Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed—
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There’s never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek—
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one’s own greed!

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean—
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today—O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.

Yet I’m the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That’s made America the land it has become.
O, I’m the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home—
For I’m the one who left dark Ireland’s shore,
And Poland’s plain, and England’s grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa’s strand I came
To build a “homeland of the free.”

The free?

Who said the free? Not me?
Surely not me? The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we’ve dreamed
And all the songs we’ve sung
And all the hopes we’ve held
And all the flags we’ve hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay—
Except the dream that’s almost dead today.

O, let America be America again—
The land that never has been yet—
And yet must be—the land where every man is free.
The land that’s mine—the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME—
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose—
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people’s lives,
We must take back our land again,
America!

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath—
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain—
All, all the stretch of these great green states—
And make America again!

For those of us who live at the shoreline
standing upon the constant edges of decision
crucial and alone
for those of us who cannot indulge
the passing dreams of choice
who love in doorways coming and going
in the hours between dawns
looking inward and outward
at once before and after
seeking a now that can breed
futures
like bread in our children's mouths
so their dreams will not reflect
the death of ours;

For those of us
who were imprinted with fear
like a faint line in the center of our foreheads
learning to be afraid with our mother's milk
for by this weapon
this illusion of some safety to be found
the heavy-footed hoped to silence us
For all of us
this instant and this triumph
We were never meant to survive.

And when the sun rises we are afraid
it might not remain
when the sun sets we are afraid
it might not rise in the morning
when our stomachs are full we are afraid
of indigestion
when our stomachs are empty we are afraid
we may never eat again
when we are loved we are afraid
love will vanish
when we are alone we are afraid
love will never return
and when we speak we are afraid
our words will not be heard
nor welcomed
but when we are silent
we are still afraid

So it is better to speak
remembering
we were never meant to survive

Ocean, don’t be afraid.
The end of the road is so far ahead
it is already behind us.
Don’t worry. Your father is only your father
until one of you forgets. Like how the spine
won’t remember its wings
no matter how many times our knees
kiss the pavement. Ocean,
are you listening? The most beautiful part
of your body is wherever
your mother’s shadow falls.
Here’s the house with childhood
whittled down to a single red tripwire.
Don’t worry. Just call it horizon
& you’ll never reach it.
Here’s today. Jump. I promise it’s not
a lifeboat. Here’s the man
whose arms are wide enough to gather
your leaving. & here the moment,
just after the lights go out, when you can still see
the faint torch between his legs.
How you use it again & again
to find your own hands.
You asked for a second chance
& are given a mouth to empty into.
Don’t be afraid, the gunfire
is only the sound of people
trying to live a little longer. Ocean. Ocean,
get up. The most beautiful part of your body
is where it’s headed. & remember,
loneliness is still time spent
with the world. Here’s
the room with everyone in it.
Your dead friends passing
through you like wind
through a wind chime. Here’s a desk
with the gimp leg & a brick
to make it last. Yes, here’s a room
so warm & blood-close,
I swear, you will wake—
& mistake these walls
for skin.
Originally published in The New Yorker, May 4, 2015 Issue
My full name is Rachel Youngeun Rostad. This can be kind of confusing to people. So my birth name was Youngeun. I used to think my birth mom gave it to me. But she didn’t. It was given by the foster home, not much more than a barcode.

Then my parents adopted me and renamed me Rachel, and turned my birth name into my middle name. Rachel Youngeun Rostad.

Most names mean admirable traits like “strong,” “kind,” “beautiful.” When you name your daughter, it’s a prayer for everything you want her to be.

Starting when I was seven, I spent every summer at a Korean culture camp. There, my name was my Korean name, Youngeun. Now, I am trained to answer to both “Rachel” and “Youngeun.” Kind of like knowing how to use both forks and chopsticks.

I’ve never had a nickname.

According to google, there’s a Rachel Rostad who’s a fashion designer in LA. And there’s another Rachael Rostad who apparently is the Goodhue County Dairy Princess. I’m not sure exactly what this means but there’s a picture of her with a gold medal and a cow. Both of these other Rachel Rostads have blonde hair.

When you find, say, an injured bird in your backyard, and you wanna to nurse it back to health and release it back into the wild, they tell you not to name it. If you name something, it becomes a someone. It makes it harder to give it up.

When my parents named me Rachel, it was a prayer for everything they wanted me to be: American.

Sometimes I’m glad my first name is as apple pie and baseball as Rachel. But also kinda not.

