In the Community
Dear America (American Dream): A Poem by Virginia Poet Laureate Luisa Igloria
Community Voices is a series by the Hampton Roads Community Foundation that features diverse people of Hampton Roads sharing their experiences and reflections on life in the region, philanthropy as well as diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Dear America (American Dream)
Luisa A. Igloria
" ... workingmen are the basis of all governments"~ Abraham Lincoln, February 12, 1861
And now? Now that we're told we have The Dream?
How do we make sure it doesn't deteriorate into
a substandard or lapsed edition or, heaven forbid,
a bootleg copy manufactured in a third world sweatshop
of The Dream? And is this set of papers The Guarantee,
to which we have affixed at the bottom of every page
and on every margin of every page the semblance of
a seal, i.e. our John Hancocks, our signatures in ink
whose upswept tails testify to our consent to the terms
and conditions set forth thereby? Have we observed
the proper decorum, that heady mixture conjoined
of nervousness concealed under uncertain pride?
Are we to believe your plumply jovial representatives,
all pinstriped or suited up in black like undertakers?
Which they are in a manner of speaking since it is
admittedly such a large undertaking to raise
one's right hand and solemnly swear before The Book
The Chair The One Holding the Gavel in The Chair
The Alabaster One Whose Eyes are Shielded
by a Blindfold O Most Cool Lady Whose Face
Never Registers the Difficulty of Holding Up
Those Scales ... Does The Dream we've been granted
taste, smell, and handle like the ones our neighbors have?
Does each of us down our block and around the city
have the same level plot to cultivate, make multiply,
pull up by the bootstraps? What kinds of fences exist
in The Dream and are there border guards who will check
and check through our documents though we've surrendered
them more than the minimum times required while others go
on to pick up square after square of reward never once being
sent back, tasered, choked, wrenched from the arms of,
sent to jail or detention or disappeared or told to go
back to Start-Do-Not-Pass-Go? And this, as you know,
is history: our people making their way through fields
and orchards shimmering like some kind of wet-
with-dew or gold-with-sunset Dream, their hands
bleeding the grass as they go; our children turning
around and around in your funhouse mirror
tunnels of The Dream lined with foil sheets
and tinny music, running repeatedly into
each other until one day The Dream
makes them forget who they were.
Published with permission from the author.
Originally from Baguio City in the Philippines, Luisa A. Igloria is the author of 14 books of poetry and 4 chapbooks. She is the 20th POET LAUREATE of the Commonwealth of Virginia, one of only four People of Color to hold the title. In 2021, she was one of 23 Poet Laureate recipients nationwide of a Poet Laureate Fellowship from the Academy of American Poets.
She has four daughters and now makes her home in Virginia with most of her family. She is a Louis I. Jaffe Professor of Creative Writing and English at Old Dominion University. The late Louis Jaffe was an editorial writer for The Virginian-Pilot newspaper who won a Pulitzer Prize in 1929 for an editorial condemning lynching. His wife Alice, who taught art history at ODU, created two scholarships in his memory at the community foundation in 1994.
Luisa's work has appeared or been accepted in numerous anthologies and journals including New England Review, The Common, Poetry, Crab Orchard Review, The Missouri Review, Indiana Review, Poetry East, Umbrella, Sweet, qarrtsiluni, poemeleon, Smartish Pace, Rattle, The North American Review, Bellingham Review, Shearsman (UK), PRISM International (Canada), Poetry Salzburg Review (Austria), The Asian Pacific American Journal, and TriQuarterly.
Luisa is an eleven-time recipient of the Carlos Palanca Memorial Award for Literature in three genres (poetry, nonfiction, and short fiction) and its Hall of Fame distinction. The Palanca Award is the Philippines’ highest literary prize.