Julia Alvarez’s Poem for President Obama


On her personal webpage, Dominican-American writer Julia Alvarez offers her readers a poetic ñapa. As she explains, “In Dominican Spanish la ñapa refers to ‘the little extra’ added on at the end. Just when you thought you’d gotten all that you would get, along comes your ñapa, like a baker’s dozen, with one more kiss, one more pastelito, one more mango at the mercado.”

The ñapa in this case, is a poem she wrote for Barack Obama. She wrote it after an invitation from Nancy Benac of Associated Press to join a group of writers who were asked to write a poem for the president’s inauguration.

Here is the poem:


January 20, 2009


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 our s at Watts, Montgomery—
no matter what the frosty poet said.
We heard the crack of whips, the mothers’ moans
in anthems like the 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 was owed us.
(Who had the luxury to withhold himself?)
No gift outright for us, we earned this land
with sorrow’s 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.


For more information, see http://www.juliaalvarez.com/

Photo from http://bookcriticscircle.blogspot.com/2007_11_01_archive.html

5 thoughts on “Julia Alvarez’s Poem for President Obama

    1. Dear Mauricia (Maury), I was trying to find you to make a contact when I found this posting of Julia’s poem. I have loved her fiction, but seeing this poem is a special treat.

      I look forward to being in touch. Bethe

  1. Best English language poet, says one of many heads of her fan club. Been writing poetry since age 12 and appeared in 1999 exhibition of 20th century poets in main library of NYC, exhibition entitled: Twentieth Century Poets, from Julia Alvarez to Edgar Allan Poe

  2. Comment is above:
    Repeat : My favorite current English language poet been writing since age 12. I as her older sister grew up with her reading me her newest work of the day every night. Appeared in 1999 exhibition at main NYC library entitled: Twentieth Century Poetry: From Julia Alvarez to Edgar Allan Poe

    Just love her and her work, signed, older sister Maury

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