Julia Alvarez

The Land Was Never Ours

The land was never ours, nor we the land's:

no, not in Selma, with the hose turned on,

nor in the valley picking the alien vines.

Nor was it ours in Watts, Montgomery--

no matter what the frosty poet said.

We heard the crack of whips, the mothers' moans

in anthems like an undertow of grief.

The land was never ours but we believed

a King's dream might some day become a deed

to what we did not own, though it owed us.

(Who had the luxury to withhold himself?)

No gift outright for us, we earned this land

with sorrows currency: our hands, our backs,

our Rosas, Martins, Jesses our Baracks.

Today we give our land what we withheld:

the right at last to call itself one nation.