Acts of Citizenship

“What will you learn or do or make today and know: now I too am an American?” Washington Poet Laureate Elizabeth Austen’s poem for Seattle’s Flag Day Naturalization Ceremony.

  • June 22, 2015
  • |
  • Poetry
  • |
  • By Elizabeth Austen

A girl at the 2015 Flag Day Festival welcoming new American citizens. Photo: Naomi Ishisaka, (c) Seattle CityClub.

Elizabeth Austen, Washington State Poet Laureate, was invited to write and recite the following poem for the Flag Day Naturalization Ceremony at Seattle City Hall on June 14, 2015.

 

Acts of Citizenship

Oh beautiful, oh say can you see
what we begin together today?

Remember every turn on the path
that led us here, what we’ve left behind

and what we carry still. Let us bring
what we know in our muscles and bones,

sing in the syllables and tones
of our mother tongues. Oh beautiful,

oh say, let us pledge ourselves. Can you see,
can you say, the America yet

to be? How are we changed by what we
promise today? Can you see how beautiful?

What will you learn or do or make today
and know: now I too am an American?

Will it be the ballot in your hand?
Will you sign a petition, write a song,

don a uniform, start a union?
And when our names are called—

for honor or duty, how will we respond?
Oh beautiful, oh say, I pledge my country.

What will we sow, what tend, what harvest here?
Oh beautiful, oh say, let us dedicate ourselves

to spacious skies, this Salish Sea,
the unstoppable salmon, every Cascade peak.

Oh beautiful, oh say can you see
the America yet to be? Oh beautiful,

oh say, let us pledge ourselves: My hand, your hand.
What will we make of our America?

—Elizabeth Austen

Elizabeth Austen is the 2014-2016 Washington State Poet Laureate. Her collection Every Dress a Decision was a finalist for the Washington State Book Award 2012. Read her poetry or find a reading near you at wapoetlaureate.org. 

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