The Sunday Magazine

Dear president-elect: Our pilot has shown up - cussing, snorting, handsy, full of spite and trifles

A letter to president-elect Trump from Philadelphia's poet laureate, Yolanda Wisher

Yolanda Wisher

Philadelphia poet-laureate Yolanda Wisher (Ryan Collerd)

Yolanda Wisher is the poet laureate of Philadelphia. Here is her letter to president-elect Donald Trump, commissioned by The Sunday Edition. 

A Letter to the President-Elect and to All of US

November 9, 2016

Dear Co-Pilot(s) of These Upper Ethers & Downy Domains,

Before I knew about Peter Pan or Dorothy's tornado, I knew about The People Who Could Fly. Magic folk, ancient people who possessed the knowledge of flight. Slavery took their wings but some still remembered how and flew away from the lash. The griot Virginia Hamilton wrote that they flew like blackbirds over fields. Black, shiny wings flappin' against the blue up there. 

America is a flight of fear and a fear of flight. Democracy is this plane we're on. This air we're in. At our worst here. 

This is Democracy formerly known as the journey, The Promised Land. Formerly known as the slave ship.  Formerly known as the railroad car. Democracy formerly known as the bus, get on to the back now. Not the freight train Elizabeth Cotton called to carry me home. 

This plane runs on our fossilized dreams and the oil squeezed from our wings. And if I forget my place back here, it could all explode or combust. 

They say it's the pressure that keeps the plane in the air.. This pressure, this cramping, this root canal, charley horse, blood clot country that is supposed to be about freedom, but is so confined, so hampered, so suspect. Guards up. We've had so much reality, nobody believes in the myth of flight anymore. 

*       *       *

And now our pilot has shown up. Looking a lot like the other good old boys in the air up there. Cussing, snorting, handsy, full of spite and trifles, lumbering up a flimsy moral ramp to the cockpit, joining a fraternity in the clouds. This election was all turbulence and fog, people deboarding the plane before it took off. Millions didn't get on board at all. Some folks swear they'll never get back on board again. The smell from the toilets funked up the whole joint, even reared its ugly head in First Class. The masks forgot to fall.  We expected Her to crash us through, see us through the blue up there.

For the last eight years, I've been Theo's mom and Theo (a boy born in America with the blood of Black farmers, Scots, Irish, Arawak Indians, and Garifuna medicine men running in his veins) has only known Barack Obama as his president. He knows knock-knock jokes, but he doesn't know the centuries-old parodies about black presidents and power, never tasted the primordial minstrel stew we call this Birth of a Nation. He was conceived in the weeks before Obama's inauguration, when we felt the country's chest swell up and the guardians of history sigh with wonder and relief. He looks up to Obama. Obama is Theo's personal president. And it's hard to let go. Theo and Jasper and Jericho, first graders, gather at recess to discuss the country and where's it going. They believe in Democracy. They still have wings. They believe that girls can fly, too. 

*       *       *

But today we woke up to rain in America. When Theo came into our room, and Mark told him who won, he started crying. He asked, Will we have to leave? I said, No, baby, this is our country, too. We cuddled in the 6 a.m. sheets, and when they were heading out the door for school, Mark reminded me about that day when we came home to towers falling on TV just days after we had decided to split up and go our separate ways. I remember how fear flew in from all sides as we looked across the room at each other and said, let's stay together. 

And now I'm saying, y'all: Get on, strap in, and let's ride this sucker. Let's push the call button and clog the toilets. Be unruly and unruled. Let's give the pilot hell back here. I am willing to forget my deepest fears of flight, that angst of no return, the snapping ties of my heart as the wheels tuck under and out. I know what to save. 

"Hello, this is your co-pilot speaking. Welcome to America. We could be our best up there, down here. 

Thank you for flying." 

Theo's mom
Philadelphia, PA
Yolanda Wisher, poet laureate of Philadelphia, at Temple University, October, 2016. ( Dorevabelfiore)


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