January 20, 2009

From the Inauguration

I loved this poem - though not the reading - of Yale Professor, Elizabeth Alexander (my advance apologies for any error in transcription):

Each day we go about our business
Walking past each other
Catching each other's eyes or not
About to speak or speaking
All about us is noise
All about us is noise and bramble, thorn and din
Each one of our ancestors on our tongues

Someone is stitching a hem
Darning up a hole in a uniform
Patching a tire
Repairing the things in need of repair
Someone is trying to make music somewhere
With a pair of wooden spoons
On an oil drum
With cello, boom box, harmonica, voice

A woman and her son wait for the bus
A farmer considers the changing sky
A teacher says ‘Take out your pencils. Begin.’

We encounter each other in words
Words spiny or smooth whispered or declaimed
Words to consider, reconsider

We cross dirt roads and highways that mark the will of someone
And then others who said
‘I need to see what’s on the other side.
I know there’s something better down the road.
We need to find a place where we are safe.’
We walk into that which we cannot yet see.

Say it plain that many have died for this day
Sing the names of the dead who brought us here
Who laid the train tracks
Raised the bridges
Picked the cotton and the lettuce
Built brick by brick the glittering edifices
They would then keep clean and work inside of

Praise song for struggle
Praise song for the day
Praise song for every hand-lettered sign
The figuring-it-out at kitchen tables

Some live by “Love thy neighbor as thyself”
Other by “First do no harm” or “Take no more than you need”
What if the mightiest word is love?
Love beyond marital, filial, national
Love that casts a widening pool of light
Love with no need to preempt grievance
In today’s sharp sparkle
This winter air
Anything can be made
Any sentence begun
On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp
Praise song for walking forward in that light.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting this. I thought it was a beautiful poem, but I didn't think she read it well. It deserves emotion that I didn't feel from her. Almost as if it wasn't her own, like she didn't feel it inside, even though I know she wrote it.

alissa said...

i agree about the reading. i've heard poetry read that way before, and in certain situations i think it can really really work. but this was not that kind of situation. it made me wish he'd asked maya angelou. http://poetry.eserver.org/angelou.html

alissa said...

sorry, now i can't stop thinking about that maya angelou poem from clinton's inauguration. i can still hear her saying "good morning" at the end and just remembering it gives me chills.