“Ghazal: Freedom in America” by Alicia Ostriker

Alicia Ostriker


My grandfather’s pipe tobacco fragrance, moss-green cardigan, his Yiddish lullaby
When I woke crying: three of my earliest memories in America

Arriving on time for the first big war, remaining for the second, sad grandpa
Walked across Europe to get to America

When the babies starved, when the village burned, when you were flogged, why not
Log out, ship out, there was a dream, the green breast of America

My grandfather said no President including Roosevelt would save the Jews in Europe
He drew out an ample handkerchief and wiped away the weeping of America

One thing that makes me happy about my country
Is that Allen Ginsberg could fearlessly write the comic poem “America”

Route sixty-six entices me westward ho toward dreaming California
I adore superhighways but money is the route of all evil in America

Curse the mines curse the sweatshops curse the factory curse the boss
Let devils in hell torment the makers of bombs over Baghdad in America

When I video your rivers your painterly meadows your public sculpture Rockies,
When I walk in your filthy cities I love you so much I bless you so much America

People people look there: grandpa please look: Liberty the Shekhina herself
Welcoming you like a queen, like a mother, to America

Take the flute player from the mesa, take the raven from his tree
Now that the buffalo is gone from America

White man, the blacks are snarling, the yellows swarming, the umber terrorists
Are tunneling through and breathing your air of fear in America

If you will it, it is no dream, somebody admonished my grandfather
He surmised they were speaking of freedom in America

from Rattle #40, Summer 2013

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Alicia Ostriker: “When I was young I used to plan my poems. I knew what I wanted them to ‘say.’ Now they are like crawling into the dark. I write in order to understand what confuses/troubles/baffles me. I write to clarify what I’m feeling. I write to include the contradictions, wrestle the obsessions, because I don’t know who I am when I’m not writing. For example: what does it mean to be a third-generation American Jewish woman poet? This poem struggles with the ‘American’ part.”

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