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Daily Archives: January 20th, 2009

 ealexander2One of my co-workers, a teacher asked what I thought about Elizabeth Alexander’s inauguration poem.  It got me reflecting on her words and here is my response:

It’s a language poem.  She approaches big ideas with phrases and idioms without being grandiose or corny.  I know many did not care for the lack of cadence and beauty of the reading but I’m an art teacher so I can only speak about how she was able to paint a broad canvas with so few words.   Every day words telling us that this day marks a turning point where our country can be directed by light and love. That it is a choice, a new beginning, a possibility for mending this country. What I like about this poem is that it is cyclical and unending, implicating the audience and the new administration in the course of history.  Reminding us that this day was made possible by others who at some point chose to find the higher path.  And so it continues from this day forward amidst the noise of racism, war and media (see intro).   “A teacher says, “Take out your pencils. Begin.”  This is a praise song for teachers, farmers, soldiers, people of all races and a poem about love before nationalism, relgion and retribution.  It is a poem about social justice and peace.

Here is a transcript of the poem:

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.

ALEXANDER: A farmer consider 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.