AP History: A poem about immigration. And #victorygardens.

Usually I write about gardens, food systems, and the like. If you read my work, or follow me on social media, you also know that I think gardens and food are patriotic. And political: our forks express our political beliefs. I nearly always write about history, because that is the primary discipline (and passion) that serves as the foundation for the rest of my work. You may have read my book, my blog and various thinIMG_4286gs I post on Twitter. Or on Facebook. I also write poetry. Not well, but with great feeling, ever since I was a little child. Notebooks full. A heartfelt “thank you” to great teachers like Leticia Kelly, Judy Ryder Leer Paleologos and Sue Marshall for encouraging this.

Given the furor about the President’s Executive Order this week, I thought I’d share this with you. It’s a poem I wrote a couple of years ago for a dear colleague who became an American citizen. And the immigration and garden history thing: there’s a link. Because the Liberty/Victory Garden programs of World War I were also about creating common purpose among a highly diverse American population…close to one in five being immigrants at the time.

We can learn from that, can’t we?


AP History

a really long poem by Rose Hayden-Smith aka @victorygrower

Each July 4th we celebrate our Declaration of Independence
With fireworks and BBQ and parades.
(We seldom note that the Declaration was read in both English and German).

We forget that grand gesture was only the beginning of a process:
A long and bruising war with an imperial force,
Years of negotiation to create a constitution
That was simultaneously a new and holy thing and also a sinfully flawed thing.

My daughter and I study U.S. history.
Together, we measure progress. We measure failure. We measure possibility.

Her conclusions:
America is complex.
It takes generations or centuries or eternities to live into an ideal like this.
We are imperfect. There are crises of conscience:
shameful acts, injustices. oppression for some, glorious histories told by others,
competing visions of who we are and what we should be
(the nation that survived a civil war seemingly always on the verge of another).

We are a nation of incongruities: the best things, the worst things, the so-so things.
We share history, but we do not always share understanding.
We are conflicted, we are half-measured, we are skeptical, we are jaded.

But one day I stand with my daughter looking across the water at The Lady of the Harbor.

And we feel something palpable, something larger rising in ourselves
we clasp hands and a spirit moves through us, our fingers electric
and there is wonder in her voice and there are tears on my face.
We are shaken for we can feel the possibility of that vision and that ideal
and the call to our better selves
We can hear the voices of our immigrant ancestors
and we can see the streams of nationalities, religions, the individual/collective
            aspirations and lives that lead into a mighty and chaotic river
of clamoring voices and ideas and needs and her/histories,
a mighty and chaotic river that might lead us to a better nation.

We feel this. It is real.

We fail. We fall. We are flawed, imperfect, sometimes broken, but still…
Still…there is something about it all that calls out to us,
That calls the hopeful and aspirational to our borders and our shores.

And when we call them into the life of our nation, when we embrace them as our own,
It is July 4th (again).


“A garden for every one. Everyone in a garden.”