We treat Heritage like an artifact

something cataloged

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

and complacence.

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?

Algonquin? Meskwaki-Sauk?

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. 

But… 

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.