How your ancestors had a different name stepping off of Ellis Island than when they stepped on.

The pros and cons of taking your husband’s last name as your own.

The pros and cons of accepting a diagnosis.

Some say written language is only the bad translation of spoken.

You cannot read a speech and see the speaker.

You cannot read sheet music and hear the song.

When the very first word was written down, something must have been lost.

When my parents renamed me “Rachel,” something must have been lost.

Two years ago, I started the search for my birth mom. She still hasn’t answered my letter. The adoption agency tells me she lives in Seoul. This is the closest to knowing her name I will get.

Let’s imagine I know her name. If I found her Facebook profile, would this count as a reunion?

Let’s imagine she found my name in a newspaper. Would she picture “Rachel Rostad” as a girl with blonde hair?

The name Youngeun is a barcode. The name Rachel is a Made in America sticker slapped onto a Korean flag.

I have never had a nickname.

Either that, or I’ve only ever had nicknames.

Sometimes I wonder what my birth mom would have named me if I hadn’t been a wild animal she’d eventually have to release.

She still hasn’t answered my letter. I’m not waiting for a reply. When you name your daughter, it’s a prayer for everything you want her to be. It makes sense, then, that she named me nothing.
with lines from Amiri Baraka & James Baldwin

I have left Earth in search of darker planets, a solar system that revolves too near a black hole. I have left a patch of dirt in my place & many of you won’t know the difference; we are indeed the same color, one of us would eventually become the other. You may give it my name if it makes you feel better while running your hands through its soiled scalp. I have left Earth in search of a new God. I do not trust the God you have given us. My grandmother’s hallelujah is only outdone by the fear she nurses every time the blood-fat summer swallows another child who used to sing in the choir. Take your God back, though his songs are beautiful, his miracles are inconsistent. I want the fate of Lazarus for Renisha, I want Chucky, Bo, Meech, Trayvon, Sean & Jonylah risen three days after their entombing, their ghost re-gifted flesh & blood, their flesh & blood re-gifted their children. I have left Earth, I am equal parts sick of your ‘go back to Africa’ as I am your ‘I just don’t see color’ (neither did the poplar tree). We did not build your boats (though we did leave a trail of kin to guide us home). We did not build your prisons (though we did & we fill them too). We did not ask to be part of your America (though are we not America? Her joints brittle & dragging a ripped gown through Oakland?). I can’t stand your ground. I am sick of calling your recklessness the law. Each night, I count my brothers. & in the morning, when some do not survive to be counted, I count the holes they leave. I reach for black folks & touch only air. Your master magic trick, America. Now he’s breathing, now he don’t. Abra-cadaver. White bread voodoo. This systemic sorcery you claim not to practice, but have no problem benefitting from. I tried, white people. I tried to love you, but you spent my brother’s funeral making plans for brunch, talking too loud next to his bones. You interrupted my black veiled mourning with some mess about an article you read on Buzzfeed. You took one look at the river, plump with the body of boy after boy after boy & asked ‘why does it always have to be about race?’ Because you made it so! Because you put an asterisk on my sister’s gorgeous face! Because you call her pretty (for a black girl)! Because black girls go missing without so much as a whisper of where?! Because there is no Amber Alert for the Amber Skinned Girls! Because our heroes always end up shot or shootin-up! Because we didn’t invent the bullet! Because crack was not our recipe! Because Jordan boomed. Because Emmitt whistled. Because Huey P. spoke. Because Martin preached. Because black boys can always be too loud to live. Because this land is scared of the Black mind. Because they have sold the Black body & appropriated Soul. Because it’s taken my father’s time, my mother’s time, my uncle’s time, my brother’s & my sister’s time, my niece’s & my nephew’s time … how much time do you want for your progress? I have left Earth to find a land where my kin can be safe. I will not rest until black people ain’t but people the same color as the good, wet earth, until that means something, until our existence isn’t up for debate, until it is honored & blessed & loved & left alone, until then I bid you well, I bid you war, I bid you our lives to gamble with no more. I have left Earth & I am touching everything you beg your telescopes to show you. I am giving the stars their right names. & this life, this new story & history you cannot own or ruin

                                                                                                This, if only this one, is ours. 
i believe in living.
i believe in the spectrum
of Beta days and Gamma people.
i believe in sunshine.
In windmills and waterfalls,
tricycles and rocking chairs;
And i believe that seeds grow into sprouts.
And sprouts grow into trees.
i believe in the magic of the hands.
And in the wisdom of the eyes.
i believe in rain and tears.
And in the blood of infinity.

