This country’s fathers’ paramount desire
was this – pursuit, unlimited, of wealth.
But Jefferson, whose land and slaves were surely
wealth enough, wrote “happiness” instead –
and not because he’d had his fill, but since
he thought the previous word might cause offence
to those who held to Christian norms in speech,
while doing all they could to be as rich
as one, whom Jesus once had pictured as
a camel, seeking passage through the eye
of a needle. But heaven never was their goal.
A paradise on earth was what they sought,
the reason why they sailed from England’s shores,
with dreams of land aplenty, land that could
be cleared of forests, sown with seed, from which
would spring the harvests, first of food but then
the ones of cash – for landlords, they would be...
And when this dream was challenged by the king,
the landlord over all, who sought his share,
the share he was accustomed to, that fed
the hierarchy of brigands that he headed,
the new lords in the colonies rebelled,
and sent the rabble forth against the king.
And if my tale be slanted to your eye,
Then to your questions I will give reply,
“The truth, of what had happened in the past,
is lost to us. The facts, we may surmise
at times, from what the ones, then living, wrote.
The motivations are unclear at best,
and much of truth has long been put to rest.
“So those, who won, may write of it one way,
while those, defeated, write another tale,
and few are they, dispassionate, who watch
and then have means to let us know their views.
“So you can read, of seventeen-seventy-six,
in local books, from writers of this land
or those from England or from France and see
that each, who saw what happened, be it here,
or from afar, had painted pictures quite
dissimilar – and prejudiced by minds
inclined to one or other creed – and that
the class, to which the writer had belonged,
had played a part in what that writer saw.”
But struggles did not cease with ’76.
Indeed, they then began in earnest and
we see this country racked, like others were,
by endless strife and slaughters with no end.
But I will overpass two centuries
and focus for a while on present times.
In doing this, the longer view is lost
and all the past obscured, that feeds the now.
So I must beg forgiveness for this sin
and then proceed, to pointing with my pin.
I am an immigrant, like those before
but only landed here upon these shores
a year before the bicentennial, that
of nineteen-seventy-six, when Johnny Cash
regaled the multitude upon the Mall.
‘Twixt Monument and Capitol we stood –
and when the fireworks at the end were done,
we sought the port-a-potties – and I climbed
upon the bus, the way I’d learned to do,
in Dilli, through the window; then, to home –
or what then served for it, a basement flat,
from which I’d walk a mile or so to school,
and back and forth again and back each day,
four trips in all. But we were younger then
and ignorant – and work was near to play.
And some of us were earnest, then as now,
while others then were learning of the game
and playing it, as presently, sans shame.
And what’s that game? Why, simply, it is this –
to focus on oneself, on loss and gain,
to play to win, to bow to those above
and work the ones below, to serve with lip
whatever is the norm that holds in speech,
as did our Jefferson, while holding fast
to that which counts – for self – and acting so
that wealth, which here is happiness, is more.
So is it not the same in every land?
It may be so. But rarely is this raised,
as here it has been, to a moral code.
But then, I may again be more than wrong…
For I would have to live in far Shanghai,
in London, Zurich and Mumbai,
to sit in offices in Tokyo,
in towers high in Hong Kong and Dubai…
And some, who read this, some of this have done,
so they can judge my verses on the run,
and if they criticize, comment, suggest,
I will be grateful for their interest,
while wishing still that others too could write,
who’ve lived their lives in Cairo, Budapest
or Timbuktu – or far from city lights,
in fields where sun rules day – and stars, the nights.
And to our Jefferson (and I say "our",
while humbly conscious of the arrogance
that this might seem to be reflecting), I
should offer my apologies. I judge
him from a distance great and so I pick
at faults he might or might not have possessed.
So those of stature may be picked upon
by midgets, who may nibble at their toes,
and turn their virtues into vice and say,
"Where most say 'Yes.', we relish saying 'Nay!' "
To all descendants of that man (of all
the races that we seek to superpose
on this our species), I will turn – and say,
"The great have faults – perhaps those made them great.
The lesser then must bear what greater did,
for better or for worse – or seek, in turn,
to change, however slightly, current's course.
And this, some do by action – some, discourse."