Editor’s Note: Robert Pinsky is an American poet, essayist, literary critic, and translator. From 1997 to 2000, he was poet laureate consultant in poetry to the Library of Congress. This poem was originally read at a Writers Resist event hosted by PEN America at the New York Public Library on January 15, 2017. The views expressed here are his.
You choose your ancestors our
Ancestor Ralph Ellison wrote.
Now, fellow-descendants, we endure a
Moment of charismatic indecency
And sanctimonious greed. Falsehood
Beyond shame. Our Polish Grandfather
Milosz and African American Grandmother Brooks
Endured worse than this.
Fight first, then fiddle she wrote.
Our great-grandmother Emma Lazarus
Wrote that the flame of the lamp of the
Mother of Exiles is “Imprisoned lightning.”
My fellow children of exile
And lightning, the indecency
Constructs its own statuary.
But our uncle Ernesto Cardenal
Says, sabemos que el pueblo
la derribará un día. The people
Will tear it down. Milosz says,
Beautiful and very young, meaning recent,
Are poetry and philo-sophia, meaning science,
Her ally in the service of the good . …
Their enemies, he wrote, have delivered
Themselves to destruction.
“Un dia,” and “very young” – that long
Ancestral view of time:
Inheritors, el pueblo, fellow-exiles:
All the quicker our need to
Fight and make music. As Gwendolyn
Brooks wrote, To civilize a space.