i believe in life.
And i have seen the death parade
march through the torso of the earth,
sculpting mud bodies in its path
i have seen the destruction of the daylight
and seen bloodthirsty maggots
prayed to and saluted

i have seen the kind become the blind
and the blind become the bind
in one easy lesson.
i have walked on cut grass.
i have eaten crow and blunder bread
and breathed the stench of indifference

i have been locked by the lawless.
Handcuffed by the haters.
Gagged by the greedy.
And, if i know anything at all,
it's that a wall is just a wall
and nothing more at all.
It can be broken down.

i believe in living
i believe in birth.
i believe in the sweat of love
and in the fire of truth.

And i believe that a lost ship,
steered by tired, seasick sailors,
can still be guided home to port.

America I’ve given you all and now I’m nothing.
America two dollars and twentyseven cents January 17, 1956.  
I can’t stand my own mind.
America when will we end the human war?
Go fuck yourself with your atom bomb.
I don’t feel good don’t bother me.
I won’t write my poem till I’m in my right mind.
America when will you be angelic?
When will you take off your clothes?
When will you look at yourself through the grave?
When will you be worthy of your million Trotskyites?
America why are your libraries full of tears?
America when will you send your eggs to India?
I’m sick of your insane demands.
When can I go into the supermarket and buy what I need with my good looks?
America after all it is you and I who are perfect not the next world.  
Your machinery is too much for me.
You made me want to be a saint.
There must be some other way to settle this argument.  
Burroughs is in Tangiers I don’t think he’ll come back it’s sinister.  
Are you being sinister or is this some form of practical joke?  
I’m trying to come to the point.
I refuse to give up my obsession.
America stop pushing I know what I’m doing.
America the plum blossoms are falling.
I haven’t read the newspapers for months, everyday somebody goes on trial for murder.
America I feel sentimental about the Wobblies.
America I used to be a communist when I was a kid I’m not sorry.  
I smoke marijuana every chance I get.
I sit in my house for days on end and stare at the roses in the closet.  
When I go to Chinatown I get drunk and never get laid.  
My mind is made up there’s going to be trouble.
You should have seen me reading Marx.
My psychoanalyst thinks I’m perfectly right.
I won’t say the Lord’s Prayer.
I have mystical visions and cosmic vibrations.
America I still haven’t told you what you did to Uncle Max after he came over from Russia.
I’m addressing you.
Are you going to let your emotional life be run by Time Magazine?  
I’m obsessed by Time Magazine.
I read it every week.
Its cover stares at me every time I slink past the corner candystore.  
I read it in the basement of the Berkeley Public Library.
It’s always telling me about responsibility. Businessmen are serious. Movie producers are serious. Everybody’s serious but me. 
It occurs to me that I am America.
I am talking to myself again.

Asia is rising against me.
I haven’t got a chinaman’s chance.
I’d better consider my national resources.
My national resources consist of two joints of marijuana millions of genitals an unpublishable private literature that jetplanes 1400 miles an hour and twentyfive-thousand mental institutions.
I say nothing about my prisons nor the millions of underprivileged who live in my flowerpots under the light of five hundred suns.
I have abolished the whorehouses of France, Tangiers is the next to go.
My ambition is to be President despite the fact that I’m a Catholic.

America how can I write a holy litany in your silly mood?
I will continue like Henry Ford my strophes are as individual as his automobiles more so they’re all different sexes.
America I will sell you strophes $2500 apiece $500 down on your old strophe
America free Tom Mooney
America save the Spanish Loyalists
America Sacco & Vanzetti must not die
America I am the Scottsboro boys.
America when I was seven momma took me to Communist Cell meetings they sold us garbanzos a handful per ticket a ticket costs a nickel and the speeches were free everybody was angelic and sentimental about the workers it was all so sincere you have no idea what a good thing the party was in 1835 Scott Nearing was a grand old man a real mensch Mother Bloor the Silk-strikers’ Ewig-Weibliche made me cry I once saw the Yiddish orator Israel Amter plain. Everybody must have been a spy.
America you don’t really want to go to war.
America its them bad Russians.
Them Russians them Russians and them Chinamen. And them Russians.  
The Russia wants to eat us alive. The Russia’s power mad. She wants to take our cars from out our garages.
Her wants to grab Chicago. Her needs a Red Reader’s Digest. Her wants our auto plants in Siberia. Him big bureaucracy running our fillingstations.
That no good. Ugh. Him make Indians learn read. Him need big black niggers. Hah. Her make us all work sixteen hours a day. Help.  
America this is quite serious.
America this is the impression I get from looking in the television set.  
America is this correct?
I’d better get right down to the job.
It’s true I don’t want to join the Army or turn lathes in precision parts factories, I’m nearsighted and psychopathic anyway.
America I’m putting my queer shoulder to the wheel.



