America the Beautiful Again

How I sang O, beautiful like a psalm at church
with my mother, her Cuban accent scaling-up
every vowel: O, bee-yoo-tee-ful, yet in perfect
pitch, delicate and tuned to the radiant beams
of stained glass light. How she taught me to fix
my eyes on the crucifix as we sang our thanks
to our savior for this country that saved us—
our voices hymns as passionate as the organ
piping towards the very heavens. How I sang
for spacious skies closer to those skies while
perched on my father’s sun-beat shoulders,
towering above our first Fourth of July parade.
How the timbre through our bodies mingled,
breathing, singing as one with the brass notes
of the marching band playing the only song
he ever learned in English. How I dared sing it
at assembly with my teenage voice cracking
for amber waves of grain that I’d never seen,
nor the purple mountain majesties—but could
imagine them in each verse rising from my gut,
every exclamation of praise I belted out until
my throat hurt: America! and again America!
How I began to read Nietzsche and doubt god,
yet still wished for god to shed His grace on
thee, and crown thy good with brotherhood. 

How I still want to sing despite all the truth
of our wars and our gunshots ringing louder
than our school bells, our politicians smiling
lies at the mic, the deadlock of our divided
voices shouting over each other instead of
singing together. How I want to sing again—
beautiful or not, just to be in harmony—from
sea to shining sea
—with the only country
I know enough to know how to sing for.

How to Love a Country by Richard Blanco. Copyright © 2019 by Richard Blanco. Reprinted by permission of Beacon Press, Boston.

This poem was originally read in the On Being episode “How to Love a Country.”