January 20, 2009

Elizabeth Alexander: Inauguration Poem (Text)


Villagers, I have to admit that I wasn't feelin' this poem when I watched Elizabeth Alexander deliver it live during the Inauguration. I do feel better about it when I re-read the text. I offer it here for posterity.



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, anything can be made, any sentence begun.

On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp -- praise song for walking forward in that light.

What are your thoughts about the inaugural poem?

12 comments:

SjP said...

Not as memorable as Maya's - but, its all good.

Villager said...

Sojourner - I did like the part about the power of love...

Elizabeth said...

I liked the ancestors being on our tongues..but the bit about love beyond grievance made me wince. I don't mean to be a downer, but overall I was really disappointed and let-down by the poem. Instead of celebrating, it felt stilted, stifled, and scattered.

Villager said...

Elizabeth - I have to beleive that she wasn't going for "stilted" poetry that would make the audience "wince". It's too bad as it was an opportunity to uplift the importance of poetry in our lives.

The best thing for her is that Aretha Franklin came up next and she woke everyone back up!

Gunfighter said...

OK... I'm with you, Villager. I wasn't feeling it at all, and nearly 24 hours later I find it to be self-indulgent, turgid, and dull.

Arethat Franklin didn't help, either... other than the fact that her howling made it hard to doze off.

Mad props to the First Lady of Soul, but I think that it is time for Aretha to retire.

Villager said...

Gunfighter - This may have been Aretha's farewell song. I imagine that she was up there as a tribute to the Civil Rights era folks...

Chi-Chi, The Original Wombman said...

I thought the spoken delivery was poor and the poem itself is a bit too prose-esque for my tastes but because of these lines: "What if the mightiest word is love, love beyond marital, filial, national. Love that casts a widening pool of light" I do love the poem. Indeed, what if??

Villager said...

Chi-Chi - I'm interested to learn more about the genesis of "the original wombman". I don't think I've heard the term wombman used before.

I agree with you about the power of that particular line of her poem. It had power and promise...

Chi-Chi, The Original Wombman said...

Villager . . . a (long) while back I read a book called Sacred Woman by Queen Afua which influenced my life and how I saw myself as a woman. I learned to have a new respect and understanding of my womb as a source of creativity, grounding and healing. I do believe that every human being is a unique light--never before seen, completely unique. Original. Add to that the aspect of Black people, African people being the first people, the original people. I believe it was Sister Carol, a reggae artist, who coined the phrase "Original Womb-man" to describe Isis (Aset), the Kemetic Goddess whose qualities I love. And so, I call myself "the original wombman" but really all of us are the "original (insert loving, uplifting adjective here)".

KMyles said...

First off Brother Wayne, let me tell you, it was COLD. Now you're from Cincy (I'm originally from Cleveland) so you know something about "the Hawk". Remember when you were a kid waiting on the bus in the Winter, and the wind would make your 5 minute bus-stop wait feel like an hour?..

The wind, the, cold, the "Hawk", made her 5 minute poem seem like it was 3 days long. It didn't even sound like a poem; it was more like random words occasionally interrupting my constant fixation on how damn cold I was.

godwithus1 said...

For once, Rush is right. It wasn't very good. Too liberal highbrow, not enough soul and authenticity. I thought I was taking a class at a university.

Villager said...

Chi-Chi - Asante sana for sharing the original of your handle. I like it very much!

Kevin - I'm actually from Los Angeles ... so 'The Hawk' was only a bedtime story for me (smile). However, I feel ya'. On the flip side ... she probably set a world record for the most person to hear a poem at either a live or televised event...

GodWithUs1 - 'Rush was right'. Same thing can be said of a broken watch twice a day... but, in this case, I agree with you (and Rush).