Berkeley, January 17, 1956
We have memorized America,
how it was born and who we have been and where.
In ceremonies and silence we say the words,
telling the stories, singing the old songs.
We like the places they take us. Mostly we do.
The great and all the anonymous dead are there.
We know the sound of all the sounds we brought.
The rich taste of it is on our tongues.
But where are we going to be, and why, and who?
The disenfranchised dead want to know.
We mean to be the people we meant to be,
to keep on going where we meant to go.

But how do we fashion the future? Who can say how
except in the minds of those who will call it Now?
The children. The children. And how does our garden grow?
With waving hands—oh, rarely in a row—
and flowering faces. And brambles, that we can no longer allow.

Who were many people coming together
cannot become one people falling apart.
Who dreamed for every child an even chance
cannot let luck alone turn doorknobs or not.
Whose law was never so much of the hand as the head
cannot let chaos make its way to the heart.
Who have seen learning struggle from teacher to child
cannot let ignorance spread itself like rot.
We know what we have done and what we have said,
and how we have grown, degree by slow degree,
believing ourselves toward all we have tried to become—
just and compassionate, equal, able, and free.

All this in the hands of children, eyes already set
on a land we never can visit—it isn’t there yet—
but looking through their eyes, we can see
what our long gift to them may come to be.
If we can truly remember, they will not forget.
Invaders invariably call themselves:

a) berserkers
b) marauders
c) frankincense
d) liberators

Our enemies hate us because:

a) we’re sadists
b) we’re hypocrites
c) we shafted them
d) we value freedom

Our friends hate us because:

a) we’re bullies
b) we hate them
c) we’re hypocrites
d) we value freedom

Pushed to the ground and kicked by a gang of soldiers, about to be shot, you can save your life by brandishing:

a) an uzi
b) a crucifix
c) the Constitution
d) a poem

A poem can:

a) start a war
b) stanch a wound
c) titillate the masses
d) shame a nation

Poets are:

a) clowns
b) parasites
c) legislators
d) terrorists

A nation’s standing in the world is determined by:

a) its buying power
b) its military might
c) its cultural heritage
d) God

A country is rich because of:

a) its enlightened population
b) its political system
c) its small stick
d) its geography

A country is poor because of:

a) its ignorant population
b) its political system
c) its small stick
d) its geography

A man’s dignity is determined by:

a) his appearance (skin color, height, etc)
b) his willingness to use violence
c) his command of English
d) his blue passport

Those willing to die for their beliefs are:

a) idealists
b) terrorists
c) suckers
d) insane

Those willing to die for nothing are:

a) principled
b) patriotic
c) insane
d) cowards

Terrorists:

a) abuse language
b) hit and run
c) shock and awe
d) rely on ingenuity

Smart weapons:

a) render hopeless and dormant kinetic objects
b) kill softly
c) save lives
d) slaughter by science

Pain is:

a) payback for evil-doers
b) a common misfortune
c) compelling drama
d) suck it up!

Humiliation is:

a) the ultimate thrill for bored perverts
b) inevitable in an unequal relationship
c) a fear factor
d) sexy and cathartic

The media’s job is:

a) to seduce
b) to spread
c) to sell
d) to drug

The Internet:

a) allows us to be pure minds
b) connects us to distant bodies
c) disconnects us from the nearest minds and bodies
d) improves illiteracy

Pornography is:

a) a lie that exposes the truth
b) a needed breather from civilization
c) class warfare
d) nostalgia for the garden of Eden



Correct answers: c,d,d,b,b,a,b,a,a,c,b,b,b,c,b,d,b,d,c.
—If you scored 14-19, you’re a well adjusted person, a home-owner, with and income of at least $50,000 a year.
—If you scored 8-13, you either rent or live with your parents, never exercise, and consume at least a 6-pack a day.
—if you scored 7 or less, you’re in trouble with the FBI and/or the IRS, cut your own hair, and use public transit as your primary mode of transportation.

