america first


but could we be
in a time once before
America first
saw them off shore on ships

in a time once before
Americans are Americans and
saw them off shore on ships
here to take

Americans are Americans and
see who he is:
here to take
with grasping paws

see who he is:
but could we be,
with grasping paws,
America first?

I was working with a student today to compose a pantoum for her poetry unit in school. She was writing about anti-semitism, I about the current state of affairs. Pantoum hits your like waves, the repetition sneaking up on you, turning the familiar into something shocking and new. That’s how I feel these days in America. It’s all the same, but it’s all shocking and new.

As my student constructed a found poem from quotes by Holocaust survivors, one by Primo Levi stuck out: “Monsters exist, but they are too few in numbers to be truly dangerous. More dangerous are the functionaries… ready to believe and act without questions.”  We’re letting this happen. We’re all America First. For all our calls and postcards, this is being done in our name and no amount of outrage can change that. Most of us have continued just living our lives. We are the functionaries: We are ready to believe that things will get better. We are ready to act as if things will get better. We refuse to question whether, by continuing to live out our normal lives, day in and day out, we haven’t just become the real monsters.

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