Glory be! I am writing from the comfort of my own home in the security of the Obama administration. I am definitely counting some blessings. I did spend several hours staring at C-Span on Tuesday taking in all of the pomp and circumstances. I believe the only highlight I missed was the removal of…departure of W… which was probably what I had looked forward to the most…for 8 years.
I have to admit to getting rather emotional during the ceremony and speech. Part of me was missing being at the party but mostly it was a happy set of tears of relief/joy/anticipation. Of course I celebrate the historic factors, etc, but mostly I am thrilled to hear the revival of a positive discourse in our culture. We should be able to “choose hope over fear” without sacrificing our ideals. We should be models to the world based on “what you can build not what you can destroy”. President Obama is not the first politician or even POTUS to offer similar hopes, but it does truly seem like he may be the one to make lasting changes and renovations in the culture. Yes, there is the obvious one [many claim this is a post-racial America now, but I think that in saying that they prove we’re not quite there yet], but there is so much more to this “new revolution”. He offers a multicultural point of view, a world view which we need in the 21st century, not a close-minded view that says we only care about US.
So here we go , ready to change the world [again] for the better. I hope this is the end of American imperialism and the beginning of a simpler, open-minded democracy. We have a lot of work to do and it will not end in 4, 8 or 20 years. But I do still have concerns. I am not sure that everyone celebrating this week is getting the message that we have to stop wasting time, energy and resources on ‘stuff’ and that part of the problem of the previous 2 decades has been caused by our need to succeed. Many people still want the rich lifestyle and the gadgets that go with it. Many people still see others as enemies or Different. And in that respect, I think the most brilliant statement made on Tuesday January 20, 2009 was not by a president, a preacher and definitely not by a pundit. It was a poet who said “What if the mightiest word is Love?”
First of all, I liked it. I listened closely and took notes. I have heard some ridiculous statements and criticisms by people who should not comment on things they do not understand, [but that’s the American media for ya], though I have not yet checked out the Poetry community’s reaction. I did not really like the way poet Elizabeth Alexander read her “Praise Song for the Day”, and that may be one of the factors leading to the criticisms. The thing is, she read it the right way [obviously, it’s hers, she can read it any way she chooses] as far as academics and poetics goes. I have been taught “how” to read poetry, but I always thought that the Beats had the right idea, and she probably would have made a great impact on the day’s events if she had gotten up and slammed it. But of course, staid and solemn is more appropriate for the event [tho apparently that message did not get out to the other 1.5 million people there]. A song of praise was exactly what we needed though it could have sounded a bit more jubilant.
That is one of the powers of poetry which I have always loved, however. To me, a poem begins as a thought: the poet has a thought, jots it down [at keyboard, in journal, on napkin grabbed out of the glove box, etc]; the poet elaborates on the thought, then shares it with others. A listener or reader will take that thought and make it their own, based on what they hear, what their experiences are, what their interpretation of metaphors, images and individual words are- or what they think the poet meant. Which is why some poetry lasts centuries, because it is open to interpretation by whatever reader encounters it, whenever it is read.
So, I suggest we read it again. Silently, slowly, to yourself, over and over if you need to, then out loud as expressively or solemnly as you want. Her words are “words to consider, reconsider” just as the speeches are.
Praise song for the day.
Each day we go about our business,
walking past each other, catching each others’
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 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 thy self.”
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 preempt 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.
—transcribed from the Presidential inauguration ceremony
January 20, 2009
© 2009, Elizabeth Alexander
I did attempt my own creation after the party had ended, though of course it is nowhere near as profound. At first, I was focusing on the idea of Freedom, specifically the so-named statue atop the Capitol building that was cast and placed by a slave. There is even more irony to that story. I have to work on that piece more especially if i want to use poetic metre, but then I jotted out my ode to the crowd 🙂
They came to gather
Whether for history or
For celebration or
They were there today.
They weathered it together
As the winds of change
Swept the world up and
Blew them all away
Leaving chapped cheeks
And cheerful smiles.
They filled the monumental Mall,
Each a drop in a grand pool
Reflecting the “patchwork heritage”
The nation’s veins.
Millions have worked,
Prayed and hoped for
And so they milled together
To enter the new era of Love.
I am sure others have created their own lasting tributes to the day and I would love to read more. Please share if you have a poem, post or opinion. Now that I am back in the virtual world, and we are in the midst of the new administration, I am eager to connect with everyone. Happy Day! Write on!