I have transcribed the poem that Elizabeth Alexander
composed and recited at the inauguration, because I thought the words were just beautiful. Like I said, I thought her delivery was strange, and I am not sure, therefore, if I have her verses and lines the way she wrote them; I hope I am not doing it a disservice. I’ll definitley be buying a copy from Graywolf press and I think I may invest in some of her other books of poetry too.
Dr. Alexander is a very intelligent and accomplished woman and I recommend
you visit her site
where you can see some more of her poems and essays. She has been a pulitzer prize finalist and won, among many other awards, the first Jackson Prize for Poetry, awarded by Poets and Writers in 2007. She currently teaches at Yale University.
This is how the poem sounded to me…
Praise Song for the Day
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 morethan 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,
anything can be made, any sentence begun.
On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp,
praise song for walking forward in that light.