworks with my Godchildren. I'm just another American who loves his country and his Constitution. I'll be eating potato chips and watching the rockets with the crowds. But I'll try to remember that I'm standing on American land, native land, the same land our ancestors walked.

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  3. Dear Bonnie,
    A wonderful concurrence of energies . . . the utter paradoxes, ironies, oxymorons of the day threaten to drive mad any who look only to the mundane, ignoring the spritual realms.
    Thank you . . .