Some say the outcome of the last election has an optimistic “silver lining”: our values have been challenged and, in response, we have risen to their defense. I know I feel this effect.
The other night we watched the first episode of David Letterman’s new Netflix show. It reminded me of an experience last year, when I was on a business trip to Washington, D.C.
My last meeting was on a Friday and I decided to stay through Saturday to visit the newest Smithsonian Museum–the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC).
It was powerful. I was deeply moved by my visit. What followed, though, was unexpected and raw.
So much so, I recorded it with a poem, which I would like to share today, in honor of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and all who have been inspired and motivated by his words and example.
Friday at the New Museum
Closing time at the newest of the Smithsonian’s–
The National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC)–
On a warm Friday evening in Washington, D.C.,
I must have been the last, most reluctant visitor to be urged out the door.
I wandered across to the Mall,
Up to the Washington Monument
To look down to the Lincoln Memorial below, and the other way
To the Capitol Building hovering in the distance.
As I walked, I contemplated my visit
To this most important new museum,
With its auburn lattice work reaching upward,
Like lifted hands, toward the sky.
It had stirred me to my core,
As much–or more—
Than nearly anything
From my visit, I felt sadness for its record of abuse and holding back;
Anger for national plagues of “white” superiority and willingness to exploit;
Awareness of the effects of my own privileged “identity”;
Shame for my race, and a more certain desire to be cleansed.
Near the top of the hill, along the path,
Below the towering white obelisk of the Washington Monument:
I saw a mobile Jumbotron, and wandered in its direction.
It was looping the infamous “Access Hollywood” video of the last election.
There was the face and voice of the now President–
And his sad example of this other form of
Domination and abuse.
Behind the Jumbotron, in the distance,
Shrinking behind the trees,
As if with shame,
The White House.
I glanced back, to my right, at the new NMAAHC,
Where I had just witnessed its counterpoint.
A celebration of progress,
Against hateful mythologies and persistent abuse–
Concluding with an epiphany
For the grace, goodness and precedent of
Our last First Family.
Moved by an overwhelming contrast–
I began to weep.