We treat Heritage like an artifact
sheltered and sealed
for museum display.
We think it lives behind glass
We bring it out only for a dusting,
to polish the placard
the words engraved
with a blade forged by surety
Meant to be beheld,
to receive our gaze
to be passed by lines of schoolchildren
muzzled by obligation
See this, kids?
This is our Heritage.
Isn’t it nice?
Something to be proud of?
Is it not well kept?
Can we touch it? (no)
Can we take it out from behind the glass? (no)
Can we see it up close? (no — stay behind the velvet rope!)
Well… can we ask it questions?
Can we ask you questions about it?
It’s preserved here in perpetuity,
a symbol in its tomb
it is a martyr’s body
a bone in a reliquary
we hold it up as holy.
But what if it lived?
What if we dared to revive it,
encouraged it to breathe?
What if we could look at it closely,
magnified, carbon dated,
examined through as many lenses as there are flowers
along a winding Iowa backroad?
What if Heritage could speak,
could try to answer our questions?
In what language would we hear its voice?
German? Czech? English?
And what languages will it learn?
(Spanish? African American English? Binary code?)
Because it can learn.
And if Heritage can speak
it can listen.
Heritage is not tradition; it is not immovable.
Heritage is not nostalgia,
though sometimes it is passed off as such,
bottled and sold with lies on the label,
the clouded glass obscuring the contents,
full of sugar to mask the taste of poison.
Heritage is our birthright.
Like privilege, it comes to some
by no virtue other than exiting the womb.
Heritage is inheritance.
We are handed it, it is willed to us
and it is ours, in all its glory and ugliness.
Heritage is our legacy.
we get to decide what we bequeath.
We can weave our Heritage with the majesty of uplifting
Our Heritage can be hands outstretched
We can choose to pass on what makes the world more free and just
What we do for ourselves is no endowment
What we do for others lives beyond us.