Saturday, January 24, 2009

praise song for the day | inauguration poem

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 up a hem, darning
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 some one 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,
others 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 pre-empt grievance.

In today’s sharp sparkle, this winter air,
any thing can be made, any sentence begun.
On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp,

praise song for walking forward in that light.

- Elizabeth Alexander

About: Praise Song for the Day by Elizabeth Alexander, a prize-winning poet at Yale University was read at the inauguration of Barack Obama. Elizabeth Alexander was born in 1962 in Harlem, New York, and grew up in Washington, D.C. She received a B.A. from Yale University, an M.A. from Boston University (where she studied with Derek Walcott), and a Ph.D. in English from the University of Pennsylvania.

Her collections of poetry include American Sublime (Graywolf Press, 2005), which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Alexander is only the fourth poet to read at a swearing in after Frost, who read at John F. Kennedy’s in 1961; Maya Angelou, who read at Clinton’s in 1993; and Miller Williams, who read in 1997, according to government officials. It is the first time that “poetry’s old-fashioned praise,” as Robert Frost called it, featured at the President's inauguration ceremony since Bill Clinton's second swearing in back in 1997.

I thought it was a great poem. Even Rumi would shout in joyous agreement when the poet said,

What if the mightiest word is love?

Love beyond marital, filial, national,
love that casts a widening pool of light ...

[Download] Click here to download the audio of this poem recited by the poet herself.

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