(Flag Ceremony - '98 (watercolor, colored pencil)
The American Revolution and the founding of America have always held a place in my imagination. As a concept, it's undeniably attractive. As a citizen, it's often frustrating knowing that we have yet to live up to the ideals set forth in that time. I briefly mention this frustration in Pure Sunshine as the main character passes by Independence Hall. But a lot of poets have expressed their feelings about the American experiment over the two hundred plus years of the empire in great detail. Two have always stood out for me, expressing the spirit for better and worse.
I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear...
-Walt Whitman 
Under the bluffs of Oroville, blue cloud September skies, entering U.S. border, red red apples bend their tree boughs propt with sticks.
- Allen Ginsberg from The Fall of America 
Written almost exactly 100 years apart, I think these two poems combined capture the way I've always felt about America. Whitman's poem captures the sense of hope and possibility for what America can be. Ginsberg's poems bring out the harsh reality of a dream corrupted and controlled and the heartbreak of those of us who still believe in possibility.
For the last several years, I've been collecting scraps and bits of verse or ideas, sticking them in a folder marked America (Again). One of these days, I plan on writing my own epic poem about this strange land. Until then, I will share one scrap, written possibly two years ago with the title Independent Nation scribbled atop with a drawing of a boy saluting nothing in particular:
Dead leaves are my citizens.
Dandelions that I let breed
are as well.
My piece of the mountain bought and paid for,
I even own the clouds when they pass overhead,
And all the way down to the road
that runs alongside.
I am its little lord
and I do my best to govern without any laws.
The woodchuck, the woodpecker, the hungry rabbits, bees and birds,
They're all here.
They all seem to notice.
The deer leave halo footprints to let me know.
When I stand still and face the wind crawling quickly from the west,
It almost feels like I understand,
for a brief moment,
what 'America' was supposed to have meant.
-brian james 2008