Juan Felipe Herrera began his term as the U.S. Poet Laureate last year. He grew up in a migrant campesino family that traveled from farm to farm, job to job all over California, and he is the first Chicano/a poet to be appointed poet laureate. The author of 18 books of poetry, he writes poetry that combines the great written tradition with the extemporaneous energy of spoken-word verse and the populist voice of poets who speak for the common experience.

On Sunday, on the website Poets.org, Herrera published what he calls a "sudden" poem after a week of bloodshed and heartache in American history. Given a date of July 8, 2016, "@ the Crossroads - A Sudden American Poem" calls on everyone to consider and "celebrate the lives of all" those who died, those killed and those who did the killing. Poets.org is run by the Academy of American Poets and sends a daily unpublished poem to an audience estimated at 250,000 people.

Poets.org has taken the unusual step of inviting venues everywhere to publish the poem for their own audiences.

@ the Crossroads - A Sudden American Poem

RIP Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, Dallas police
                       officers Lorne Ahrens, Michael Krol, Michael J. Smith,
                       Brent Thompson, and Patrick Zamarripa—and all
                       their families. And to all those injured.

Let us celebrate the lives of all

As we reflect & pray & meditate on their brutal deaths

Let us celebrate those who marched at night who spoke of peace

& chanted Black Lives Matter

Let us celebrate the officers dressed in Blues ready to protect

Let us know the departed as we did not know them before—their faces,

Bodies, names—what they loved, their words, the stories they often spoke

Before we return to the usual business of our days, let us know their lives intimately

Let us take this moment & impossible as this may sound—let us find

The beauty in their lives in the midst of their sudden & never imagined vanishing


Let us consider the Dallas shooter—what made him

what happened in Afghanistan

what

flames burned inside


(Who was that man in Baton Rouge with a red shirt selling CDs in the parking lot

Who was that man in Minnesota toppled on the car seat with a perforated arm

& a continent-shaped flood of blood on his white T who was

That man prone & gone by the night pillar of El Centro College in Dallas )

This could be the first step

in the new evaluation of our society    This could be

the first step of all of our lives

- Juan Felipe Herrera, Poet Laureate of the United States, July 8, 2016

Copyright © 2016 by Juan Felipe Herrera. All rights reserved. This poem is being shared by Poem-a-Day, a series from the Academy of American Poets that features new poems by contemporary poets on weekdays and classic poems on weekends. For more please visit www.poets.org or email poem-a-day@poets.org.