Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Freedom, Rhetoric and Poetry

Yesterday, the kids and I were awakened by an early morning phone call (not my phone) with a request from Bella to join her at her place to watch the presidential inauguration on her big screen television. Being the dutiful friend, and enticed by the romance of red, white, and blue donuts, the kids and I headed over to partake in the history making.
On my way to get said donuts, I began to make observations of the folks who weren't in front of the TV, or listening to the radio. 
Didn't they care? I thought most of Eugene voted for Obama.
What about those old guys? The TV was playing at the donut shop, but they couldn't see what was happening. Maybe they'd watch the swearing in ceremony. 
What about those boys? Those wandering smoking boys in black? Didn't they want to witness history rather than goofing about?
We watched the inauguration, but what I had looked forward to was something I hadn't recalled noticing in the soundbites of previous inaugurations, and that was the reciting of an inaugural poem. 
At the end of the inaugural celebration, I was glad that they mixed rhetoric with the art of poetry. 
When I was six, and wanted to be a poet, the author of "Praise Song for the Day" Elizabeth Alexander, was only a few years older than me. My quick research reveals that when I was six, she lived in Washington D.C, as her father was a law professor at Howard University. At this time my dad was either an oil truck driver, or a cab driver. 
Here's her poem:

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.

Elizabeth Alexander


Cherie said...

I loved her poem - listened to it twice.

And I watched the inauguration with my entire family - too historic a moment to miss.

Thanks for this.

(Wish we'd have some of the red, white, and blue goodies, though.... ;)