Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Obama's "Praise Song"

I don't know about you, but I find it encouraging that, when Barack Obama took the oath of office and became our 44th president a couple of hours ago, one of the first things we did, as a country, was listen to a poem. The poet is Elizabeth Alexander and I understand she's also a personal friend of the Obamas. I've been searching for the text and here's what I've found. (Update - I edited the formatting after I found out how it was supposed to look.)

Praise Song for the Day
by Elizabeth Alexander
A Poem for Barack Obama's Presidential Inauguration

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.

It may be worth noting that Bush did not ask a poet to read at either of his inaugurations, nor did his father. In fact, this is only the fourth time a poem has been an official part of the inauguration. For the first, Robert Frost planned to read "Dedication," at John Kennedy's inauguration, but the sun was so bright he couldn't, so instead he recited from memory "The Gift Outright." Maya Angelou read "On The Pulse of Morning" at Bill Clinton's first Inauguration, and Miller Williams read "Of History and Hope" at his second.

I Like the part about patching tires :) and repairing things in need of repair.

Now if Obama will do this
And this

We're set.
What do you think?

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