National Anthem

Christopher Kempf

If, then, a country could be saved, may weall be its pulse & schematics. May our flagskneel for us. May nothing reign. May one daymean Tuesday, & may our planes on alertover Khost & Riyadh whisper love songsto the canyons beneath them. May weddingsgo on for months. May guns gather bulletsback into themselves like fishing line. Ifa country could be saved, could wave lagoonstoo be a part of it? Could slot machines?Could a country be lifted like a god?If Modesto comes back, could Saturday nightwe drive T-Birds to the Wolfman? Maydawn's early light lacquer our faces. MayHuck & Jim — May group text — Let everycoal seam spit back its dead. Let the manyof us be one, the one be numerous& mongrel. Imagine spangled — & mayeach of our stadiums smolder. May marchingbands dazzle & thrall us, their drums like warno one will remark, their winds and brassesforming the tightest of scripts. The seamstress,we know—age 13—who dyed the cotton& cut the starlight in the flag Francis Scotthailed was a servant girl, Grace Wisher. Maywe, in the poem of our country, be suchexquisite stitchwork. May synecdoche mean "fruited plain." "Beautiful river." Inthat country, nuke silos swallow missilesdown like hot dogs. In that country, cop carsflip Snapples to day laborers. May starsblaze. May landfills flower & hum. May oneby one we gather, then, in the swollen fieldsof our republic, above us the rockets'red glare glowing faint, some praise-songswept upon us utterly, like a wind. May wewe will say—which will, one day, become us.

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photo of Christopher Kempf

Christopher Kempf is the author of the poetry collections What Though the Field Be Lost (LSU, 2021) and Late in the Empire of Men (Four Way, 2017), as well as of the scholarly book Craft Class: The Writing Workshop in American Culture (Johns Hopkins, 2022). Recipient of a Pushcart Prize, a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, and a Wallace Stegner Fellowship from Stanford University, he teaches in the MFA program at the University of Illinois.

"This is a brilliant and beautifully ambivalent volume in which the poet uses his entire self to make whole and healing poems."
—Jericho Brown, author of The Tradition, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry

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