borrowed words.

July 4, 2019
a new national anthem by ada limon | reading my tea leaves

The truth is, I’ve never cared for the National
Anthem. If you think about it, it’s not a good
song. Too high for most of us with “the rockets’
red glare” and then there are the bombs.
(Always, always there is war and bombs.)
Once, I sang it at homecoming and threw
even the tenacious high school band off key.
But the song didn’t mean anything, just a call
to the field, something to get through before
the pummeling of youth. And what of the stanzas
we never sing, the third that mentions “no refuge
could save the hireling and the slave”? Perhaps
the truth is that every song of this country
has an unsung third stanza, something brutal
snaking underneath us as we blindly sing
the high notes with a beer sloshing in the stands
hoping our team wins. Don’t get me wrong, I do
like the flag, how it undulates in the wind
like water, elemental, and best when it’s humbled,
brought to its knees, clung to by someone who
has lost everything, when it’s not a weapon,
when it flickers, when it folds up so perfectly
you can keep it until it’s needed, until you can
love it again, until the song in your mouth feels
like sustenance…

An excerpt from Ada Limón’s poem, “A New National Anthem” from her book The Carrying.

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18 Comments

  • Reply Judith Henry July 4, 2019 at 7:32 am

    Exquisite. Thank you for introducing me to Ada Limón’s work.

    1
  • Reply Nina July 4, 2019 at 8:32 am

    Reminds me of a line in a musical that my school music teacher wrote about the British East India Company – referring to a song that’s not quite, but almost, our national anthem (‘Rule, Britannia!’): “‘Britons shall never be slaves’ they said/No, we’ll just make them instead”. And I recently read the words to the French national anthem, which are really brutal. So it’s not just yours that’s problematic!

    1
    • Reply ERIN BOYLE July 4, 2019 at 8:48 am

      No doubt!

  • Reply Elaine July 4, 2019 at 9:50 am

    perfect. thank you.

    1
  • Reply Debra July 4, 2019 at 10:26 am

    This is so beautiful. Thanks so much for sharing.

    1
  • Reply Nicole July 4, 2019 at 3:02 pm

    Love Ada Limon’s work…especially The Carrying.

    1
  • Reply Shannon July 4, 2019 at 5:47 pm

    Love Ada. I found this one by Sofia Elhillo similarly moving today: http://www.smartishpace.com/issues/issue_24/self-portrait_with_no_flag/

    1
  • Reply Trixie Katz July 5, 2019 at 11:00 am

    Honestly, I have had it with the social justice warrior bashing of our country. I am not a “my country, right or wrong” patriot – our country has made mistakes. We are human, and we (hopefully) learn from our past. But, having lived in countries that were so horrible that I literally prayed that I would get out alive, I love this country, my country. I have ancestors who fought and died (at shockingly young ages) so that you could bash and mock their sacrifices. You do not miss what you have until it is gone – remember this as you stand by and watch it all go down in flames. Remember what that flag stands for – it stands for my cousin, dead at 20 in an air crash training to go and fight the Nazis. It stands for my father, an Army Ranger who, with help from incredibly brave Filipinos, helped liberate his comrades at Cabanatuan. It stands for untold other men and women, known and unknown, who SACRIFICED – a word you know nothing of. Honor this land and honor those – of whatever color, religion, economic status, whatever – and grow up. It is so criminally easy to repudiate what others have done – and it is shameful to do so. Go stand in Arlington National Cemetery and reflect on true patriotism. I suspect many of those lying there had their doubts and fears, but they did their duty and they did with honor (another word you seem to know nothing about), and we, the recipients of their valor, now despise them. Shame of all of those who do this. Grow up.

    21
    • Reply ERIN BOYLE July 5, 2019 at 11:25 am

      What a painful and disappointing reminder that patriotism is seen as being at odds with critical thinking. And that critical thinking is seen as being disrespectful of the lives that have been sacrificed for this country. It’s precisely because of this sacrifice that I’m so hopeful that as a country we can do better. It’s because of the young people who have died in service of this country to protect democracy and freedom that I hope against hope that we can do more to uphold those values we claim to hold so dear.

