The Fourth of July makes for the perfect opportunity to spend some time thinking about America and its past, present, and future. The authors of these Fourth of July poems certainly have done just that, and it's evident from reading them that there's a lot to be grateful for and a lot to continue working on in this unique and extraordinary country.
I always had a hard time getting into poetry. I think many people do. What changed that for me was when a friend of mine told me that I just "needed to find my poet." And he was right. Finding the right poet is exactly like finding the right genre of music. Not everyone likes classical and not everyone likes country, but I think it's pretty safe to say that everyone likes music.
The range of poets below varies, and depending on what kind of poetry you gravitate towards, different ones might appeal to you more than others. Some of them glorify America, and some of them provide a harsh critique of it. The one thing that they all do have in common is their ability to make art from feeling, and that's something I hope there's never a shortage of.
1. "I Hear America Singing" by Walt Whitman
I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear, Those of mechanics, each one singing his as it should be blithe and strong, The carpenter singing his as he measures his plank or beam, The mason singing his as he makes ready for work, or leaves off work, The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat, the deckhand singing on the steamboat deck, The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench, the hatter singing as he stands, The wood-cutter’s song, the ploughboy’s on his way in the morning, or at noon intermission or at sundown, The delicious singing of the mother, or of the young wife at work, or of the girl sewing or washing, Each singing what belongs to him or her and to none else, The day what belongs to the day—at night the party of young fellows, robust, friendly, Singing with open mouths their strong melodious songs.
2. "Immigrant Picnic" by Gregory Djanikian
It's the Fourth of July, the flags are painting the town, the plastic forks and knives are laid out like a parade.
And I'm grilling, I've got my apron, I've got potato salad, macaroni, relish, I've got a hat shaped like the state of Pennsylvania.
I ask my father what's his pleasure and he says, "Hot dog, medium rare," and then, "Hamburger, sure, what's the big difference," as if he's really asking.
I put on hamburgers and hot dogs, slice up the sour pickles and Bermudas, uncap the condiments. The paper napkins are fluttering away like lost messages.
"You're running around," my mother says, "like a chicken with its head loose."
"Ma," I say, "you mean cut off, loose and cut off being as far apart as, say, son and daughter."
She gives me a quizzical look as though I've been caught in some impropriety. "I love you and your sister just the same," she says, "Sure," my grandmother pipes in, "you're both our children, so why worry?"
That's not the point I begin telling them, and I'm comparing words to fish now, like the ones in the sea at Port Said, or like birds among the date palms by the Nile, unrepentantly elusive, wild.
"Sonia," my father says to my mother, "what the hell is he talking about?" "He's on a ball," my mother says.
"That's roll!" I say, throwing up my hands, "as in hot dog, hamburger, dinner roll...."
"And what about roll out the barrels?" my mother asks, and my father claps his hands, "Why sure," he says, "let's have some fun," and launches into a polka, twirling my mother around and around like the happiest top,
and my uncle is shaking his head, saying "You could grow nuts listening to us,"
and I'm thinking of pistachios in the Sinai burgeoning without end, pecans in the South, the jumbled flavor of them suddenly in my mouth, wordless, confusing, crowding out everything else.
3. "Learning to Love America" by Shirley Geok-Lin Lim
because it has no pure products
because the Pacific Ocean sweeps along the coastline because the water of the ocean is cold and because land is better than ocean
because I say we rather than they
because I live in California I have eaten fresh artichokes and jacaranda bloom in April and May
because my senses have caught up with my body my breath with the air it swallows my hunger with my mouth
because I walk barefoot in my house
because I have nursed my son at my breast because he is a strong American boy because I have seen his eyes redden when he is asked who he is because he answers I don’t know
because to have a son is to have a country because my son will bury me here because countries are in our blood and we bleed them
because it is late and too late to change my mind because it is time.
4. "Fourth of July Night" by Carl Sandburg
The little boat at anchor in black water sat murmuring to the tall black skyA white sky bomb fizzed on a black line.A rocket hissed its red signature into the west.Now a shower of Chinese fire alphabets,A cry of flower pots broken in flames,A long curve to a purple spray, three violet balloons—Drips of seaweed tangled in gold, shimmering symbols of mixed numbers,Tremulous arrangements of cream gold folds of a bride's wedding gown—A few sky bombs spoke their pieces, then velvet dark.The little boat at anchor in black water sat murmuring to the tall black sky.