Featured Poem: “National Anthem” by Christopher Kempf


If, then, a country could be saved, may we

all be its pulse & schematics.  May our flags

kneel for us.  May nothing reign.  May one day

mean Tuesday, & may our planes on alert                                            

over Khost & Riyadh whisper love songs

to the canyons beneath them.  May weddings

go on for months.  May guns gather bullets

back into themselves like fishing line.  If

a country could be saved, could wave lagoons

too be a part of it?  Could slot machines?

Could a country be lifted like a god? 

If Modesto comes back, could Saturday night

we drive T-Birds to the Wolfman?  May

dawn’s early light lacquer our faces.  May

Huck & Jim—  May group text—  Let every

coal seam spit back its dead.  Let the many

of us be one, the one be numerous      

& mongrel.  Imagine spangled—  & may

each of our stadiums smolder.  May marching

bands dazzle & thrall us, their drums like war

no one will remark, their winds & brasses

forming the tightest of scripts.  The seamstress,

we know—age 13—who dyed the cotton 

& cut the starlight in the flag Francis Scott                  

hailed was a servant girl, Grace Wisher.  May  

we, in the poem of our country, be such

exquisite stitchwork.  May synecdoche

mean “fruited plain.”  “Beautiful river.”  In

that country, nuke silos swallow missiles

down like hot dogs.  In that country, cop cars

flip Snapples to day laborers.  May stars 

blaze.  May landfills flower & hum.  May one

by one we gather, then, in the swollen fields

of our republic, above us the rockets’

red glare growing faint, some praise-song 

swept upon us utterly, like a wind.  May we

we will say—which will, one day, become us.

Christopher Kempf is the author of What Though the Field Be Lost (LSU Press, Spring 2021) and Late in the Empire of Men (Four Way, 2017).  Recipient of a Pushcart Prize, National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, and Wallace Stegner Fellowship from Stanford University, he holds a Ph.D. in English Literature from the University of Chicago.  Kempf teaches in the MFA program at the University of Illinois.

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