      31
      • Reply Lm July 5, 2019 at 11:59 pm

        What is disappointing and painful is that a bright and talented young woman like you, does not recognize the truth when it is set before her.

        2
        • Reply ERIN BOYLE July 6, 2019 at 6:58 am

          What truth is that?

      • Reply Bliss July 10, 2019 at 1:05 pm

        I agree with you, Erin: critical thinking and patriotism are not mutually exclusive. In fact, it is the strength of my love for our country that propels me to reckon with the occasions where we, as a nation, have failed to live up to the promises laid forth in the Declaration of Independence and Constitution. Furthermore, it is my love of this country that stirs me to work for a better future for this nation and its people. For me, being able to honestly assess our nation’s past, the triumphs AND the tribulations, is a sign of maturity and strength. Be well.

    • Reply Sam July 5, 2019 at 11:39 am

      Honestly, I have had it with the literal caging of children on our Southern Border – my country doesn’t deserve celebration until it redirects my extensive federal taxes towards medical care, safe housing, and legal representation for these refugees instead of wasteful, offensive military parades. How disrespectful to the memory of your young cousin’s sacrifice to be operating actual concentration camps within our borders in 2019. (As my Japanese-American friends remind me, we were also doing it in WW2, for what that’s worth.) For me, true patriotism and the best way to honor our veterans and active military members is exercising my first amendment right as well as my right to vote to protest these atrocities. Dissent is patriotic, blind patriotism is not.

      31
    • Reply Kellyn July 8, 2019 at 10:09 pm

      I was startled to see this comment had 20 likes/hearts – then realized that you can like/heart something multiple times.

      And Sam says it perfectly, “How disrespectful to the memory of your young cousin’s sacrifice to be operating actual concentration camps within our borders in 2019. (As my Japanese-American friends remind me, we were also doing it in WW2, for what that’s worth.)”

      • Reply ERIN BOYLE July 9, 2019 at 9:27 am

        Agreed!

  • Reply Wednesday July 7, 2019 at 9:29 pm

    Hi Erin
    On a completely unrelated subject: Do you still have your allbirds sneakers? I’m interested to know–are they wide enough in the toebox to spread toes, and do they last/wear ok? Thanks

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE July 8, 2019 at 9:36 am

      I don’t have them anymore! After three years of regular wear, they met their end, but I’d recommend! I’m sure the question of width has to do with specifics of foot width, but I found them to be comfy and roomy.

  • Reply Angy July 8, 2019 at 12:58 am

    ““It is both a dignity and / a difficulty / to live between these / names, / perceiving politics / in the syntax of / the state. / And at the end of the day, / the reality is / that whether we / change / or whether we stay / the same / these questions will / remain. / Who are we / to be / with one / another? / and / How are we / to be / with one / another? / and / What to do / with all those memories / of all of those funerals? / and / What about those present / whose past was blasted / far beyond their / future? / I wake. / You wake. / She wakes. / He wakes. / They wake. / We Wake / and take / this troubled beauty forward.”

    The Northern of Ireland
    Pádraig Ó Tuama

    I recently listened to this interview with Pádraig and Krista Tippett on the podcast “On Being”

    It was so beautiful. Here’s a man facing so much political disagreement, religious disagreement, philosophical disagreement, spiritual disagreement- even sexual identity disagreement and yet he still flies the flag for peace and harmony.

    Another one of his quotes from the same podcast:

    “And often, our public discourse, whatever the issue that’s dividing us, it needs a wise framing. It needs careful questioning. And it needs a way within which we can speak about these things, recognizing that words have impact. And often, if people use unwise words, they return to their intention. “Well, I didn’t mean that. I didn’t mean that.” Without paying attention to impact”

    It’s a wonderful thing to be able to agree to disagree. After all what looks like patriotism to some looks like war fare to others. What looks likes dissent to some looks like liberation to others.

    There ARE decisions being made about the lives of people BY PEOPLE who surely would not make the same choices for their loved ones. Trixie – the situation needs to change. Your flag represents your country first and foremost. The choices that your family have made were choices made under a variety of government policies. They may not have had to die if countries were not at war with each other in the first place. They may have lived longer lives if people had taken the time to choose peace and agree to disagree.

    1
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