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A Collection of Poems Reflecting on the Myth of Independence

As we watch the fireworks this and every Fourth of July, we must remember to keep the voices of Indigenous and Black ancestors just as bright.

The following is a collection of poems that gesture towards a future that honors the voices of Indigenous and Black ancestors, and what they fought for, without erasing them.

Hughes’s poem “I, too” although written in 1925, challenges the ongoing racism that many experience to this day in America. He calls for equality for every American and exposes the hypocrisy of the unfulfilled promise of independence.


I, too

by Langston Hughes

I, too, sing America.

I am the darker brother.

They send me to eat in the kitchen

When company comes,

But I laugh,

And eat well,

And grow strong.

Tomorrow,

I’ll be at the table

When company comes.

Nobody’ll dare

Say to me,

“Eat in the kitchen,”

Then.

Besides,

They’ll see how beautiful I am

And be ashamed—

I, too, am America.

Published at the height of the Civil Rights Movement, Brooks represents a rebellious and defiant group. Rebellion, however, is sometimes necessary for fighting for change. And change can come from anyone if we only have the courage to rebel against oppression and prejudice.

We real cool

by Gwendolyn Brooks


The Pool Players.

Seven at the Golden Shovel.

We real cool. We

Left school. We

Lurk late. We

Strike straight. We

Sing sin. We

Thin gin. We

Jazz June. We

Die soon.


In her poem Joy Harjo connects humanity and nature, highlighting that unity is possible in this world. Her cries represent the beauty of a world where we live in equality and harmony.



Ah, Ah

by Joy Harjo

Ah, ah cries the crow arching toward the heavy sky over the marina.

Lands on the crown of the palm tree.

Ah, ah slaps the urgent cove of ocean swimming through the slips.

We carry canoes to the edge of the salt.

Ah, ah groans the crew with the weight, the winds cutting skin.

We claim our seats. Pelicans perch in the draft for fish.

Ah, ah beats our lungs and we are racing into the waves.

Though there are worlds below us and above us, we are straight ahead.

Ah, ah tattoos the engines of your plane against the sky—away from these waters.

Each paddle stroke follows the curve from reach to loss.

Ah, ah calls the sun from a fishing boat with a pale, yellow sail. We fly by

on our return, over the net of eternity thrown out for stars.

Ah, ah scrapes the hull of my soul. Ah, ah.

Allen speaks of a world “where pain is the prime number” but there’s hope for a world where we can all dance together, in a world where oppression and inequality don’t exist. Where we can all know the true meaning of freedom and independence.

Hoop Dance

by Paula Gunn Allen

Itś hard to enter

Circling clockwise and counter

clockwise moving no

regard for time, metrics

irrelevant to this dance

where pain is the prime number

and soft stepping feet

praise water from the skies.

I have seen the face of triumph

the winding line stare down all moves

to desecration: guts not cut from arms,

fingers joined to minds,

together Sky and Water

one dancing one

circle of a thousand turning lines

beyond the march of gears-

out of time, out of

time, out

of time.


More about our Black/African American poets

Langston Hughes: https://poets.org/poet/langston-hughes

Gwendolyn Brooks: https://poets.org/poet/gwendolyn-brooks

More about our Native American/ Indigenous poets

Joy Harjo: https://www.joyharjo.com/

Paula Gunn Allen: https://poets.org/poet/paula-gunn-allen

Sources

"I, Too" The Collected Works of Langston Hughes.

"We Real Cool" Selected Poems by Gwendolyn Brooks.

"Ah, Ah" How We Became Human: New and Selected Poems:1975-2001 by Joy Harjo.

"Hoop Dance" The Sacred Hoop: Recovering the Feminine in American Indian Traditions by Paula Gunn Allen


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