Hymn: A New Poem by Sherman Alexie

    The author’s new poem addresses the hatred currently plaguing the United States.

    Hymn

    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

    For more Sherman Alexie, download his ebooks!

    The Toughest Indian in the World

    By Sherman Alexie

    The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven

    By Sherman Alexie

    The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

    By Sherman Alexie

    sherman alexie poem hymn
    Sherman Alexie
    Photo Credit: Open Road Media

    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.

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    Featured image: Jerry Kiesewetter / Unsplash 

    • Sherman Alexie
    • poetry


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