There's a place between two stands of trees where the grass grows uphill
and the old revolutionary road breaks off into shadows
near a meeting-house abandoned by the persecuted
who disappeared into those shadows.

I've walked there picking mushrooms at the edge of dread, but don't be fooled
this isn't a Russian poem, this is not somewhere else but here,
our country moving closer to its own truth and dread,
its own ways of making people disappear.

I won't tell you where the place is, the dark mesh of the woods
meeting the unmarked strip of light—
ghost-ridden crossroads, leafmold paradise:
I know already who wants to buy it, sell it, make it disappear.

And I won't tell you where it is, so why do I tell you
anything? Because you still listen, because in times like these
to have you listen at all, it's necessary
to talk about trees.
They say that you, a road builder
Had such love for our country
You rushed out and waved your torch
To call the bombs down on yourself
And save the road for the troops

As my unit passed on that worn road
The bomb crater reminded us of your story
Your grave is radiant with bright-colored stones
Piled high with love for you, a young girl

As I looked in the bomb crater where you died
The rain water became a patch of sky
Our country is kind
Water from the sky washes pain away

Now you lie down deep in the earth
As the sky lay down in that earthen crater
At night your soul sheds light
Like the dazzling stars
Did your soft white skin
Become a bank of white clouds?

By day I pass under a sun-flooded sky
And it is your sky
And that anxious, wakeful disc
Is it the sun, or is it your heart
Lighting my way
As I walk down the long road?

The name of the road is your name
Your death is a young girl’s patch of blue sky
My soul is lit by your life

And my friends, who never saw you
Each has a different image of your face
I drink champagne early in the morning
instead of leaving my house
with an M16 and nowhere to go.

I’m dying twice as fast
as any other American
between eighteen and thirty-five
This disturbs me,
but I try not to show it in public.

Each morning I open my eyes is a miracle.
The blessing of opening them
is temporary on any given day
I could be taken out.
I could go off.
I could forget to be careful.
Even my brothers, hunted, hunt me.
I am the only one who values my life
and sometimes I don’t give a damn.
My love life can kill me.
I’m faced daily with choosing violence
or a demeanor that saves every other life
but my own.

I won’t cross-over.
It’s time someone else came to me
not to patronize me physically,
sexually or humorously.
I’m sick of being an endangered species,
sick of being a goddamn statistic.
So what are my choices?
I could leave with no intention
of coming home tonight
I could go crazy downtown
and raise hell on a rooftop with my rifle.
I could live for a brief moment
on the six o'clock news,
or I can masquerade another day
through the corridors of commerce
and American dreams.

I’m dying twice as fast
as any other American.
So I pour myself a glass of champagne,
I cut it with a drop of orange juice.
After I swallow my liquid valium.
my private celebration
for being alive this morning,
I leave my shelter.
I guard my life with no apologies.
My concerns are small
and personal.
I will not shoot myself
In the head, and I will not shoot myself
In the back, and I will not hang myself
With a trashbag, and if I do
I promise you, I will not do it
In a police car while handcuffed
Or in the jail cell of a town
I only know the name of
Because I have to drive through it
To get home. Yes, I may be at risk,
But I promise you, I trust the maggots
And the ants and the roaches
Who live beneath the floorboards
Of my house to do what they must
To any carcass more than I trust
An officer of the law of the land
To shut my eyes like a man
Of God might, or to cover me with a sheet
So clean my mother could have used it
To tuck me in. When I kill me, I will kill me
The same way most Americans do,
I promise you: cigarette smoke
Or a piece of meat on which I choke
Or so broke I freeze
In one of these winters we keep
Calling worst. I promise that if you hear
Of me dead anywhere near
A cop, then that cop killed me. He took
Me from us and left my body, which is,
No matter what we’ve been taught,
Greater than the settlement a city can
pay to a mother to stop crying, and more
Beautiful than the brand new shiny bullet
Fished from the folds of my brain
they set my aunts house on fire
i cried the way women on tv do
folding at the middle
like a five pound note.
i called the boy who use to love me
tried to ‘okay’ my voice
i said hello
he said warsan, what’s wrong, what’s happened?

i’ve been praying,
and these are what my prayers look like;
dear god
i come from two countries
one is thirsty
the other is on fire
both need water.

later that night
i held an atlas in my lap
ran my fingers across the whole world
and whispered
where does it hurt?

it answered
everywhere
everywhere
everywhere.