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poetry Your National Anthem

The poet Clint Smith draws a haunting link between Kaepernick the football player and his own son sitting in a grocery cart.

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Your National Anthem

By Clint Smith

Today, a black man who was once a black boy

like you got down on one of his knees & laid

his helmet on the grass as this country sang

its ode to the promise it never kept

& the woman in the grocery store line in front

of us is on the phone & she is telling someone

on the other line that this black man who was

once a black boy like you should be grateful

we live in a country where people aren’t killed

for things like this you know she says, in some places

they would hang you for such a blatant act of disrespect

maybe he should go live there instead of here so he can

appreciate what he has & then she turns around

& sees you sitting in the grocery cart surrounded

by lettuce & yogurt & frozen chicken thighs

& you smile at her with your toothless gum smile

& she says that you are the cutest baby she has

ever seen & tells me how I must feel so lucky

to have such a beautiful baby boy & I thank her

for her kind words even though I should not

thank her because I know that you will not always

be a black boy but one day you may be a black man

& you may decide your country hasn’t kept

its promise to you either & this woman or another

like her will forget you were ever this boy & they

will make you into something else & tell you

to be grateful for what you’ve been given

Clint Smith is a writer, teacher, and Ph.D. Candidate at Harvard University. He is a 2014 National Poetry Slam champion, a 2017 recipient of the Jerome J. Shestack Prize from The American Poetry Review and has received fellowships from Cave Canem, the Art For Justice Fund, and the National Science Foundation. His writing has appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The Paris Review, The New Republic and he has delivered two popular TED Talks, The Danger of Silence & How to Raise a Black Son in America. His debut collection of poems, Counting Descent, was published in 2016 by Write Bloody Publishing. It won the 2017 Literary Award for Best Poetry Book from the Black Caucus of the American Library Association and was a finalist for an NAACP Image Award.