0“Give praise with the spider who builds a city out of her toes.”1
We hear you, Reverend Sexton, and we say Amen.
“Praise with an ice cube for it will hold up miniature polar bears for a second.”2
Again we hear you, Mother Anne, and we say Amen.
“I speak the password primeval, I give the sign of democracy, / By God! I will accept nothing which all cannot have their counterpart of on the same terms.”3
And you’re right, Father Whitman. Let your words be our national borders.
“I do not say these things for a dollar or to fill up the time while I wait for a boat.”4
Nor do we.
“Just once the kid with bad eyes hit a home run in an obscure sandlot game. You may ridicule the affectionate way he takes that day through a life drab enough to need it, but please stay the hell away from me.”5
Hell yes, Richard Hugo. Keep preaching to the back rows of empathy. From Seattle to Missoula to everywhere east of the Rockies, we say Hell yes.
“I, too, sing America.”6
And we listen, Minister Langston.
“I, too, am America.”7
As are we, and we say Amen.
0I’ve never liked people like Pastor Robert Jeffress. Yes, the one Trump picked to do the embassy prayer in Jerusalem, as if moving it from Tel Aviv wasn’t going to trigger predictable violence. Yes, the one Mitt Romney typed his huff-and-puff tweet about although it isn’t obvious that Romney’s heaps better. I’m sure they’d both think is blasphemous, think literature isn’t scripture, think the sex lives of these writers, think alcohol, think swear word, but I don’t care. Poets are a congregation also, and some of us say this:
1 From O Ye Tongues, specifically the “Seventh Psalm.”
2 And again, this time from the “Ninth Psalm.”
3 I’d say Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself is like Ecclesiastes and then some, like the Bill of Rights and then some, like hitting the heart-brain jackpot every time you read. This is from the 24th section.
4 And this is from the 47th.
5 During the years that Richard Hugo worked for Boeing, the seats were bigger and the planes flew on time, and for the next two decades, when you looked out the window, you’d see angels, but they looked like herons, or like the women in the factory near my hometown in Washington. Women on the graveyard shift. Refugee women from Viet Nam placing jars of pickles into boxes for America. For the burgers of backyard Texas. For the sandwiches on lunch trays in Kentucky. Which isn’t part of Hugo’s essay “In Defense of Creative-Writing Programs,” but if you read behind the lines of The Triggering Town, it’s there: write well, and remember what matters.
6 It’s hard to believe Langston Hughes’s poem “I, Too” isn’t recited instead of the flag salute.
7 But why did that ever need asserting? And why does it still?
Rob Carney is the author of five books of poems, most recently The Book of Sharks (Black Lawrence Press, July 2018) and 88 Maps (Lost Horse Press, 2015), which was named a finalist for the Washington State Book Award. In 2014 he received the Robinson Jeffers/Tor House Foundation Award for Poetry. His work has appeared in Columbia Journal, Poets Reading the News, and many others, and he writes a regularly featured series called “Old Roads, New Stories” for Terrain: A Journal of the Built + Natural Environments. He writes in Salt Lake City.