Song for Woody

This land is your land, this land is my land…

She had us singing it in second grade. Taught us to march onto the choir risers behind the flag, singing it. Kimberly got in trouble for marching in with the flag pointing down. Never hold the flag upside down! That’s like saying America should go to the devil, said Mrs. Lundgren, her curls shaking no-no-no.

The song was weird. Wasn’t this land just here, before anybody? Wasn’t it made for itself, maybe just cause it liked being mountains and forests and gulf stream waters, not for you and me? Isn’t that kind of selfish? And if it was made for anybody, wouldn’t that be the Indians, who were here first?

Later I heard it again. Not from a piano and thirty children’s voices, just one reedy voice with a guitar. Voice with a country sound, didn’t pound along like a machine, tempo-tempo; it wandered and emphasized and got louder and quieter. And there were verses she never taught us in school:

As I was walkin / I saw a sign there / And on that sign / it said “No Trespassing” / But on the other side / it didn’t say nothin / That side was made for you and me!

It was written at a time, in a place. It even had a stolen melody, lifted from an old Baptist hymn. Who knew? Why didn’t you tell us that, teacher? We just sang it, never learned it: Dust Bowl song, Depression song. For migrant workers, families who’d had their lives blown away, unwanted wherever they drifted, seeking, losing, starving.

In the squares of the city / in the shadow of the steeple / in the relief office / I seen my people

As they stood there hungry / I stood there asking / Was this land made for you and me?

A song for all the people. Woody would’ve wanted it for the native Americans too, don’t you suppose? And the Mexican Americans, Americans old and new. But I am quite sure, Mrs. Lundgren, it isn’t much about the flag:

Nobody living / can ever stop me / as I go walking / that freedom highway… (as I go crossing / that freedom border…)

Nobody living / can make me turn back / This land was made for you and me.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *