American Dream Project: Writer’s Residency: Posts

Whose Dream Is It Anyway…

Julia Lopez, Philadelphia

Today July 25, 2016

American Dream

Did it come before the darkness

The thought, the Idea

Before, when the land was clean and free

Free Free Free

no need for dreams or dreaming

green flowers water blue sky creatures sea ocean

no charge or tv screens pictures of fear

the sun is burning too hot

the Ice is melting

our skin is melting

American Dream comes from a sideshow Joe selling Dream Potions, that will rot your insides, erode your skin…

Believe your skin

you have already created your own…




II / The American Dream

Anna Maria Hong, Philadelphia


So, the action of the sculpture is dispersal not disappearance, which seems like an apt and more nuanced metaphor. Letting a unified and simple thing become multitudinous, roving, and infinitesimal. Is that depressing? Is that a bad thing?

If one is The American Dream, does one have more meaning as a block of ice or as an underground stream and shape-shifting clouds?


When I hear the phrase “The American Dream” I recall that it has something to do with the promise of prosperity and the idea that anyone can be anything, if they try hard enough, although I’m not even sure if that’s accurate. It’s been a while since I thought about this set of words.

Someone mentioned to me that the slogan was invented in the 19th century. A quick search turns up the date of the phrase’s entry into public discourse as 1931, coined by someone named James Truslow Adams, a popular historian, in his book The Epic of America.

The phrase certainly has a mid-20th-century ring to it. As the daughter of Korean immigrants, who grew up in the 1970s and 80s, I also recall that this sunny, aspirational mantra was not a hard sell back in the day. People—my parents, my grandparents (my mother’s adoptive parents—German and Scottish American supporters of Civil Rights and other progressive ideals)—seemed to believe in these words. They believed that American society was improving. They passed along those sanguine ideas to me.

Which was certainly beneficial. If I hadn’t believed that I could do things, I wouldn’t have tried to do what I did. Disillusionment is a painful but small price to pay for the igniting flash of hope, however ephemeral or unfounded.

To be sure, my own sense of doggedness has had many sources and probably had little to do with the amorphous notion embodied by the phrase now dripping before my eyes. There’s this Korean proverb:

“Even though a tiger is biting you, if you gain consciousness, (you can) live.”

—a more pragmatic and precise formulation of a similar concept.

Of course, many American persons never hear such words or emboldening messages and are instead bludgeoned by circumstances that obliterate that message, turning it into a taunt—something meant for other people, with the price of their prosperity paid for by our sacrifice, which is bodily, material, psychic, spiritual, personal, and communal.

And, of course, the slogan is a much harder sell now for American persons of the middle class than it was when I was a little girl. It’s possible that the only people who believe in it now are those who think the dream was taken from them by people like my parents or myself, and those who have come from places of such devastation that working 15-hour days and not being bombed daily comprises relative relief.

If you are working that much and that hard every day of your life, a vaporous saying may or may not figure at all, and why would anyone ever hold your extraordinary resolve against you?


Keep to Your Dreams

Josh Adler, Philadelphia

FullSizeRender copy

You are smiling dearie. Your tongue is out. The syrup meets your youthful lips with a relief, and a color that is not your own. Meanwhile THE SIGNS stagger past window after window.

You put your indivisible head down on the invisible decrees. THE SERPENT they say has cast you past castigation. You dream of the words through the windows, lying like milky Popeful lies. They say black. They say white. They say no signs here today. But THE SIGNS are here. Your palms are printed as the bone of history

You’re going to make it work for you. You toggle ancient claws with a blink, as they prepare THE ICE. You consider the reach of the letters. They call no man father. They follow you through the windows, while you keep to your dreams. You could reach outside. You could reach all the way back to the 4th of July, or THE RAINBOW BRIDGE. You reconsider.

Your cheek grows chilly colder. THE SNAKE dismembers THE SIGNS. You are the sleepy visitor, yourself as ever. Sipping away insipidly, you are so easy. Not a letter in THE WORLD can save you.



I / Ice

Anna Maria Hong, Philadelphia


It is in the nature of ice to expand, unlike other substances that shrink when transforming from liquid to solid. Ice will shatter a glass container, make metal bulge and pop, if you don’t keep its physical properties in mind when handling it or placing it in a vessel, where it will be shaped and temporarily constrained before reverting back to water, back to vapor. Water wants to travel. Ice wants to grow.

Water, the element of emotion and life itself, is not like the other players. Because of its strange characteristics, ice is a specialized subject of inquiry: some physicists devote their careers to studying just ice. Ice is unique, a substance unto itself.

The ice sculpture embodying the words “The American Dream” is being installed on Independence Mall, melting as it’s being erected, letter by letter, even though each letter rests on its own pedestal of dry ice. The weather app says it’s 97 degrees, and it feels like 99% humidity.

Video of ice melting

When I first heard of this installation, I thought about how much I like ice, how beautiful it is, how consoling and delightful on a blazing summer day like today or as snow in a winter blizzard. I also first thought that the metaphor was a bit on point.

