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 Poets.org is run by the Academy of American Poets and sends a daily unpublished poem to an audience estimated at 250,000 people.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
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