The land was land before we were us.
Our regret, freshly cut, clumps in the front yard.
History, memory’s buttonhole, needs a new suit:
Its shoes, scuffed and spit-shined, wait by the door.
We wear ourselves as though it means something,
As if identity’s moustache and glasses were made
To order. We are who we show others we
Should be, at least this is what we told
Ourselves as we dragged our whiteness across
The plains. We are what God wants us to be,
At least, this is what God told us as we dragged
Our blackness along the field. We are what
Our treaties say we are, at least this is what
Our fathers told us as we dragged our redness
Into the forests. As we did that first day,
We walk out onto the yard in our bare feet.
Today, though, we keep the mower in the
Garage. It’s raining and it is going to rain.
Today, we wait for the sun, sky’s
Only coin, to drop itself into the slot
Of America’s phone: we ask who might
Answer when the other millennium
Calls to check in. We reply as we did then:
Look in your window. We are whomever
We are when we answer that phone. We are
What we say into the silence on the other end.
We are, as we always have been, the little chain
That dangles from mercy’s bulb. We are,
As we always will be, the bulb at the end
Of conquest’s wire, at least that’s what
The soldier told us as we touched the switch.
We are what we say we might be. We are
Neither invention nor anodyne. As we
Walk across the yard, we say to ourselves:
We are what God asked us to be,
But we know that’s never been true.
We are who we ask to be us.
(from his book Works and Days, Truman State University Press, 2011)