The American Dream melting before our eyes: we know this, we’ve known it for a long, long time. Journalists, climate scientists, economists, and many other writers and scholars have documented the numerous ways in which the idea of equal opportunity has been liquefied in recent times. For some of us, our entire lives have been and will be saturated with a hobbled, holey, insulting, or irrelevant version of the notion that is the dream.

But then, melting and evaporation don’t equal disappearance. The solid subject de-materializes in only one dimension and mostly in just one physical sense—vision, our most overrated and exhausted path of perception—as what was once seemingly solid before our eyes transforms into something else—water then vapor.

As water, the subject will travel downward through wood, grass, dirt, bones, colonies, roots, and worms, feeding flora and fauna along the way. As vapor, the subject will travel upward through the atmosphere, the sky, forming fog and clouds, the most democratic of nature’s spectacular displays, as virtually anyone can see clouds at any time in any place—on land or at sea, in the bowl of a canyon, at ground level or elevation.

It takes hundreds of billions of tiny droplets to make one cloud, which appears corporeal but embodies ephemerality, movement, change.

Some of the molecules will make their way back to being ice, presumably not formed into words or slogans again, but you never know.


Ninguna Sanción

Josh Adler, Philadelphia

Leaky emails scream, “Ninguna sanción, sin asistencia!” to bigotry, to persecution.

The roiling heat hands out third party revolutions like popsicles.

Now it’s just spring cleaning all over again.

We stopped collecting the dove so long ago, the dove is dust face-down, speaking, “mano a la boca,” to the unjust dust.



The dove that’s too fast to fly.

The hanging dove reminder.

The branches’ penchant love dove.

The empty outline dove from our youth.

The dove that cannot be cracked.

The spring dove, the summer dove, the poster dove above us.

The dove you cannot miss.




Julia Lopez, Philadelphia

Can I, Can We                                                                                                             Live In Peace, Now                                                                                                  Now that I am here                                                                                         Pushing through                                                                                                      Mal-functioning Words                                                                                       Broken Sounds                                                                                                Damaged Syllables                                                                                         Exclusion, illusion                                                                                                    Mis-Conception                                                                                                      False Impression                                                                                              Pressing Down On My Head                                                                                     On my Face                                                                                                                 My Father’s Face                                                                                                           Your Face                                                                                                                    Our Human Face


where America turns,

Josh Adler, Philadelphia

Election Confessions

On the way to the place where America turns, flags bear crosses and confederacies. Signs spiel ungodly surrender, while lady liberty crops a spiky eye towards her state’s unwavering way.

These rando pickup places (between the dead flag poles, and melting magazines crouched over mailboxes like Sunday hats) are my fave.

At the doorway it’s time for a delivery. Are the neighbors unpacking or packing? They’re backing in, but will they deliver? Who’s ship is this?

Around the back of Tasker St. the summer jobs are fists awaiting repair from solid air. The air is packing heat all the way to the crash.

Officers stand on every corner. Every. Dreaming to watch from a stoop, or hear the twinklings of sanguine speeches after dark. Backpackers launch across empty lots spelled out by the bouquet graffiti. Their steps hold the wind like illegible confetti. Stranded?

The bus kneels, rises, kneels and rises. It’s a ship. It’s a ride. It’s a sale. Convention. It’s eyes down. It’s sanitation. It’s a right turn.

It’s a girl wavering on a steely bike in the heat.

Legs churning, churning. She is an auxiliary liberty pedaling through liberty independent of virtue’s mall. A Philly dream shop in search of shade. She is a left turn, a triple take. She is a sign, a building. She peddles. The hemline of what’s to come.




Julie Patton, Cleveland

Peaceavist Vinie Burrow’s

“We Will Not Be Silent”

T shirt

in anglish & arabic

moans on my chest

soon to be packed

like glaciers

_me ican ream


mo  m’


halve a talk with

all these blocks of ice

sound alike



I can’t

separate races of

let t..t…terse


itch of the west







in water

watching us

me lt








The Me In Meaning

Mary Barrett, Cleveland

So I do not know what the

American Dream



for me

for woman

for black

for poor

for half


I have half meaning

Not even

I have 1/8 meaning



I have no meaning

I do not know what it means

for white

for man


I do not know

All I know is

it does not give me a meaning

I can live up to

I tried looking up my name in the dictionary

but remembered I did not name myself


So I’m given “it has no meaning”

I am the it

I am the no

I am the undefined

I am what is not here for me


I make meaning for myself with my heteroglot

and why my block does not look or sound like yours


I sit in a neighborhood that I am not native to

and speak my native tongue

just to get your reaction

then try to understad it


American Dream

is a sentence fragment

American can not embody who I am

or where I’m from

and I keep waking up before my dreams end

so I’m left with questions my makers

don’t have the answers to


I try to piece


meaning, meaning


to get her closer to me


I do not know what to dream

I do not know how to be


So, maybe American and dream

just do not go together