Poem: And So We All Fall Down


Listen, I have Anselm Kiefer’s “The Language of the Birds” tattooed across my back. Kiefer is the artist who makes the world come to life for me. And so Blanco, using polysyndeton (joining successive words with conjunctions) and Kiefer’s “Steigend steigend sinke neider” to make sense of what these United States of America is worth, is a lovely thing. What’d he say? “And so the hope in what they let us hope: that/our ideals won’t all disappear.” Imagine saying out loud that we have ideals that matter, and living up to that in the moment. Blanco’s collection is called “How to Love a Country.” A challenging thing indeed, but one that has always mattered. Selected by Reginald Dwayne Betts

By Richard Blanco

{after and for Anselm Kiefer’s installation:
Steigend steigend sinke nieder
(rising, rising, falling down), 2009-2012}

And so the hunks of pavement heaved and set
before us are every road we’ve tired, and those
we wish we had, and those we will, and those
we never will, or those that’ll dead-end when
our empire ends. And so let our debris to be
reassembled as tenderly as these curated bits
of rubble letting us see how chaos yields order,
and order chaos. And so let our nation’s faces
be these boulders like tiny, bruised moons out
or orbit, and yet enduring, still spinning across
the shiny gallery floor, despite the brutal love
of the universe and brutal love for our country.
And so let us believe we won’t simply end like
the speck of a star that will explode as quietly
as a poem whispered above our rooftops into
a black hole into the black night. And so let us
believe there is still eternity even in our ruin,
like this art made out of these remains, made
more alive by destruction. And so all the dead
stalks of these sunflowers embalmed with paint
and fixed by our imagination dangling forever
from the ceiling like acrobats that’ll never fall.
And so the hope in what they let us hope: that
our ideals won’t all disappear, that some trace
of what we have believed must endure beyond
our decay, beyond entropy’s law, assuring us
we’ll live on, even after our inevitable dissolve.


Reginald Dwayne Betts is a poet and lawyer. He created the Million Book Project, an initiative to curate microlibraries and install them in prisons across the country. His latest collection of poetry, “Felon,” explores the post-incarceration experience. In 2019, he won a National Magazine Award in Essays and Criticism for his article in The Times Magazine about his journey from teenage carjacker to aspiring lawyer. Richard Blanco is a poet whose latest collection is “How to Love a Country” (Beacon Press, 2019). In 2013, he served as the poet for Barack Obama’s second inauguration.

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