An inaugural poem of protest

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.


'Exile and Lightning'

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.
      Robert Pinsky
      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.