Church and State

With a lot of noise in the air about how much of a role religious values should play in our American democracy, I remembered writing a poem on the subject of Jefferson's famous definition of "a wall of separation between church and state." While it seems an unlikely topic for a poem, I had fun with it. Here it is, as originally published in Adirondack Review


I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should "make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," thus building a wall of separation between church and State.

– Thomas Jefferson to the Danbury Baptist Association,1802

He's on the road because He needs elbow room
and a stretch of open where He can go, vroom-vroom!
He's doing wheelies for the Danbury fathers
and Pennsylvania Quakers who shun
paying their taxes to Congregationalists.
He's careening into cirrus-streaks,
bolting lightning to ground, scattering
ideals like prairie stars.

The skies were too big and Monticello's dome
too small, but Jefferson limned a vast geography
of state and religion – let's see, grace connects to liberty,
bisected by community. He threw up a wall
between soul and country's imperatives, then prayed
in the Senate Church. Hemmed in by customs
he penned a secret tract: Let them shake,
let law be rock, and let God roll.
But even Jefferson could not envision
the heavenly Highway-hound's momentum,
the lifts He would give to every Papist, Roller
and doler, myriad beliefs popping like prairie stars.

Despite Jefferson's apprehensions, the Harley
slips and weaves, easy as the air that flows
across a snake tattoo that reads: Tread Lightly
on My Amen. The white hog passes everything,
so fast it's invisible – or mythical, a white horse
for a White House, steed that may only exist
as a people who won't be taxed for faith
or bound by laws springing up weed-wild --
a people who can build their creeds
of nothing but heart, wind and speed.

(to be published in Gods of Water and Air, Kitsune Books, 2012)