Local Poet Seeks to Unite a Divided Electorate
November 8th, 2016
Dana Buckingham has an “Arts @ 8:30” segment for us this morning that is quite fitting for this Election Day.
Omaha, NE – The American poet, author and inspirational speaker, Joanna O’Keefe and her husband Jack, maintain a second home here in Omaha which they visit several times each year. Their Omaha home just happens to be in my neighborhood in the Ponca Hills and recently I ran into Joanna who was out for a leisurely stroll while I was out walking the dog.
After we introduced ourselves to each other, we talked briefly about Joanna’s poetry and the upcoming election. That is when she told me about a poem that she had written a couple of years ago which has been set to music that seeks to unite bitterly divided Americans by reminding us about what unites us rather than divides us.
As a young child during World War II, Joanna went to a funeral in New York of a relative that was killed at Guadalcanal. She remembers vividly how the soldiers widow wept at the funeral and threw herself on the coffin in uncontrollable grief and that in her head she began to compose a rhyme; her first poem, a reflection of the funeral and what it meant to her.
“In my mind, I said the women are crying, the men over the are dying, husbands, fathers, sons, across the seas on foreign land, these brave men make their stand”
Today, Joanna and Jack, live in Melbourne Florida most of the year where Joanna is a longtime friend of Grace Nelson, the wife of Florida’s senior U.S. Senator Bill Nelson.
”I had a stroke in 2011. Soon after that our senator’s wife, Grace Nelson in Florida, there was a reception for Grace. I called my friend Peggy and I said ‘Would you drive me?’ Grace talked about the division in Washington, and Grace and I have been friends for over thirty years, and she said, ‘Nothing’s getting done. There is so much division.’ On the way home, Peggy said to me, ‘JoAnna, please write a poem for our country, our country needs healing.’
I said ‘I would love to put I don’t think I can.’ So when we arrived home, my husband Jack, who is a Marine, I told him, and he said ‘Honey why don’t you try?’ So I went into the bedroom I closed the door and I sat in silence and I prayed. and my memory went back to that funeral of Blaine Jr’s funeral. And my memory also went back to when I was a student at Syracuse University and we studied democracy in America.
I remember reading when Alexis de Tocqueville came to our country. He was so impressed with our democracy and he said, ‘No outside force will ever take America. If they are destroyed, they will be destroyed from within.’ I think it was him who said ‘America is great, because America is good.’ I thought back to when Jack and I restored a farmhouse in New Boston, New Hampshire that was built in 1740. I thought back to what the Patriots sacrificed for our freedom. I couldn’t walk through that little farmhouse without constantly being reminded of our roots and what was sacrificed to make America great and to make America free.
I do remember thinking of JFK at his inauguration when he said, ‘Ask not what your country can do for you, but ask what you can do for your country.’ I sat there and I thought God willing if the words come to me, I can write a poem. It’s almost like it came on the wings of prayer. If only all my poetry came this easily. I just wrote:
We the People are on opposite sides.
We’ve lost sight of the middle where resolutions reside.
If Jefferson were here right now, he would pick up his pen.
On parchment he’d write the Patriots again,
Look into the eyes of your sisters and brothers,
Be Americans, respecting one another.
No outside force will ever take this land,
But a house divided cannot stand.
Blood has been shed for this land of the free.
Be Americans. Embrace your destiny,
Be that city on a hill, be that light,
Lay down your anger, Americans unite.
Recently, a group of friends convinced Joanna that her poem might help heal a bitterly divided nation as a popular song, which could reach those who don’t normally read poetry. Joanne then met with a music producer who set her poem, America at the Crossroads, to music, which has been recorded and performed by vocalist Chris Finlayson.
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