Sherman Alexie wrote "Hymn" in 2017, in response to the Charlottesville protests and the death of Heather Hayer. Read more of Sherman Alexie's writing in his books.
Why do we measure people's capacity
To love by how well they love their progeny?
That kind of love is easy. Encoded.
Any lion can be devoted
To its cubs. Any insect, be it prey
Or predator, worships its own DNA.
Like the wolf, elephant, bear, and bees,
We humans are programmed to love what we conceive.
That's why it's so shocking when a neighbor
Drives his car into a pond and slaughter–
Drowns his children. And that's why we curse
The mother who leaves her kids—her hearth—
And never returns. That kind of betrayal
Rattles our souls. That shit is biblical.
So, yes, we should grieve an ocean
When we encounter a caretaker so broken.
But I'm not going to send you a card
For being a decent parent. It ain't that hard
To love somebody who resembles you.
If you want an ode then join the endless queue
Of people who are good to their next of kin—
Who somehow love people with the same chin
And skin and religion and accent and eyes.
So you love your sibling? Big fucking surprise.
But how much do you love the strange and stranger?
Hey, Caveman, do you see only danger
When you peer into the night? Are you afraid
Of the country that exists outside of your cave?
Hey, Caveman, when are you going to evolve?
Are you still baffled by the way the earth revolves
Around the sun and not the other way around?
Are you terrified by the ever-shifting ground?
Hey, Trump, I know you weren't loved enough
By your sandpaper father, who roughed and roughed
And roughed the world. I have some empathy
For the boy you were. But, damn, your incivility,
Your volcanic hostility, your lists
Of enemies, your moral apocalypse—
All of it makes you dumb and dangerous.
You are the Antichrist we need to antitrust.
Or maybe you're only a minor league
Dictator—temporary, small, and weak.
You've wounded our country. It might heal.
And yet, I think of what you've revealed
About the millions and millions of people
Who worship beneath your tarnished steeple.
Those folks admire your lack of compassion.
They think it's honest and wonderfully old-fashioned.
They call you traditional and Christian.
LOL! You've given them permission
To be callous. They have been rewarded
For being heavily armed and heavily guarded.
You've convinced them that their deadly sins
(Envy, wrath, greed) have transformed into wins.
Of course, I'm also fragile and finite and flawed.
I have yet to fully atone for the pain I've caused.
I'm an atheist who believes in grace if not in God.
I'm a humanist who thinks that we’re all not
Humane enough. I think of someone who loves me—
A friend I love back—and how he didn't believe
How much I grieved the death of Prince and his paisley.
My friend doubted that anyone could grieve so deeply
The death of any stranger, especially a star.
"It doesn't feel real," he said. If I could play guitar
And sing, I would have turned purple and roared
One hundred Prince songs—every lick and chord—
But I think my friend would have still doubted me.
And now, in the context of this poem, I can see
That my friend’s love was the kind that only burns
In expectation of a fire in return.
He’s no longer my friend. I mourn that loss.
But, in the Trump aftermath, I've measured the costs
And benefits of loving those who don't love
Strangers. After all, I'm often the odd one—
The strangest stranger—in any field or room.
"He was weird" will be carved into my tomb.
But it’s wrong to measure my family and friends
By where their love for me begins or ends.
It’s too easy to keep a domestic score.
This world demands more love than that. More.
So let me ask demanding questions: Will you be
Eyes for the blind? Will you become the feet
For the wounded? Will you protect the poor?
Will you welcome the lost to your shore?
Will you battle the blood-thieves
And rescue the powerless from their teeth?
Who will you be? Who will I become
As we gather in this terrible kingdom?
My friends, I'm not quite sure what I should do.
I'm as angry and afraid and disillusioned as you.
But I do know this: I will resist hate. I will resist.
I will stand and sing my love. I will use my fist
To drum and drum my love. I will write and read poems
That offer the warmth and shelter of any good home.
I will sing for people who might not sing for me.
I will sing for people who are not my family.
I will sing honor songs for the unfamilar and new.
I will visit a different church and pray in a different pew.
I will silently sit and carefully listen to new stories
About other people’s tragedies and glories.
I will not assume my pain and joy are better.
I will not claim my people invented gravity or weather.
And, oh, I know I will still feel my rage and rage and rage
But I won’t act like I’m the only person onstage.
I am one more citizen marching against hatred.
Alone, we are defenseless. Collected, we are sacred.
We will march by the millions. We will tremble and grieve.
We will praise and weep and laugh. We will believe.
We will be courageous with our love. We will risk danger
As we sing and sing and sing to welcome strangers.
©2017, Sherman Alexie
Related: Autopsy, a Poem by Sherman Alexie
For more Sherman Alexie, download his ebooks.
Author Sherman Alexie is the winner of the 2010 PEN/Faulkner Award, the 2007 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, the 2001 PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in the Short Story, and a Special Citation for the 1994 PEN/Hemingway Award for Best First Fiction. Smoke Signals, the film he wrote and coproduced, won both the Audience Award and the Filmmakers Trophy at the 1998 Sundance Film Festival. Alexie lives with his family in Seattle.
Featured image: Jerry Kiesewetter / Unsplash