An old photo of you, long before we met —
you are in your early twenties, and here you are
smiling happily for the camera — so lovely!
I magically enter into the photo through the camera,
slide right up next to you and introduce myself.
You’re going to recognize me someday, but not now.
You stare at me as if I had just come through the camera,
how could that be, you wonder, but as marvelous humans
we can accept a lot of things, we can accept that we are
one nation under God, but where is that promised liberty
and justice for all, even when the picture was taken,
even when they wrote those immortal lies?
I take your hand and we enter the painting on the wall.
Men are milling around signing some famous documents
which would mark the beginning of America, the land
of the free and home of the brave, even though
that is not really true — has it ever been?
We introduce ourselves, unintended figments of a paint brush
coming alive at the birth of the nation, and are welcomed
with warm smiles and hugs, because we are with the Fathers
and they are glad to see what has become of their dream.
Yes, we are happy, we are free, we have proof right here!
We open our arms and behold — many animals leap forth,
brave free animals that once roamed this land before time,
before it was known by humans at all, and they are smiling.
Smilodons, megatheriams, great woolly mammoths
and many beasts without Latin names, because nobody
even knew they existed then, just as they exist now,
roam through the upper rooms, trying to be quiet
so the fathers can concentrate on the Constitution,
the signing, back-patting, and so forth.
“God bless America!” we all joyously exclaim in the painting,
and then break off into pairs to practice the sublime tango,
the music is so seductive — are we dreaming, could this be
how we actually met before we met, back when it all began,
when deer, antelope, buffalo, and the indigenous peoples
were yet unaware of the fate to befall them, the slaughter?
We dance right out of the painting and now we are together,
alone with the camera, and then it is just you, smiling forever
in your timeless pose, gazing out into the great emptiness,
your heart filled with an optimism that is pure American.
I turn your photograph over and try to read what someone
has written on the back, but the words are so smudged
that I can’t, so I write something myself, it reads: