As Poet Laureate of Napa County, I had been asked to read a poem for Napa's "Salute to the USA" pre-fireworks presentation. While brainstorming what I would read, I had to ask what all I would be celebrating?

Can we celebrate freedom when our government has children packed into cells along our border? Can we sing "home of the brave" when ICE is terrorizing our friends and neighbors, and our president mongers fear of black and brown people as a political tool?

We've strip-mined the purple mountains' majesty, and the amber-waves of grain are under water, or aflame, for our greed and inaction. I could not recite a poem without questioning our pride.

Out of respect for the organizers of the event and its other performers, I declined the invitation. Had I accepted, I would have begun by thanking the Patwin and Wappo who lived in our valley long before the Declaration of Independence (and who continue to teach us how to love the land).

Then I might have read Wendell Berry's "The Mad Farmer, Flying the Flag of Rough Branch, Secedes from the Union:"

From the union of self-gratification and self-annihilation,

Secede into the care for one another

And for the good gifts of Heaven and Earth.

Or an oft-neglected verse of our national anthem penned by Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.:

When our land is illumined with Liberty's smile,

If a foe from within strike a blow at her glory,

Down, down with the traitor that dares to defile

The flag of her stars and the page of her story!

By the millions unchained, who our birthright have gained,

We will keep her bright blazon forever unstained!

And the Star-Spangled Banner in triumph shall wave

While the land of the free is the home of the brave.

Or "Call and Answer" by Robert Bly:

Tell me why it is we don't lift our voices these days

And cry over what is happening. Have you noticed

The plans are made for Iraq and the ice cap is melting?

I say to myself: "Go on, cry. What's the sense

Of being an adult and having no voice? Cry out!

See who will answer. This is Call and Answer.

I would have "cried out" the poem with fire and anger in my voice, like you might use to confront a loved one when they fail to live to their potential. Will you answer?

Jeremy Benson

Poet Laureate of Napa County

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