Poem for the Flag Day Naturalization Ceremony at Seattle City Hall

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
June 14, 2015

Just got home from the Flag Day Naturalization Ceremony and Citizenship Festival at Seattle City Hall. Twenty-two people from 17 different countries just took the oath of citizenship. The celebration included a moving speech by Cuc Vu, who directs the Seattle Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs, about leaving Vietnam with her mother and siblings. One of the event sponsors, Seattle CityClub, invited me to write and give a poem. I’m grateful to have been part of this day — and for the chance to try to craft a poem that would serve as both a welcome and a summons for us all.

4 thoughts on “Poem for the Flag Day Naturalization Ceremony at Seattle City Hall

  1. yvonneleach2014

    What a beautiful poem Elizabeth. It honors each person who took the oath today, and honors our country as well.

  2. Oh Elizabeth, I say, how beautiful and strong and moving this poem is. I suspect it has legs and will gallop into the world as an instant classic. It deserves to be. xo, Sylvia >

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