The History of America

By Alicia Ostriker b. 1937 Alicia Ostriker

—for Paul Metcalf

A linear projection: a route. It crosses
The ocean in many ships. Arriving in the new   
Land, it cuts through and down forests and it   
Keeps moving. Terrain: Rock, weaponry.   
Dark trees, mastery. Grass, to yield. Earth,   
Reproachful. Fox, bear, coon, wildcat   
Prowl gloomily, it kills them, it skins them,   
Its language alters, no account varmint, its
Teeth set, nothing defeats its obsession, it becomes   
A snake in the reedy river. Spits and prays,   
Keeps moving. Behind it, a steel track. Cold,   
Permanent. Not permanent. It will decay. This   
Does not matter, it does not actually care,
Murdering the buffalo, driving the laggard regiments,   
The caring was a necessary myth, an eagle like   
A speck in heaven dives. The line believes   
That the entire wrinkled mountain range is the   
Eagle’s nest, and everything tumbles in place.   
It buries its balls at Wounded Knee, it rushes   
Gold, it gambles. It buys plastics. Another   
Ocean stops it. Soon, soon, up by its roots,   
Severed, irrecoverably torn, that does not matter,   
It decides, perpendicular from here: escape.

A prior circle: a mouth. It is nowhere,
Everywhere, swollen, warm. Expanding and contracting   
It absorbs and projects children, jungles,
Black shoes, pennies, blood. It speaks
Too many dark, suffering languages. Reaching a hand   
Toward its throat, you disappear entirely. No
Wonder you fear this bleeding pulse, no wonder.

Alicia Ostriker, “The History of America” from The Little Space: Poems Selected and New, 1968-1998. Copyright © 1998 by Alicia Ostriker. All rights are controlled by the University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, PA 15260, Used by permission of University of Pittsburgh Press.

Source: The Little Space: Poems Selected and New 1968-1998 (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1998)

Discover this poem’s context and related poetry, articles, and media.

Poet Alicia Ostriker b. 1937

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

Subjects History & Politics, Social Commentaries

Poetic Terms Free Verse

 Alicia  Ostriker


Poet, critic, and activist Alicia Ostriker was born in 1937 in New York City. She earned degrees from Brandeis and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Twice a finalist for the National Book Award, Ostriker has published numerous volumes of poetry, including The Book of Seventy (2009), which received the Jewish National Book Award. Other books of poetry include No Heaven (2005); The Volcano Sequence (2002); Little Space (1998), . . .

Continue reading this biography

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT History & Politics, Social Commentaries

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

Poetic Terms Free Verse

Report a problem with this poem

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

This poem has learning resources.

This poem is good for children.

This poem has related video.

This poem has related audio.